The green seat: Hitchin's one-of-a-kind biodiverse bench
- Credit: Rob Chivers
Residents and visitors to Hitchin over the weekend may have noticed that a brand new green installation has popped up in the town centre.
Launched on Friday, April 23, Urban Green Artists' (UGAL) 'Breathe Green' contraption invites those passing through Hitchin to take a seat on "a piece of street furniture like nothing ever seen before."
Breathe Green's creator, Rob Chivers, told the Comet: "It will be quite a clever seat!"
With spring currently in full bloom, he hopes that the seat marries the need for clean air, somewhere to relax and biodiversity.
Creating the prototype through earlier lockdowns, Rob used his 25 years worth of experience in green walls and roofs to create the innovative design in the heart of Hitchin, all while continuing to comply with ongoing COVID restrictions.
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"I kept looking at street furniture and thinking how boring it was. There was a German version similar to this, which only had enough seating for one person, or two if you're very small... and I just thought that I could do better than that!"
Measuring three metres long, wide and tall, Breathe Green has six square metres of green walls on each side, which creates the same volume of clean air as three semi-mature trees. Per square metre, 16 plants - including pollinators and small trees - feature on the wall.
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And, on top of that, a family of four can sit on each side with plenty of room to comply with social distancing.
And Rob's designs have more than COVID restrictions in mind, with the hopes that his contraptions will outlive the ongoing pandemic.
"I designed it, and did a lot of research on the angles of the seat to make sure it's the same as what medical [professional] advice for sitting at park benches for a certain amount of time. There was a lot of work and research."
The Breathe Green bench is also home to a solar irrigation system. In time, Rob hopes that it will also house free WiFi for the town centre.
Rob hopes to learn from making this prototype model, and that he can get UK-based businesses on board to build more benches, just like the one in Hitchin.
"There's so much potential for this seat," he said. "There's a big void in the middle, that can be taken up by a coffee shop, potentially even a pizza company...you could even have a Tesla charging unit on one end, and a vending machine at the other!
"Maybe one of the green versions in the town centre could host a pop-up stall inside. There's so much potential, and that's why I designed it.
Comparing it to the German design from which he took his inspiration, Rob hopes that his model makes amenities, as well as biodiversity, accessible to those who pass by: "Theirs is just a moss wall each side which doesn't really do anything, but this, being 12 square meters of green wall, is the equivalent of three semi-mature trees, but without taking up that space.
Urban Green Artists joined forces with Hitchin BID to bring the project to Hitchin - a plan that has been in the works since the first lockdown. It will remain a fixture in the square for three months.
Hitchin's town centre manager Tom Hardy praised the green initiative: "We've had so much positive feedback about the bench.
"I really like the idea. It doesn't just look good, it actually serves a really good purpose for the town centre at reducing air pollution and improving air quality."
He added that BID are currently working with North Hertfordshire District Council to access some government funding for an even bigger - and more permeant - green wall in the town centre, which will bring a building billed for regeneration into the 21st century.
"We are looking at potentially getting some grant funding to cover the whole frontage of Churchgate in the same stuff. This green wall idea, it soaks up a lot of pollution in the air, but it also looks good and people really like it!"
The planned greenery for the town centre shopping centre will cover 200 square metres, which Tom hopes will have "quite a big impact" on Hitchin.