27 January 2015

Sky Garden: green spaces, walking and getting creative

This month London's 'highest public garden' opened to the public, with, it's fair to say, mixed reviews.

Early visitors to the Sky Garden on the roof of 20 Fenchurch Street, the City's 'Walkie Talkie,' reported difficulties with online booking, plus negotiating airport style security and restrictive opening times for access to this 'public' space. Dropping in spontaneously to gaze quietly over the cityscape below is, apparently, not an option - although once there, the views are spectacular.

The less than glowing response to our town's newest park got us thinking about space - mental as much as physical - and our good intentions for 2015. At the start of January, returning to the office energised and full of the fresh perspective a brief spell away can bring we decided to try to capture that momentum. Is it possible to tap into our own local green spaces as a way to maintain our levels of productivity, inspire us and boost our creativity?

In our little corner of Clerkenwell we're a few minutes walk from two spots: both handy retreats for a lunchtime sandwich, but also charming places with fascinating histories. Just up the road is Spa Fields, where the children's playground gives no hint of its dubious 18th century reputation as a place for prize-fighting and bull-baiting, haunted by thieves tempted by visitors' wigs and silver buckles. Just a little further afield, Gray's Inn Gardens known as 'the Walks,' originally laid out by statesman Sir Francis Bacon in 1606, and today a lawned sanctuary with lofty plane trees.

These places are uplifting in their own right, a refuge from busy streets, inbox and phone, but they are also destinations to draw us out onto the street, even in wintery weather for a short, brisk walk.

We're used to hearing that regular breaks make for better results at work, and that there are strong links between exercise and better brain performance. We also know, thanks to data published last year by researchers at Stanford, that walking can actually boost creative inspiration. The study found people performed better on a 'divergent thinking' creativity test while walking - and shorty afterwards. The co-author of the research claims the results are a good reason to build physical activity into the day - and maybe even switch to 'walking meetings.'

While we're at it, we might trial one of this year's most popular self-improvement trends: mindfulness. Advocates laud benefits that can apparently include a stronger immune system, and better memory, attention and focus. Outside of formal meditation, experts recommend making a start by paying close attention to breathing and really beginning to notice what we can see, hear and feel around us: all achievable in a lunchtime walk.

So 2015 is the year we plan to make the most of our local squares, gardens and green spaces. They may not have the top floor view of the Sky Garden but they are enough to tempt us out to walk, to get hearts pumping and brain cells fizzing: dynamite for our creativity levels.