Renowned Swansea artist Owen Griffiths has transformed the forecourt of Swansea Railway Station into a mini urban garden with a colourful set of planters and natural oak benches. The project was initiated by South West Wales Connected Community Rail Partnership (SWWCo), which is based at the station.
It came about after a Shared Vision meeting held by SWWCo and 4theRegion, a membership alliance working to bring about positive change in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. 4theRegion hosts SWWCo and is also based at Swansea Railway Station.
At the meeting, local businesses, organisations and members of the public discussed the need to enhance the station to create a sense of pride and welcome. The result was the station planters project.
The funding and permissions for the work came from the Transport for Wales Biodiversity Fund and Swansea Councils’ Local Places for Nature Funding, with a total of £38,000 being made available.
Owen Griffiths is well known for his community and garden projects in the area. These include Vetch Veg, in which the former Swansea football ground, the Vetch Field, was transformed into an urban garden; the GRAFT Courtyard Garden Project at the National Waterfront Museum; and most recently the Thinking Green exhibition and gardening project at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea.
Griffiths was invited to create a more attractive arrival in Swansea for rail passengers and worked to build sustainability into every aspect of the work. With this in mind, he filled the planters with substrates from local, sustainable sources. Cockle shells, oyster shells, sand, building rubble and limestone have been used in the place of topsoil, whose extraction and shipping can be damaging to the environment.
“We wanted to explore different ways of using waste materials,” said Owen. “It shows you what you can source locally, which connects to the local geology and be utilised in a biodiversity context.”
To accommodate the varied footfall at the station, the planters and benches are also mobile, meaning they can be rearranged depending on station traffic, or simply to create variety. Local artist Amy Marsden made the oak benches and Angharad Pearce Jones, a blacksmith from Ammanford, made the planters to Griffiths’ design.
“The design of the planters is based on shapes relating to the architecture around the area – they connect to brick detailing on pre- and post-war architecture in and around the square mile of the station, including the concrete relief on the old medical centre on Orchard Street,” said Griffiths.
Griffiths and his team of volunteers filled the 10 planters with plants that reflect the local ecology and encourage biodiversity; bee habitats have been built into them, along with wooden posts with holes for beetles and bugs. The plants include local coastal species, yuccas, pine trees, fig trees, wild strawberries and the same roses that grow at Three Cliffs Bay.
“The idea is that it connects to different kind of landscapes of Swansea and also demonstrates ways of working that don’t require masses of topsoil to be moved,” said Griffiths. “It shows what you can do with a fairly small budget to make a big visual impact and have quite a big impact in terms of biodiversity.”
Information boards will soon be added to tell visitors more about the scheme, which is set to have even more impact as the plants become established.
Zoe Antrobus, founder and managing director of 4theRegion, is delighted with the effect the scheme has already had.
“In March 2021 SWWCo held a Shared Vision Meeting for Swansea Train Station and the surrounding area,” she said. “The meeting attracted local people, businesses and organisations who shared with the group about what they loved about the area and what they’d love to see. We talked about creating a greater sense of place and pride of place, improving community wellbeing, and improving the arrival experience for visitors. The station planters project has certainly achieved that. It makes a huge difference to the approach to the station and it’s also spreading an important message about sustainability and bringing more biodiversity to the city centre. Lots of people have commented on how much they love the planters, and it’s great to see people sitting on the benches and enjoying the space.”
Hugh J Evans, Head of Community Rail added:
“We’re delighted to have been able to help make this scheme happen. It’s enhanced the experience of arriving at Swansea Railway Station and Owen has put the project together with real thought and care, drawing in not only local plants but also references to the local area. The materials used are sustainable and also local, and biodiversity is at the core of the project. It’s a pleasure to see the impact it’s already had on the area.”