Bury school soaks up the recent rainfall to support region’s water resources and get their garden growing

A primary school in Bury has benefited from United Utilities’ £1m Sustainable Drainage for Schools programme. 

Christ Church Primary school in Walshaw has had sustainable drainage solutions installed in its playgrounds to help harvest water and divert rainfall away from entering the sewer system.

Climate change and urban growth means that sewers and drains can become overloaded during times of heavy rainfall. Sustainable Drainage Systems, or SuDS, manage rain at the point it hits the surface by providing an alternative to directly channelling surface water through sewers or to nearby watercourses.

At Christ Church Primary school, the sustainable drainage levels have been increased by 41% - through the introduction of four rain garden areas that are planted up with water-friendly plants, 11 planters, swale and a water butt.

This will relieve pressure on the sewer network and can play a significant role in helping to reduce the need for releases from storm overflows during times of heavy rainfall.

The SUDS for schools programme is working towards United Utilities’ Better Rivers; Better North West action plan which aims to improve the health of the region’s rivers. The company has committed to reduce the operation of storm overflows from sewers by 30% by 2025, and improve 184km of waterways.

United Utilities funded the award-winning project with support from the Department for Education. It was delivered in partnership with the scheme designer Atkins Ltd and contractor Horticon Ltd.

As well as reducing flooding or pollution risks by creating more space in sewers, creating SuDS brings other benefits.  Johnny Phillips Surface Water Strategy Manager at United Utilities explained: “By creating ponds and rain garden areas, or collecting rain in water butts and rainwater planters, SuDS bring added benefits by creating habitats for plants and wildlife in the same way as natural wetlands.

“Rainwater is a resource which all too often just runs down the drain where it enters the sewer system for treatment that it doesn’t need. Or worse than that, it sometimes overloads the sewer system and causes it to overflow into a watercourse. SuDS help make the most of the rain, which we generally have a lot of in the North West, by creatively managing it on the surface where it can be used to nourish natural habitats which also benefit wildlife.

“These measures also filter the surface water naturally so if it does enter a watercourse it is less polluted, and if it eventually enters the sewer network it will be after some time so there isn’t the sudden surge which can overload the system.”

Mrs Sarah Howard, Head teacher at Christ Church Primary school, said: “Our grounds have been greatly improved by the work completed by the SuDs team. Not only in reducing the amount of water collecting on the playground but also in the enhancement of our grassed areas through the numerous rain gardens. The children have loved taking on the responsibility to maintain the gardens and planters and have enjoyed learning about the different plants growing within them."

The schemes for each school were designed by Atkins; Josh Rutherford, Lead Design Engineer at Atkins said: “It’s been a pleasure working on the design of these schemes. There has been a fantastic opportunity to champion the better use of rain - an ever more important resource.

“We have drawn inspiration for many of the designs from the natural environment while also making features colourful and engaging. SuDS are a fantastic way to incorporate a multitude of benefits into school spaces through increased biodiversity, water quality and carbon sequestration whilst reducing key issues like flood risk and strain on the sewer network. 

“There has been a real opportunity to showcase the runoff, rather than hide it below ground in pipes, and we have managed to reach out to so many pupils with these schemes. We’ve shone a new light on how sites like this could be drained with engaging and fun uses of SuDS on the site.”

The project was highly commended in the National SusDrain SuDS awards.