Helen Woolley

Helen Woolley BSc BPhil CMLI

Reader in Landscape Architecture and Society

Phone: +44 (0)114 222 0608
The Arts Tower, Room: 12.19


Email: h.woolley@sheffield.ac.uk
Blog: sola-blog.com
Personal website: helenwoolley.wordpress.com/


My work focuses on children’s outdoor environments; the term ‘Kit Fence Carpet playground’ to describe a traditional playground is now used both nationally and internationally

helen woolley


My interests lie in people and their everyday use of green and open spaces. This includes issues around designing, planning and managing green and open spaces at different scales. My research about children’s outdoor environments relates to policy, practice and use and has an increasing focus how this is facilitated or constrained by individuals, structures, organisations and society. I am a member of the multidisciplinary Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth and the Steering Group for the Sheffield Urban Institute.

Teaching responsibilities

LSC 232 Sustainable Communities
LSC 6006 Green Space Management
LSC 6060 Social Aspects
LSC 6003 and LSC 6140 Research Dissertations
LSC 6026 Special Project Brief
LSC 6005 Special Project

I also contribute to:
LSC 304 Housing
Introduction to Planning.


My research focuses on both strategic issues of green and open spaces and people’s relationship with those open spaces in their daily lives. These two strands do not sit alone but often relate to each other. The former has been epitomised by funded research for a range of government departments and national bodies such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, CABE Space, Groundwork UK, Natural England and Research in Practice. This work is often policy focused and directed at national and local government and other organisations.

Research and Knowledge Transfer activities about people, and the green and open spaces of their daily lives, has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the Trade Strategy Board (TSB), the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

Within this work there has been a focus on children’s outdoor environments. The term Kit Fence Carpet playground to describe a traditional playground is now used both nationally and internationally (Woolley, 2007, 2008). In addition I have an increasing interest in how adults control or facilitate children’s use of outdoor spaces whether this is skateboarders who may be constrained by social, legal and physical means (Woolley et al., 2011) or children in the post-disaster area of Japan where outdoor space has not been made specifically available to them in the temporary housing areas (Woolley and Kinoshita, in press).

Research projects

Children’s Lost landscapes in Japan
What has happened to children’s outdoor environments in the post disaster context of Tohoku in north east Japan. This research has been funded by the Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation and will continue in 2014 with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Visiting Fellowship. A paper describing how Space, People, Interventions and Time influence children’s outdoor environments in this context is now available in the journal Children and Society. Professor Isami Kinoshita is an international research colleague at Chiba University, Japan.

Living with Nature
This is a three (2011-2014) year partnership project funded by the BIG LOTTERY (£480,000+) and working with communities in 24 Sheffield Council Neighbourhoods. The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust hold the award and work with Sheffield City Council Housing Services and Helen on this project. The Community Engagement team are working with individuals, groups TARAs, Friends Groups, Schools and other local organisations to re-use these forgotten green spaces, and discussions at the on-site events feed into the re-design and management plan for each site. Some of the community groups will continue to be involved once the project has finished in June this year.

Kit Fench Carpet Playground Children's found space Lost play space

Potential areas of research supervision

I am interested in working with PhD candidates who want to research about children’s outdoor environments from playgrounds, to playful landscapes and skateboarder’s use of open spaces. I have an increasing interest in how adults control children and young people’s use of outdoor spaces and children in non-western cities, crisis and difficult situations.

Currently supervised
Melih Bozhurt: Children’s use of water features in open spaces in Sheffield
Junfang Xie: Landscape design, planning and everyday use of green spruce: a case study of Huangpu district, China
Maryam Mani: Children’s experiences of outdoor environments in orphanages in Iran

Research and Knowledge Exchange Projects

Revisiting children’s outdoor environments in north east Japan (2014)
I have been awarded a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Visiting Fellowship to revisit the post disaster area of north east Japan. Here I will see where children are playing, what has changed since my visit 2 years ago and how children’s outdoor environments are being considered in the reconstruction process. I will also attend the Japanese Association of Children’s Outdoor Environments conference and give lectures at a series of universities.

Children’s Lost Landscapes in post disaster Japan (2012)
This project was funded by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and involved me visiting the area where the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant failure took place in March 2011. With my colleague Professor Isami Kinoshita of Chiba University I explored the outdoor environments where children played before the disasters and where children were playing outdoors in their current daily life.

Living with Nature (2011-2014)
Living with Nature is a 3 year Big Lottery Reaching Communities funded partnership project. The partners are Sheffield City Council Housing Services (previously Sheffield Homes) and Parks and Countryside and the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, who hold the award. This project is working with communities in twenty four social housing areas in Sheffield. The aim is to provide design and management plans for green spaces with improved play value and biodiversity. The community engagement team has worked with many individuals, community groups and organisations.

Social Housing and Play: Research in Practice (2008-2011)
This project explored the policy and literature relating to social housing and play. Working with a series of Research in Practice local authority partners case studies were developed that focussed on the issues of the housing and play practitioners.

Neighbourhoods Green and Natural England (2010-2011)
Review of literature about green space and housing for inclusion in Greener Neighbourhoods available through the National Housing Federation. This review can be read here.

Short Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Fairplay (2010)
A short KTP working with Fairplay, a charity based in Chesterfield working with disabled children and their families. The project enabled a graduate Landscape Architect to work alongside the charity to produce a design for their outdoor space associated with their new building. Design was used to apply for planning permission and for costing for fundraising.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Timberplay (2006 – 2008)
This two year project was jointly funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). A graduate of landscape architecture worked within the company Timberplay – who import wooden play equipment made by Julian Richter in Germany to provide landscape design skills. The project embedded landscape design into the heart of the company which had previously focused on sales and implementation. The aim is to develop play spaces in `natural settings´, which include the use of landform and planting.

Assessment of Green Space Strategies (2005)
The National Audit Office (NAO) approached Helen and asked her to work with them to develop a set of criteria for assessing local authorities’ green and open space strategies and then to apply these to completed strategies. Some of the outcomes were published in the NAO report Enhancing Urban Green Spaces (2005).

Assessing the Links between local authority expenditure and the quality of urban green spaces (2004)
I led a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield and GreenSpace to undertake this research for CABE Space. The findings were of significant interest because it was clear that of the local authorities involved in the study, they did not all relate their expenditure with quality and that varying quality indicators were being used. The findings have helped to develop some of the future direction of CABE Space.

Value of Public Space (2004)
CABE Space asked me (who co-ordinated the project) and Matthew Carmona (from University College London) to bring together evidence from research about green and open spaces which highlights the benefits such spaces provide for people´s lives. The publication is available on the CABE website.

Disabled and non-disabled children´s free play in the school playground (2002 – 2004)
This research was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and investigated the play which takes place in primary school playgrounds. It had a specific focus on whether disabled children are included in play in playgrounds, if so how they are included and what barriers exist to their inclusion. The final research monologue was published by the National Children´s Bureau (available from their web site) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Improving Urban Parks, Play Areas and Green Spaces, (2002 - 2004)
I was a lead member of the team who undertook this research for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and which fed into the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce. I specifically led on the strand of research relating to users of the spaces and this work included a variety of focus groups with under-represented users. The publication is available on the web site of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Breaking the downward spiral: current trends and future responses of children to their town centres (1994 – 1995) and Facing the future: towards a greater understanding of children and their urban environments, (1995 – 1996)
These two consecutive projects were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). They sought to develop an understanding of the perception of and use that children aged 6-11 made of their town centres first of all using quantitative and then qualitative methods. As a result of this research Helen developed an interest in skateboarders and how they use urban open spaces. In recent years this has resulted in an understanding of how society seeks to control skateboarder’s use of civic open spaces, in city centres in the north of England.

Teaching Interests

I teach both undergraduates and postgraduates and supervise PhD students. I co-ordinates all the Masters Dissertations for: MA in Landscape Architecture, MA in Landscape Studies, MA in Landscape Management, MA in Landscape Research – I also supervise some of these dissertations. The undergraduate module Sustainable Communities is the revised version of Social Aspects of Design and continues to work with real clients from across the City of Sheffield. During the last ten years these clients have included children’s nurseries, Rushey Meadow respite home for disabled children, the neo-natal unit at the Jessop’s hospital, St. Luke’s Hospice, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Homes (now Housing Services) for play sites and sheltered housing sites, Hartley Brook Primary School, Bents Green Special School, Hallam Primary School, St. Wilfred’s School and a mosque and nursery for the Muslim community in the north of the city. At the postgraduate level students research these social topics to inform their approach to the planning, design and management of sites in other modules.

At postgraduate level I teach on Greenspace Management and Special Project where my focus is on the Planning Management and Planning Design strands. I also contribute to Introduction to Planning. Previously I have taught Professional Practice and Site Planning for Housing amongst other subjects.

Administrative responsibilities

Having held many administrative responsibilities over the years I am currently Director of Research and Chair of the Departmental Ethics Review Committee and a member of the Departmental Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee. I am a senior member of the Faculty of Social Sciences Student Review Committee, and a member of Appeals Committee of Senate; The University of Sheffield Women’s Network Steering Group and a small University wide group exploring Management across the University.


2014: Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Visiting Fellowship, hosted by Chiba University.
2008: Visiting Fellow at Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture, Regents Park College, Oxford University.
2003: Her Majesty the Queens’ Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of work Chairing the Steering Group for the Restoration and Regeneration of Sheffield Botanical Gardens.
2000: Nominated for the Association of European Schools of Planning Aesop Award by the Editorial Board of the Journal of Urban Design
1997: Landscape Institute Research Award
1982: Winner of the Sunday Telegraph Town Garden Design Competition

Professional Interests

I am a member of the Editorial board of the Journal of Urban Design. I also reviews academic articles for 16 journals, book proposals and research proposals for a range of international funding bodies including the Economic and Social Research Council, British Academy, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. I  also review for a range of conferences including ECLAS, CELA, EDRA and IFLA. I examine PhD candidates on topics relating to green and open spaces, children’s outdoor environments and play.

Landscape Institute
I have previously held various responsibilities for the Landscape Institute including being a member of: Council, the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch Committee, a range of Course Accreditation panels and the Professional Practice Examination Written Paper Group. Helen has organised a range of Landscape Institute and interdisciplinary events and initiated CDP events.

CABE Space
I was one of the first fifteen, and only academic, to be selected as a CABE Space Enabler in 2003. I worked with and supported many local authorities in their development of green and open strategies, play strategies and training activities. I also undertook research for CABE Space and ODPM and sat on advisory groups for other CABE Space research. I advised the consultants who developed the Green Space Leaders programme and supported them in the first of these events which took place in Sheffield.

Green Space/Urban Parks Forum
I was a Director of the Urban Parks Forum (before it became Green Space) and in this role gave verbal evidence to the House of Commons sub-committee into the revision of PPG17, Planning Policy Guidance for Open Space, Sport and Recreation and helped to organise conferences.

Sheffield Botanical Gardens
I was involved with the £6.75 million restoration and regeneration of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens for more than 10 years: initially chairing the publicity and communications working group and then as Chair of the Steering Group for the partnership with Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Town Trust, the Friends of the Botanical Gardens and the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust.

Memberships, affiliations, extramural
Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute


Having wanted to be a Landscape Architect from an early age, partly influenced by being brought up in the garden village of Bournville, I studied Agricultural and Environmental Science at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne where I was awarded an upper second class degree. I was funded by the Social Science Research Council award to study on the postgraduate course in Landscape Design. Before joining The University of Sheffield in 1992 I worked both in and for private practice and the public sector.

Selected publications

View full publications list


  • Woolley H (2003) Urban Open Spaces. Taylor & Francis. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles