The University of Sheffield
Department of Landscape

Helen Woolley BSc BPhil MLI

Helen WoolleyReader in Landscape Architecture and Society
Telephone: 0114 222 0608
Floor 12


Having wanted to be a Landscape Architect from an early age, partly influenced by being brought up in the garden village of Bournville, Helen studied Agricultural and Environmental Science at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne where she was awarded an upper second class degree. This enabled her to receive a Social Science Research Council award to study on the postgraduate course in Landscape Design at the same university. From 1980 Helen worked both in and for private practice and the public sector before returning to academic life early in 1992.


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

Research Interests

Helen has two main strands of research interests. The first of these has developed over 15 years and focuses on social inclusion and open spaces: how people, particularly from under-represented user groups use spaces and the barriers which prevent them from using open spaces. She has a specific focus on children, young people and disabled people. The interest in children and young people started with research about their use and perception of town centres, moved to skateboarders and is currently concentrated on the issue of the poor design of spaces for children to play in, in public spaces in the UK. She is a Director of the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, which is a multi-disciplinary research centre within the University of Sheffield. The second strand of research relates to strategic issues to do with open spaces and this has developed during the last six years. This area of interest relates to many of the issues which affect landscape practitioners in both local authorities and private practices on a day to day basis.

Funded Research Projects

Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Timberplay (2006 – 2008)
This is a two year project which is jointly funded by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This project enables a recent landscape architecture graduate to work within the company Timberplay – who import wooden play equipment made by Julian Richter in Germany – to provide landscape design skills. 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)
Helen 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 Helen (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 web site.

Disabled and non disabled children´s free play in the school play ground (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 Rowntee Foundation.

Improving Urban Parks, Play Areas and Green Spaces, (2002 - 2004)
Helen 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. She 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.

Teaching Interests

Helen teaches both undergraduates and postgraduates and has supervised 10 PhD students. The subjects she teaches include social aspects of design and involving communities in design and regeneration processes, site planning for housing, professional practice and special design project.

Administrative responsibilities

Having held many administrative responsibilities over the years Helen´s current ones include Departmental Ethics, Health and Safety, liaison with the careers service, the Landscape Institute and the profession. She is also the personal and academic tutor for students in their year out in practice.

Professional Interests

Since being a member of staff at the University of Sheffield Helen has continued her links with practice in a variety of ways. She has held various responsibilities for the Landscape Institute including being a member of Council, the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch Committee, organizing CPD events, and being a member of Course Accreditation panels and Annual Review Groups. Helen has been a member of the Professional Practice Examination Written Paper Working Party (1998-2006) and is currently chair of the Landscape Institute research sub-committee. She has also provided support to a number of graduates seeking professional entry to the profession. Helen has organised, undertaken presentations, chaired and facilitated sessions at academic and professional conferences and seminars. These have included events for the LI, RIBA, RTPI, UDAL, CABE Space, Play England and EDRA. In 2006 she has given keynote speeches at international conferences entitled Planning and Designing Healthy Outdoor Spaces for Young People in the 21st Century and The Child in the City.

In 2003 the government established a new national body, CABE Space, to promote open spaces and since then Helen has sat on steering groups two pieces of research for them. Helen is also a strategic advisor for CABE Space which results in Helen working as an advisor to local authorities in different parts of the country, helping them to develop green space strategies, whilst providing Helen with a strategic overview of the country. She has recently been selected as one of 9 CABE Space Advisors to work on issues relating to play strategies and the design of play spaces. Helen also assists CABE Space with training.

As a Director of Green Space Helen gave verbal evidence at the House of Commons sub-committee which heard evidence about the revision of PPG17, Planning Policy Guidance for Open Space, Sport and Recreation. Helen has been involved with the £6.75 million restoration and regeneration of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens for ten years. Initially she chaired the publicity and communications working group and has now been Chair of the Steering Group for 7 years.

Helen has refereed journal articles, book proposals and research proposals for a wide range of international bodies. She is a member of the Children, Youth and Environments network of the Environmental Design Research Association, the Play Research Network in the United Kingdom and a Director of the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth at The University of Sheffield.