Posted Friday 22 September 2023
Residents and business people from across South London have converged on Kingston University for the latest in a series of workshops staged to develop actionable ideas to tackle challenges facing their communities. The ways both residential and commercial buildings could be retrofitted to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and achieve sustainability goals were the topics of the BIG Design Lab session hosted at the University's flagship Town House.
Part of a series run by BIG South London – a consortium that brings together the knowledge, expertise and facilities of 14 higher and further education providers to benefit their communities – the event was held in partnership with Kingston Council. It examined the challenges related to supply chains and how high levels of demand could hinder progress towards a greener and more sustainably built environment. Participants included representatives from small and medium-sized enterprises, borough residents and activists, all keen to develop innovative solutions and explore opportunities for further collaborative projects.
The event was the latest of 11 half-day challenges to have taken place so far this year across the five London boroughs that make up the BIG South London network – Kingston upon Thames, Sutton, Croydon, Richmond upon Thames and Merton. Each session has been themed around subjects ranging from employment and skills, the climate emergency and revitalising the high street to improving business resilience and productivity, health and wellbeing and reducing inequality.
BIG South London Creative Industries lead Professor Maria Chatzichristodoulou, who is Associate Dean of Research, Business and Innovation at Kingston School of Art, said academic experts and postgraduate students specialising in architecture and landscape, sustainable design and business management had all contributed to the sessions.
The team from the University's Hackcentre had also been instrumental in helping participants use design thinking methodologies to aid their approach to innovation. "Attendees had the opportunity to broaden their professional and community networks, share ideas and solutions to improve their local community, develop their creativity and problem-solving skills and collaborate with key players in the London boroughs to create sustainable solutions," she said.
Kingston Council's Green Economy Lead officer Ioanna Rossi said the sessions had resulted in encouraging conversations and ideas that would contribute to the borough's strategic direction to decarbonise and grow the local economy. "The BIG Design Lab has created another important platform to help support our local businesses and partners and provide a valuable resource to inform the Council's work to make the borough carbon neutral by 2038"
Anna Orridge, Green Co-ordinator for the Harris Federation, a multi-academy trust operating across London, was among the attendees. She said the series had made her more aware of the logistical and technical challenges of her role, helping her build networks and think creatively about the educational aspects of her work. "I've been able to collaborate with Kingston University students to create new lesson plans and workshops for our pupils," she explained. "The academics I have met have been interested in forming long term collaborations, making me more aware of support schemes and funding opportunities. In return, I hope to be able to help them find new audiences for pilot programmes, creating a mutually beneficial relationship."
Kingston Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Forbes Low, said the sessions benefited from the broad range of attendees, from academics to architects, local residents and businesses, specialising in areas such as electric charging and solar panel fitting. "I'm a firm supporter of the University's approach to using hackathons as a creative way of finding a solution that can be replicated across different sectors," he said.
The group would now aim to progress a number of projects developed by the BIG Design Lab, addressing challenges around e-waste, recycling and reusing materials, teaching biodiversity to students in urban settings and enhancing employees' green skills, Professor Chatzichristodoulou said.
Kingston University has also been successful in securing BIG South London funding to facilitate a Creative and Digital Innovation Cluster with the University of the Arts London. "We hope many of the BIG Design Lab attendees will be interested in joining this cluster, which will bring together creative and cultural industries and technology innovation companies across the five boroughs," Professor Chatzichristodoulou said. "Businesses will stand to benefit enormously from access both to each other's expertise, networks and facilities and those of the universities involved."