C2I 2023 STEM Initiative Winner: Powering the Future: South Tyneside and Beyond

School pupils from South Tyneside have been imagining the future of renewable energy in an ongoing invention challenge inspired and funded by Dogger Wind Farm.

Isaac (aged nine) and his ‘Wind Mirrors’ invention
Isaac (aged nine) and his ‘Wind Mirrors’ invention - South Tyneside Council/Little Inventors/Ford Aerospace

Category: STEM Initiative 
Headline Sponsor: Megger
Project: Powering the Future: South Tyneside and Beyond
Partners: South Tyneside Council with Dogger Bank Community Fund, Little Inventors, Ford Aerospace, Cell Pack Solutions, Ryder Architects, Port of Tyne and North Star Marine 

The push towards net zero has never been more urgent than it is right now. For the majority of us this push is not for our own immediate benefit, but for the future generations to come, who, unfortunately, will face the environmental consequences of the damage already done.

As an upside, these future generations will be equipped with technology, materials and ideas that we cannot even fathom today, but we must do everything we can to put them in the best possible position.

This winner of the STEM Initiative category in this year's C2I awards has done exactly that, with the aim to encourage young people to use their imagination to ‘solve’ some of the planet’s problems, but also, crucially, to raise their awareness of the skills needed for a more climate conscious future.

In mid-2023, school pupils from across South Tyneside were invited to take part in an invention challenge created and supported by South Tyneside Council, Dogger Bank Wind Farm and Little Inventors, a creative education organisation that stimulates children’s imaginations by taking their ideas seriously.

The project was inspired and funded by Dogger Bank Wind Farm, the world’s largest offshore windfarm currently, which is being built off the North East coastline and has its operations and maintenance base headquarters at the Port of Tyne.

South Tyneside council has used this connection to challenge the young people of their community to explore the role of wind and other forms of renewable energy in helping address climate change.

“Powering the Future: South Tyneside and Beyond allows young people's ideas to be taken seriously and places value on the practicality of the imagination - emphasising the phrase, there's no such thing as a bad idea,” said a council spokesperson.

The programme kick started with a CPD session to enable teachers across South Tyneside to develop their own STEM skills and feel confident delivering the programme within their individual settings. The council said the CPD sessions placed importance on the value of 'thinking like a child' and how putting yourself into that mindset can generate some of the best solutions to real world problems.

And, indeed, solutions were generated: over 3000 young people across South Tyneside engaged in the invention challenged, which asked students in years four and five to draw inventions powered by wind and movement.

Six entries were chosen to be brought to life, with two chosen from each year group, alongside two notable mentions.

Each of the winning inventors were partnered with a business or industry representative who offered mentorship or a workplace visit to inspire the young people, as well as to transform their initial ideas from paper to product.

The sky was the limit with these inventions, as they ranged from a ‘Turtle Motorway’ invented by Alice (aged nine) and supported by designer Ellie Birkhead, that uses a wind propellor to charge and light a motorway that safely transports turtles from their nesting place to the ocean, to the ‘Toilet Turbine 2000,’ created by Joey (aged ten) and developed by STEM Ambassador John Parnum.

Of course, “everyone uses the toilet,” said Joey when describing his invention. “When you flush this toilet, it powers a turbine which can be used to power lots of homes.”

Isaac (aged nine) had his ‘Wind Mirrors’ invention brought to life by Cell Pack Solutions, a battery manufacturing company and Ford Aerospace, a precision engineering business.

“The propellers will spin in the wind as the car moves which will then provide electricity, which will power the radio and satnav,” said Isaac. “This is also a safety feature because it can power the rear and front headlights. The propellers are underneath the mirrors so it doesn't obstruct the driver's view.”

In terms of considering human movement, Bo (aged ten) collaborated with artist and animator Chloe Rodham on the ‘Auto Heating Shivering Device:’ “This is for all those people who hate being cold,” said Bo. “As you shiver the movement is harnessed in the wristbands which then generates a heater which will warm you up.”

The young inventors considered more than just their renewable designs, though, as each invention has its own social value and solution, too.

Notably, Tommy (aged nine) was sponsored by Dogger Bank suppliers North Star Renewables and Chartwell Marine to create his ‘Little Picker Boat,’ that is pushed by the wind, or back-up stored energy from the wind, to pick up litter, whilst Jack (aged ten) worked with Ryder Architecture to realise his ‘Sleep and H20 2000’ idea.

“My invention is a solar panel heated homeless shelter,” said Jack. “The shelter uses sun energy to create heat for homeless people to sleep in, and also has a drinking water fountain that is made from filtered rain.”

- South Tyneside Council

All of the inventions were displayed as part of an interactive exhibition at The National Centre for the Written Word, South Shields, throughout 2023.

“Through this programme, we have been able to showcase careers and opportunities in the renewable energy sector to the next generation. We are proud of the innovative ideas submitted in the programme, and are amazed to see creative ideas from local young people address real world energy problems,” said Tom Nightingale, from UK supply chain leader, Equinor.

Year two of the project has now begun, with a programme of school based workshops where young people will explore STEM skills, careers in renewable energy and link Dogger Bank Wind Farm to the local area.

"This programme is about encouraging our young people to use their imagination to solve some of the planet's problems but it's also about raising their awareness of the skills needed for the jobs of the future,” said councillor Jane Carter, Education & Skills, South Tyneside Council.

“We want young people to be in the best position possible so that they are able to access any careers that are up and coming and they are interested in but also giving them the confidence and abilities to be able to do that.”

This project has highlighted the value, benefit and vitality of collaboration between education and business, particularly in the STEM sectors, where partnership can not only improve the skills, aspirations and attainment for young people but also for businesses and industry alike.

The programme has certainly shown that taking young people's ideas seriously can create world leading solutions to some of the biggest issues that businesses, industry and society as a whole face, while at the same time making a lasting impact on young people's confidence, careers and vision for the future.