I attended the Future Build 2014 conference at Sheffield City Hall on 5-6 November. This was a fascinating event, with some great speakers and an excellent exhibition of the work of commercial organisations, universities, government agencies and community groups focusing on the sustainability of housing, commercial property and local communities. The presentations from the two days are now available – Future Build Schedule.
SHU’s Department of the Natural and Built Environment had a stand promoting our postgraduate courses, research work and business services, alongside our Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research, and the Materials and Engineering Research Institute. There seemed to be a lot of interest in our courses and research projects – we were particularly pleased to be able to promote our new MBA specifically focused at the construction industry. It was also a great opportunity to hear some inspirational speakers. The conference was opened by Wayne Hemingway, who used his own experience starting up in design and fashion to emphasise the need for young people to be able to develop new enterprises, often in the creative industries, using almost `subversive` and unregulated opportunities. He highlighted the examples of Hackney in London, and the area under the High Line in New York – where early start-ups of independent cafes and small shops have created thriving, vibrant communities in previously derelict or run-down areas.
He went on to suggest that being `sustainable` was not just about the technical solutions to energy and waste issues (very much on show in the Future Build exhibition), but also enhancing the social and community aspects of sustainability. Providing communities with the opportunities and the spaces to create, to change and to develop. Much of what Wayne Hemingway discussed chimed very well with a government review of the skills needed to create sustainable communities undertaken in 2003 (chaired by Sir John Egan, published in 2004). The Egan Review concluded by defining eight features which needed to be in place to deliver truly sustainable communities – and these have since been conceptualised as the Egan Wheel….
Again – the emphasis here is not just on technological solutions to some of the major environmental challenges, but in creating empowered communities with shared spaces and green places in which people can live, work and play. It’s a good model. I have always felt that `sustainable development` is a nebulous phrase at best – but even a child could have a go at drawing a `sustainable community`. If you can draw it – you can visualise it – and the vision becomes achievable. There were some good examples of local communities near Sheffield aiming to achieve their own sustainability successes at Future Build. ADVyCE – the Amber and Derwent Valley Community Energy project is a social enterprise launched by Transition Belper, working on the largest undeveloped hydro opportunity on the River Derwent. There were many other community schemes at the Future Build event demonstrating what can be achieved by people working in their own areas. It is all too common to hear people express concerns about climate change and environmental loss, but to say they feel they can do nothing to change things – the `value-action gap`. One of the best speakers at the event was a fire fighter from the Dublin Fire Brigade – Neil McCabe. For the past seven years, Neil has written and implemented his own `Green Plan`. He began through concerns for both low morale at his fire station in Kilbarrack, and a personal desire to `do something` for the environment. His first action was to place a cardboard box on the station counter to collect old batteries to recycle. From these small beginnings he has gone on to create a genuine model of sustainable management of energy usage, water and waste, biodiversity and community involvement. His Green Plan has been adopted by Dublin City Council, and rolled out to other fire stations and public services across the city, and has saved millions of euros through energy reduction. He now finds himself feted at EU meetings in Brussels and elsewhere – all richly deserved. Here was a truly inspirational example of one individual who has made a real difference to sustainability in his own community and beyond. Watch his presentation if you can.