Young people from across the North East have taken part in an unique event at the NWG Innovation Festival in Newcastle.
School children joined tech leaders such as IBM and Microsoft to lend their creative ideas to Northumbrian Water Group (NGW).
The first NWG Innovation Festival aims to bring together the best innovative minds, using design ‘sprint’ thinking to explore and create new solutions to some of the biggest social and environmental challenges we face.
Through a combination of practical activities, creative challenges and the chance to meet experts from around the world, the festival also aims to enthuse young people with careers involving science, maths, engineering and technology (STEM) skills.
Many joined in “design sprints” - a five-day problem-solving process designed by Google that involves answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with customers.
They also took part in a schools STEM Fayre, organised by headline sponsors Reece Innovation, part of engineering firm Reece Group.
Based in the historic Armstrong Works, founded by the great Victorian industrialist and innovator Lord Armstrong, Reece Group seeks to continue the North East’s proud heritage as a global leader in innovative engineering.
Nigel Watson, Northumbrian Water’s Group Director of Innovation Services, said: “Our industry requires more than 200,000 new recruits in the next 10 years and we hope that through activities such as this we can inspire the next generation of entrants into the energy and utilities sector.”
“It’s been fantastic to welcome young people from across the North East into the festival. We are tackling some very important issues in our sprints this week, but the future workforce needs of the energy and utilities industry is as vital as any, so we need to enthuse young people about STEM subjects from an early age.
“We’re grateful to all of our headline sponsors for their support and it is fantastic to see Reece Innovation taking on the additional role of facilitating the schools challenge, as well as leading one of the week’s sprints.”
As part of a dedicated ‘Teenager’s Bedroom of the Future’ sprint, young people (aged 16 – 19) worked with designers to design the teenager’s bedroom of 2025.
They developed their ideas and considered software tools and building contractors to overcome potential interior design issues.
This sprint is just the start of a month-long design competition which is open to young people across the UK. As well as being a fun challenge, the contest encourages students to adapt their science, technology, engineering and maths skills to everyday life, as well as look at issues such as personal health and digital security. The winning design will be created as an exhibit at Newcastle’s Science City.
Jess Scott, a student at Newcastle High School for Girls, said: “We started off by thinking about our first bedroom, what it was like and why it was like that and then we started to think about how that might change in the future; what the future will be like for a teenager and what young people will need.
“We’ve also discussed charity, artificial intelligence and what that will mean for human rights in the future.”
As part of the week, Reece Innovation and the Life Science Centre also ran a special STEM Fayre for younger children, giving them a chance to find out more about STEM subjects and how their practical application has fuelled creativity and inventions.
Armed with marshmallows, straws and string – children were also tasked to build the largest free standing structure they could as part of a creative thinking session. The session focused on the differences in problem solving between children and adults and looked at how grown-ups can learn creative techniques from the younger delegates.
On the whole, children tend to tackle problems head on, through trial and error, whereas adults tend to plan and strive for perfection in the first instance – often a counterproductive method when striving to innovate.
Chris Pywell, Director, Reece Innovation, said: “As well as dedicating a week to tackling some very serious social and environmental issues, the NWG Innovation Festival aims to inspire young people about the possibilities of careers that involve STEM skills. The STEM Fayre is a fantastic way of doing this and ensuring the children have a lot of fun in the process.
“It’s great to be working with partners such as Northumbrian Water and the Life Science Centre on such an ambitious Innovation Festival that we hope will result in many benefits for people across the North East and beyond.”
Carl Luke, STEM Lead at Hotspur Primary School, Heaton, Newcastle, said: “It is brilliant for our children to meet real industry leaders and see all the different opportunities that are open to them. Being part of the NWG Innovation festival will raise aspirations and has really excited them about their future possibilities.”
Teenagers from around the North East are also getting involved in the week’s other sprints, adding their own ideas and experience to the mix of industry, academia and customers that will be at the festival.
STEM activities at the NWG Innovation Festival have been organised with support from innovation agency +ADD Strategy and Reece Innovation.
The week, which is taking place from Monday 10 – Friday 14 July at Newcastle Racecourse, is supported by headline sponsors including IBM, Microsoft, CGI, Reece Innovation, BT and Ordnance Survey, who will lead the search for innovation to address issues including flooding, leakage and infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Northumbrian Water Group helped to launch the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, alongside more than 20 other organisations, with the aim of bringing more than 220,000 new recruits into the sector by 2027.
The partnership aims to improve awareness of career opportunities within the industry among people of all ages and the STEM Fayre helps to start that message at an early age.
The NWG Innovation Festival is delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.
People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival, and how they can get involved at https://innovationfestival.org/. Details of the competition to design the teenager′s bedroom of the future can be found at www.futureroom.today.