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Big ideas for solutions for the planet

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Published on 23 May 2023

Winning team
Winning team

The University of Sunderland was host to the award-winning ‘Big Ideas Programme’, using the topic of sustainability to promote STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine) to the next generation of learners.

Teams of 11-14-year-olds are mentored by employees from local businesses to develop creative solutions (or ‘Big Ideas’) to sustainability issues. Four schools, Academy 360, King James 1 Academy, North Durham Academy, Outwood Academy Redcar, competed in the regional final, hosted by the University.

Judges included the University’s Chief Operations Officer Kirsten Black, Alex Brightman from Northern Gas Networks and Dan Wright from Tarmac. The panel were joined by ‘young person judges’ Amy Beckford from Veg of Lund UK, Chanel Ng Siau Ling, ClimaTalk, Pavan Mahesh from Young Asian Voices.

The Big Ideas Programme is a national STEM and enterprise programme focused on finding creative solutions to sustainability issues. 

The day’s winning presentation was given by “The Litter Builders” from Outwood Academy Redcar. Their presentation described a service which would collect litter in Redcar and turn the litter  into statues to raise awareness about litter-related issues.

Runners-up included presentations about a hybrid car powered by a wind turbine built into the grill and a charity which would manufacture cars powered by hydrogen and sodium hydroxide.

Judge Kirsten Black said: “It was exciting and inspiring to see the range of projects and initiatives developed by our north-east school pupils. 

“Working on a ‘big idea’ borne out of a passion or interest as a starting point really engages the teams. 

“With the developmental sessions and the input of their mentors, the teams crunched a huge amount of creative thinking, research, market and financial information to give the judges 10 outstanding business cases tackling a number of key issues.  

“These fantastic presentations made hard work for the judges, but we got there after some crunching of our own!”

Laura Bell, the University's STEMM Outreach Officer, who organised the event, said: “The University of Sunderland was delighted to host the regional final of the Big Ideas Competition for Solutions for the Planet. Celebrating the talent of young people in our region and nurturing their interest in STEMM is really important to us.

“In addition, we showcased the variety of STEMM pathways they could pursue if they decide to go on to higher education in the future. 

“A big congratulations to the winning team – The Litter Builders from Outwood Academy Redcar – and good luck for the final in Westminster!”