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DOTT Eco Design Challenge, a Decade On

It’s been ten years since Leap’s Matt Hocking was appointed as the first Senior Design Producer of DOTT Cornwall’s Eco Design Challenge, but the work continues to resonate.

What Was DOTT?

DOTT (Designs Of The Time) was a year-long regional programme conceived by the Design Council, that ran in Cornwall in 2009-10. It was a big change-maker project run in partnership with Cornwall Council, University College Falmouth and the Technology Strategy Board. The aim of the programme was to involve local residents in the design and development of sustainable solutions to the area’s social, environmental and economic issues. As a grass roots initiative its purpose was to enable people living in regions eligible for European economic regeneration funding, support and self-determination to develop their own solutions.

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The DOTT Eco Design Challenge

Developed and led by Leap over a ten month period, the Eco Design Challenge asked Year-8 pupils across Cornwall to measure the ecological footprint of their school and then to design ways to reduce it. Over 1000 students and teachers from 34 schools took part and generated some fantastic ideas, with six finalists presenting their eco ideas to a Dragon’s Den style panel for a share of a £10,000 prize purse from NESTA (innovation foundation). The Eco Challenge was supported by the Real Ideas Organization and The Learning Partnership.

“First we gave students and their project leaders the tools with which they could work out their school’s carbon footprints – how much water they use, how much of their waste goes to landfill and so on. Then, working with some top national and local design talent, they came up with ways of reducing their school’s impact on the environment.” Matt Hocking, Leap Founder and Senior Producer of DOTT Eco Design Challenge

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75 teachers attended a special educators workshop at the Eden Project, whilst an “Eco-Day” at Penryn College brought together students from Penryn College and Five Islands School on the Isles of Scilly to compare methodologies, results, and ideas. They were joined by representatives from Recycle Now, Surfers Against Sewage, and Cornwall Transport for Schools alongside environmentalist author and diver Alan Maxstead who showed them how different aspects of their daily lives could affect their carbon footprint.

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“We hope with the process we’re going through that actually some of the ideas they come up with, will be put into practice and will actually reduce the carbon footprint we’re producing.” – Andy Latham, Penryn College’s sustainability coordinator

Working with digital toolkits that we produced (including an app that calculated and produced an illustrated representation of the various sources of a school’s carbon footprint), students were able to build an accurate picture of the environmental impact and needs of their school. As well as studying different aspects of school life, participants also looked at the impact of journeys to and from school, school meals, water use and waste disposal. Having identified the area they wished to improve and produced an initial brief, professional design mentors worked with students to help refine, enhance and further develop their proposals. Leading designers like Sebastian Conran and Sophie Thomas joined local architects and designers in supporting the schools.

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A Legacy of Creativity, Light and Green Energy

The schools that made it through to the final round of Cornwall’s DOTT Eco Design Challenge presented their solutions in front of an audience at the county’s annual DesignEd event at University College Falmouth’s Tremough Campus. The “Dragons Den” style judging panel was led by TV celebrity sustainability expert Dick Strawbridge and was made up of representatives from the Design Council, NESTA, Dott and Cornwall Council. St Ives School won a grant of over £6,500 for their solution to refurbish the school’s art block. Working with Helen Brooks of RLT Architects in Penzance the students reworked the 1970s building, using large roof windows to flood their creative space with essential natural light and mounted photovoltaic panels on the structure to generate green energy.

“This award has enabled the whole school community to come together and solve its own problems whilst also representing great value for money.”DOTT Cornwall Year One Review

Ten Years On

Beyond the benefits that the winning school enjoyed, the DOTT Eco Design Challenge’s legacy was the students who took part in it. They dived deep into environmental and sustainability issues in both their school and their own lives, and developed creative thinking and problem solving skills to design solutions. In the ten years since many of them will have gone on to study in the fields of design and sustainability at college and university, and are perhaps now starting careers as designers, inspired in part by the unique stand-alone project that they took part of in year 8. All of the students who took part though, regardless of whether they have gone on to become designers, finished with a far greater understanding of environmental issues and the power of small actions.
At Leap the DOTT Eco Challenge was a (almost all-consuming) ten-month project through 2009 and 2010, combining design, delivery, management and mentoring. Working across such a large project from start to finish, from designing the challenge and developing resources through to delivery and its conclusion, was incredibly rewarding and it’s a project that we’re incredibly proud of both due to the work produced and its large and lasting impact.