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UKGBC’s ‘Second Nature Live’ course: developing more than just a piece of land

Kris Karslake Kris Karslake   18 Nov 2019

Back in 2017, the UKGBC set a ten-year roadmap on how to make sustainable development second nature: Ambitions for 2027. While recognising the need to accelerate our collective progress and make sustainable development second nature to us all, one of the key outcomes of the plan was the development of the namesake course, ‘Second Nature Live’. This year, I was one of four BAM people fortunate enough to have been invited to take part.

Sponsored by housing association Clarion this year, the goal of the course was to develop a sustainable development strategy for ‘infill sites’, empty spaces on existing estates that are not being fully utilised, and that are seen as a valuable part of the plan to meet housing demand. The brief was left completely open to the course delegates - focus on one Clarion site, or them all, pick one technical challenge or an overarching strategy.

 

How did the course go?

A two day kick-off workshop in September involved some high-level thinking about sustainability, presentations from Clarion about their history, vision & strategy, and talks from external speakers highlighting some case study projects. We also visited two of the infill sites, which helped bring the challenge to life. This was a real selling point of the course, the strategies we were to come up with were not just a hypothetical scenario; Clarion are actually considering how to develop these infill sites and the outputs from the challenge could therefore serve a real purpose.

Once our teams had been formed, we were left to manage our projects ourselves. With no pre-planned team contact days, communicating between members who were geographically spread out could have been a real challenge. Fortunately, the use of technology (in this instance Skype) meant we could easily share files and see each other’s screens remotely. For one person in my team, this way of working was also a real eye opener, and I am pleased to report they are now using Skype in their day job, avoiding hours of travel. Weekly webinars from the UKGBC provided an opportunity to receive content that could form part of our proposals. These were recorded, which was fortunate because the majority of participants were unavailable during the webinar times! Three weeks before the end of the course, we also got the opportunity to catch up with a course mentor, who could redirect attention on certain areas or our proposals if required.

On 12 November we all regrouped to present our proposals to a mixed group of panellists at a capstone event. A nerve-racking experience, in part because the panel included Richard Cook, Director of Development from Clarion Housing Group; Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UKGBC and Martyn McColl, resident representative and architect. A summary of the proposals does not do justice to the amount of work that each group put into them, but below are some of the key points:

One team presented an adaptable framework for sustainable development and how this could be applied to an infill site. Another team presented the hundred-year house, designed for adaptability and ease of maintenance. Another team proposed that the infill developments could form the key to regeneration of the areas using a modular construction system. The final team demonstrated how key technologies could be applied to the developments to make more efficient homes and bring the community together.

Although technically a winner was selected from the groups, we were all declared winners! And I tend to agree with this, not only because all the presentations were so differently focused (despite the common themes), but because participants got the opportunity to learn so much about different sustainability themes and gained so much from each other because of the specialisms of our different disciplines.

 

So would I recommend the course?

Yes! Being completely honest, I was having slightly less than positive thoughts about the course before the capstone event, but with the advantage of now being able to look back at the process as a whole, I can see that the challenges (for example the very open brief), were in fact a key strength.

Unfortunately one of the BAM delegates withdrew from the course because of other commitments, and this highlights one of the course’s challenges: not only is there the time required for participation, but it takes up a lot of headspace. Spending over two months thinking about how to include all your messages in a proposal and trying to ensure all the team have the same, shared vision is big commitment.

Now at the end of the process, there is also a little part of me still wanting more from the output. Possibly in the form of a hybrid proposal, taking of all the best bits from all the teams and creating one stronger proposal for infill sites. I would be really interested to find out if any parts of the proposals will be included Clarion’s future developments. (I am pleased to say that there is hope for this opportunity, having just received an email from Elfrida, Head of Learning and Leadership at UKGBC while writing this blog!)

Kris Karslake is a Sustainability Manager at BAM Construct

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