Somerset College: The building blocks of a sustainable future

One college is leading the way in pioneering new techniques in construction, says Neil Merrick

Students entering the latest learning and resource centre at Somerset College are unlikely to be aware that they are walking on tiles made from recycled tyres.

Nor is it immediately apparent that the surfaces around the handbasins in the lavatories were made from yogurt pots, or that the walls are insulated with old cotton denim jeans.

But that's the sort of thing you'll find at the Genesis Centre for Sustainable Construction, the first centre of its kind at a further education college. It aims to promote environmentally friendly building among learners of all ages.

The £2.5m centre, named Genesis in a reference to creativity, will be officially unveiled tomorrow. But some students are already using its facilities.

It is four years since the Taunton-based college became the country's first and, so far, only centre of vocational excellence in sustainable construction. The idea of a centre built with recycled and sustainable materials came from students who were set an assignment as part of a higher national certificate programme at the college.

Four years later, the dream is a reality, thanks in part to grants from the South West Regional Development Agency and the Learning and Skills Council, which want it to be a showcase for the construction industry.

Ian Moore, the centre's operations director, is determined that it is seen as a more than just another eco-building. "We are trying to show that you can integrate the use of sustainable materials into mainstream construction, but that means you need the knowledge and skills base to achieve it," he says.

The centre, powered by renewable energy, consists of five free-standing pavilions linked by a glass wall. The clay and straw pavilions include lecture and conference facilities, while the earth pavilion is a shop selling eco-friendly products.

The timber pavilion doubles as an office block, while the water pavilion, which includes the lavatories, demonstrates the latest ways to conserve water. Roofs of rubble and sedum provide a natural habitat for wildlife.

Tim Simmons, the college's sustainable construction manager and a teacher in construction, believes the mood will benefit staff and students. "Learners are stimulated by the environment where they work. If you put people in a naturally-lit and ventilated environment, they will feel better about themselves."

The centre will eventually be used by up to 800 students on construction courses as well as those on marketing and retail courses, who will examine the success of the shop. The new building is also open to architects and other professionals in business, housing and local government who are seeking further training and development.

Some of the first learners to step inside last month were 600 schoolchildren, for a prize-giving ceremony. About 20 schools will use it for projects linked to the national curriculum, as staff hope to attract more young people into the construction industry.

According to Ian Moore, the centre is more likely to attract gifted and able students, including women, who are less likely to study construction. "There is still a perception of the building industry as men with hard hats. It needs to be far more than that."

The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, recently called on schools - but not colleges - to be models of sustainable development. The Commons education select committee is about to inquire into sustainable building that will cover the FE capital programme.

Somerset is way ahead of most colleges in promoting sustainable construction, but others are becoming more aware of the need to be environmentally friendly. Last year, Plymouth College opened an innovation unit powered by two wind turbines, while South East Essex College boasts classrooms that channel air through concrete planks for heating and ventilation.

The Association of Colleges has embarked on an 18-month project in Southeast England to encourage colleges to emphasise sustainable construction in the curriculum and review their building programmes.

Among six colleges identified as leaders in using sustainable materials is Plumpton, a land-based college near Brighton. Plumpton is building a teaching and research centre for winery, with a sedum roof, and a centre at Battle using locally-grown wood insulated with earth. "It makes the students think," says the principal, Des Lambert.

Owen Barfield of the European sustainable growth project Grow is impressed by the enthusiasm shown by many colleges, and hopes that others will follow their example. "The lessons learnt by colleges that are promoting sustainable construction should not be lost," he says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Commercial Property Surveyor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading firms of Cha...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A keen Graduate Structural Engineer with...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Data & Delivery Guru

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Data & Delivery Guru is required to...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible