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.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower