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.

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

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Surrey - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Croy...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Marketing & Social Media Executive

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Marketing Graduate or...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer (Trainee) - City, London

£25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Services Graduate Training Scheme

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a successful and establ...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory