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.

News
University Edible Garden, Leeds – a sustainable garden in the centre of the university, passers-by can help themselves to the home-grown produce
newsFrom a former custard factory to a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz