SMASH-UK, co-founded by MDX Product Design lecturer Wyn Griffiths and University of Greenwich Research Fellow Dr Lindsay Keith, has together with partners the British Ecological Society (BES) and citizen science organisation MammalWeb Ltd been awarded nearly a quarter of a million pounds to deliver a green transformation to 50 schools in deprived parts of the North East.
The award is from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, developed by DEFRA and arm's-length organisations and distributed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to kickstart environmental renewal. The programme will see training delivered to around 350 teachers at partner schools, and 50 early career ecologists trained up as Environmental Educators in Residence, collaborating with teachers to develop workshops and deliver biodiversity enhancements to school grounds.
With the creation of wildflower areas, nest-boxes, insect hotels and hedgehog-highways around schools, pupils will become citizen scientists and monitor wildlife in their immediate environment. An estimated 10,000 pupils will benefit over 18 months.
The Educating Ecologists project builds on SMASH-UK's previous partnerships with the BES on the Space Plague immersive/online STEAM engagement experience, and on this summer's Future Green Spaces online exhibit for the Edinburgh Science Festival.
Wyn Griffiths hopes it will help develop a greater sense of ownership and agency among young people, teachers and researchers, that the activity will be sustained beyond the duration of the programme, and that for policymakers, it will reinforce the message that relatively small interventions can have transformative effects.
Between SMASH-UK and its partners and Middlesex as an insitution, "there are philosophies in common around inclusion and serving under-represented groups," says Wyn.
"Each project is about reinforcing those approaches, allowing us to connect with and work with more people. In terms of the learnings for academic research at MDX, it's about applying the methods of co-design and inclusion in a live or digital interactive experience".
Wyn sets up external projects in such a way that student projects link to them, sometimes spanning Maths, Science, and Arts and Creative Industries programmes. For the Educating Ecologists project, MDX students will test camera traps to gain insights into how they can link into the overall system design.
Wyn has also worked with MDX's Enactus UK social entrepreneurship competition team, acting as an advisor on their ecological project with St Joseph's School in Hendon. The Enactus students incorporated some of SMASH-UK's co-design methods into their working. "It's the way relationships and approaches percolate through the university at staff or student level that yields great benefits," says Wyn.