Alasdair Cameron, CEO at ARMA UK and a member of the THE Awards judging panel, speaks with Loraine Leeson, researcher and associate professor in social practice in the Visual Arts Department at Middlesex University, about Active Energy, a six-week artist commission that became a twelve-year project in collaboration with The Geezers, a group of East London retirees, looking at the forgotten potential of tidal power. Active Energy won the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year category at the THE Awards 2022.
The Active Energy project has won the Times Higher Education award 2022 for Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year.
On the evening of 17th November 2022 at a ‘glittering’ ceremony at the Hilton London Metropole, members of The Geezers Club accompanied Loraine Leeson, Professor Ann Light (who instigated the project in 2007) and Middlesex University’s Director of Knowledge Transfer Professor Mark Gray to accept this prestigious award. Described as the ‘Oscars of higher education’, these annual awards showcase the best in higher education and in this case paid tribute to a twelve-year arts-led project driven by the Geezers’ interest and enthusiasm in ensuring that renewable energy can support the lives of older people in riverside communities.
The Geezers have had a special interest in the development of tidal power, which is not subject to the vagaries of wind or sun and eminently suitable for an island nation with its many tidal rivers. It was the proximity of the Thames and the fact that older people can often not afford to heat their homes that initially inspired the Geezers to embark on this journey with artist Loraine Leeson and others to see where it would lead. Not only has much been achieved, but the value of the initiative has now recognised with the value it deserved.
6.30pm Sunday 22nd May 2022 online
Loraine Leeson talks about her chapter “Active Energy: Bringing Local Knowledge into the Public Realm” for the recently published book Ecoart in Action.
Register for the event here
The event provided an overview of Ecoart in Action: Activities, Case Studies, and Provocations for Classrooms and Communities. Compiled from 67 members of the Ecoart Network. Ecoart in Action stands as a field guide for ecoart practice. It provides adaptable strategies for engaging a wide range of learners within a variety of learning environments.
Recording of this presentation by Loraine Leeson and other authors of the book can be found here.
In 2007 when artist Loraine Leeson met The Geezers, a men’s group at AgeUK Bow, and asked them what technology they would like to see developed that would support themselves or their community, none imagined that they would be still be working on their ideas twelve years later. In the intervening years, with the help of engineers and constant fundraising, the Active Energy team have developed and tested a prototype turbine for the Thames, held two exhibitions, worked with young people to produce a wind turbine for an AgeUK roof, contributed to three university research projects, conducted numerous joint presentations, collaborated with a seniors’ group in Pittsburgh, made working models of turbines with school and college students, and produced floating water wheels to provide aeration for rivers, the last installed in 2019 in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Workshops continued into 2020, then finally a line has been drawn under this long-term project.
Artists can't solve the world's problems, but they are well placed to ask the questions that enable ideas and creativity to emerge, then celebrate the outcomes. The local knowledge of communities holds a wealth of answers.
Eight engineering students from City & Islington College on placement with Canal and River Trust visited the water wheel in situ and were introduced to the environmental issues it was addressing. This was followed by a workshop where they constructed their own working models of turbines and learned more about how, as future engineers, they could contribute to the sustainability of the planet. The College have continued to use the project templates and workshop materials for their ongoing curriculum.
The event was held at The Last Drop café in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, close to where the water wheel is located. It was opened by Paul Brickell, Executive Director for Regeneration and Community Partnerships at the London Legacy Development Corporation.
Ray Gipson explained how the Geezers Club had become involved, and the importance of involving older people in the development of new technologies, since none of this would have taken place without The Geezers’ input. Pupils from Bow School, where The Geezers have recently assisted with the making of model turbines, showed their creations to the audience and spoke themselves about their concerns regarding climate change.
The event was closed by Bridget McKenzie from Culture Declares Emergency, who considered what can be done by each of us to support the planet at this time of climate crisis.
2-4pm Friday 20th September 2019
Loraine Leeson and The Geezers invite you to celebrate their latest venture in the Active Energy arts project. A floating water wheel has been installed close to the London Aquatics Centre in the Waterworks River to drive an aerator that will help counteract the effects of pollution on the river’s fish and wildlife. Meanwhile pupils from Bow School have constructed their own working models of turbines using designs suitable for the generation of renewable energy.
We pledge to work with and support our community and local government in tackling this Emergency, and we call on others to do the same.
These are our intentions
1. We will tell the Truth
We will communicate with citizens and support them to discover the truth about the Emergency and the changes that are needed.
2. We will take Action
We will actively work to imagine and model ways that our organisation can regenerate the planet’s resources.
3. We are committed to Justice
We will do what is possible to enable dialogue and expression amidst our communities about how the Emergency will affect them and the changes that are needed.
Best Arts and Green Energy award from Regen SW. The awards were announced at an event at the Bath Assembly Rooms on 29th November 2016. This is the 13th annual awards ceremony to honour innovation in the development of green energy and the first to recognise the arts as a key player in this process.
Open workshop at Three Mills heritage site during National Mills Weekend
This current phase of the project is taking place as part of the Hydrocitizenship initiative.
The turbine was developed and built by engineer Toby Borland in consultation with a group of senior men attending the Geezers Club at an AgeUK centre in East London. The Geezers initiated the idea through an arts-led project designed to enable the life experience of older generations inform new developments in technology. Their aim has been to raise awareness of our nation’s tidal rivers as a potential source of renewable energy.
Active Energy Turbine installation October 2013 from Loraine Leeson on Vimeo.
The hydrokinetic turbine tested this week was designed for low budget, zero head, low speed river/ocean flow and ease of transport/installation. Efficient use of off-the-shelf-components make it comparable in expense to Scoraig wind turbines of equivalent capacity. While similar designs have been previously used in Peru, Sudan and Malaysia, the turbine blades are the first of their kind optimised for low flow and operation with a shroud to deflect items floating in the river and protect wildlife. Its low cost and ease of manufacture make it particularly suitable for developing nations overseas. The engineer is putting the information gleaned from its construction into the public domain to enable others to take up the design for future use.
Join us and Shadow International Development Minister Rushanara Ali MP for drinks and to witness the launch of our innovative underwater turbine on a Thames barge close to the Houses of Parliament.
6.30pm Tuesday 8th October 2013
London SE1 7TP
Nearest tubes: Vauxhall or Lambeth North
Refreshments provided by:
The turbine blades are skewed in two planes, the angle of the hydrofoil section relative to the axis of rotation varies with the diameter of the blade. The slower moving profile near the hub has a correspondingly steeper angle.
The leading edge of the blade is curved to encourage entangled debris to slide off, this curve is a logarithmic spiral. It remains to be seen whether this arrangement will necessitate a greater clearance between blade tip and shroud.
Where the blade meets the hub (the blade root), the main consideration is an even transfer of load from the blade to the hub. Early configurations used an extrapolated hydrofoil profile projected onto the curved hub surface. The smoothest transition was found to be a loose ellipse composed of two intersecting radii. It has proved more reliable and expedient to rely on a mathematical description of the curves that define the blade surface. A significant proportion are exported from a numerical visualisation program (Scilab) for defining the surfaces in the solid modelling program (Solidworks).
Working with Northside Seniors, she commenced with a question to the group, similar to the one that initiated the Geezers’ project: “If there were any technology that could be developed that you feel would best support yourselves or your communities, what would that be?” Following some discussion the group arrived at an issue that would turn out to be one of the greatest health concerns for the US – a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. This group of older women felt that they would also like more information about the disease to help their awareness of its signs, and for this to be more readily available to younger generations, who might then better support family members stricken with the disease.
The Geezers were participants in the Connected Communities project ‘Participants United’ which ran for most of 2011, involving Ann Light and led by Paul Egglestone of UCLAN http://www.meldonline.org, to look at constructive styles of community participation in academic research projects.
After an initial set-up workshop at which the men considered who they would like to meet to continue to develop their ideas (in this case, British Waterways, the authority responsible for canals and rivers at the time), Loraine, Toby and three Geezers (Ray, Ted and John) travelled to Preston for a summit of discussions about participating in research.
What was most notable about the Active Energy contribution was the way that the research had moved out of the hands of the original team based at Queen Mary University of London who brought Loraine and the Geezers together. Although the Geezers had lots to say about being participants in a research project, they were exemplary of a different form of relations, where the men led the work and the team round them ebbed and flowed as needed to make their intended innovations a reality. This was no university project, even though it emerged from one.
Sadly, no one from British Waterways made the trip to join the Geezers in their discussions, despite a long optimistic exchange with the local branch. But the spirit of innovative research models was a good complement to citizen innovation on the tides.
Although Design and Technology is a compulsory course in secondary education, young people are seldom able to experience the connections between renewable energies and their everyday lives. This was particularly true for pupils at Bow Boys’ School, who live in a densely populated urban environment in one of the poorest boroughs of London. Crucially, bringing this project into their neighbourhood was a form of operating small-scale changes. ActiveEnergy put Bow on the map of renewable energies by demonstrating to the local community, and to London at large, how to set an example and become a model for the rest of the city.
Through this project Loraine met The Geezers at their AgeUK base in Bow and together they embarked on a journey to find a way for renewable energy to support the older population of East London. For The Not Quite Yet exhibition at SPACE Gallery they demonstrated through a large-scale visualisation how tidal turbines could be incorporated into the Thames Barrier. The Geezers themselves made a succinct case for the renewable energy argument and video footage of this was projected in the gallery. The group also presented their ideas at a symposium On the Margins of Technology that accompanied the exhibition. Their contribution to both events aroused considerable interest and it was clear the project could not stop there…