It all started with the Democratising Technology research project at Queen Mary University of London in collaboration with SPACE studios, where Professor Ann Light was working through a combination of social and computer science to investigate the gap between the extensive life experience of older generations and the development of new technologies. The project culminated in an exhibition at SPACE called The Not Quite Yet, asking how older people could engage with the future design process of technology and showing a series of artist commissions responding to the finding of the research.
One of the artists was Loraine Leeson, whose practice centred on engagement with communities. In The Not Quite Yet, she worked with The Geezers, a group based at Age UK in Bow, East London, whose meetings help combat the loneliness and isolation that can be a particular issue for older men.
Following her question: “What new technology do you feel would most benefit yourselves or your community?”, the group arrived at tidal power. They have not looked back since, with an exhibition and conference presentation, followed by Active Energy, an intergenerational, sustainable energy project with Bow Boys School, commissioned and managed by SPACE and led by Loraine with University of East London engineer Toby Borland. The Geezers took part in the school workshops and mentored the young participants, who produced a wind turbine for the roof of the Geezers’ meeting place at the Appian Court centre.
At the same time the Geezers were pursuing their interest in tidal power with Toby Borland and Professor Stephen Dodds at a university prototyping workshop. Other activities intervened including participation at a workshop at University of Central Lancashire, organised by Ann Light, and Skype communication with Northside Seniors in Pittsburgh as part of an extension to the Active Energy project undertaken by Loraine in 2012. At the same time the group began to realise their dream of the Thames once again providing power for London, and commenced work with Toby and Loraine on the development of a small-scale low-cost turbine to test their idea on the Tamesis Dock barge opposite the Houses of Parliament.
In 2015 a further phase of the project began in collaboration with Hydrocitizenship, a university research project using creative means to explore the ways in which citizens and communities live with each other and their environment in relation to water in a range of UK neighbourhoods. Out of this, and with financial input from Big Lottery, a floating water wheel has been developed to aerate water and support the survival of fish and wildlife in the Lower Lea. The wheel, which was driven by the run-off from the House Mill tidal pool, was launched in May 2017.
Since then Loraine Leeson and The Geezers have presented the project at a virtual symposium run by Scotland's University of Highlands and Islands and have also been hosted at a networking event on a canal trip in Leeds to discuss further development of activities.
Footnote: the Active Energy wind turbine was installed on The White Building, SPACE’s centre for art, technology and sustainability in Hackney Wick.