Lakeside Energy from Waste (EfW) facility at Colnbrook, near Slough is a joint venture between two well-established resource management companies – Grundon Waste Management and Viridor.
Given the history of the site – which has hosted Grundon waste management and recycling activities for nearly 90 years – the decision was taken by the joint venture team to reinforce community links by building a purpose-designed education centre.
The spectacular circular building sits in the middle of a lake (created by the extraction of sand and gravel) and is accessed by a drawbridge.
As visitors watch the teeming wildlife in the lake from the floor-to-ceiling windows, it is hard for them to believe they are only a couple of miles from the frenetic activity on the adjacent M4/M25/A4 and Heathrow Terminal 5.
Although the plant is a merchant facility servicing many key local authority residual waste contracts – including RE3, West London Waste Authority and South London Waste Partnership – there is no specific requirement for an education facility.
The education centre hosts a range of activities for local organisations, including customers, school children, university study groups, MPs, the Science Museum, livery companies, the Environment Agency and a range of local authorities.
Lakeside has no full-time education team. Education support was initially provided by Groundwork Thames Valley (now Groundwork South).
When administrative changes within Groundwork meant this option was no longer available, continuity was provided by members of the Viridor education team based at the Ardley EfW in Oxfordshire.
Right stuff, right bin
To maximise the benefit across the education spectrum, the team focuses on two delivery mechanisms. Each year, KS2 schoolchildren (aged seven to 11) in the Slough area are offered one of 24 half-day slots to visit Lakeside.
Students and teachers learn why it is so important to “put the right stuff in the right bin” and how to increase and improve recycling and energy efficiency in their schools and homes. These groups then act as ambassadors to take those messages back to the rest of the school.
The students visit the control room at the heart of the EfW operation. Here they watch as the giant crane grabs swing into action – moving the weight of waste into the feed hoppers at the start of the combustion process.
This is the first stage of transforming the non-recyclable materials into vital renewable energy.
Lakeside provides free transport to and from local schools for these tours – a real game-changer for many local education establishments.
At the other end of the education scale, Lakeside is working with the Prince of Wales-endorsed Engineering Development Trust and five schools to encourage 13- and 14-year-olds to consider a range of opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
At the November 2017 launch, 30 students and their teachers spent a day at Lakeside. They heard about the different careers available to them in the resource management industry, took the full tour of the EfW facility and had a go at segregating waste for recycling.
In the afternoon, the schools competed against each other in a group engineering challenge – to construct the tallest tower they could from dry spaghetti and jelly babies.
All five schools are now involved in a 12-week programme, where Grundon and Lakeside mentors are supporting them through practical projects on either Energy and Your School or The Business of Recycling.
In January 2018, the schools returned to Lakeside, where their projects, including presentations and displays, were judged by a panel of independent professionals.
The awards ceremony was hosted by local resident Johnny Ball, who has designed and delivered many STEM projects and written several books designed to make maths and engineering more accessible.
From open days to FE
In early September 2017, Lakeside opened its doors to the public for its first Heritage Open Day. Organised by the National Trust, the open days give people the opportunity to visit a range of facilities they might not otherwise know about – from private houses, gardens and burial grounds to sewage works, breweries and EfW facilities.
The Lakeside event was heavily oversubscribed, with visitors aged from eight to 80 coming from as far afield as Somerset. Many local attendees were familiar with the distinctive shape of the building, but had absolutely no idea what goes on inside it.
In 2018, we again hope to open Lakeside to the public through this scheme, so even more people will have the opportunity to tour the facility and learn more about both recycling and using non-recyclable materials to create sustainable energy.
Where school pupils are too young to visit (for health and safety reasons), the Lakeside facility, Grundon and LKS representatives go into schools to talk about why recycling is so important.
They find the children have a surprisingly high level of understanding and enthusiasm about the basic principles of segregation and recycling.
We hope their ‘pester power’ will encourage parents to pay more attention to separating their recyclables properly. The parents accept this is a very powerful factor – their children’s nag status is clearly higher than that of any local authority.
At the opposite end of the education spectrum, Master’s students from Imperial College’s Environmental Engineering Course and Brunel University’s Renewable Energy Engineering Course are regular visitors to Lakeside.
Students and their tutors really appreciate the opportunity to see and hear about practical applications of the theoretical knowledge they gain from their lectures. Talking to real people – about real jobs – helps to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
The Royal Society of Chemistry has also taken advantage of the superb facilities at Lakeside by organising family days at the Education Centre. Sometimes attended by three generations of the same family, these visits seek to make a practical link between chemistry and real life.
That can include checking out whether their fizzy drinks cans are made of steel or aluminium, heating up different types of plastics to see which of them are pliable – and therefore recyclable – and setting fire to the gas produced by decomposing compost.
The inevitable link between the combustion chamber and the emotional closing scenes of Toy Story 3 makes the visit even more fascinating for our younger visitors.
Corporate social responsibility
As our education reputation spreads, local businesses and other organisations are seeking to work with Grundon and Lakeside to educate their own staff about overall environmental awareness, including recycling and energy efficiency.
During 2018, both the Home Counties Regional Group of the British Institute of Facilities Management and Ben & Jerry’s will be visiting Colnbrook to see for themselves how everyone – at work and at home – can make a real difference.
Our educational opportunities at Lakeside might be limited, but we are very proud of the role we play within the local community, in encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to understand more about how they can help improve their environments.
This article was written by Ruth Roll, owner of RR Environmental Communications. It originally appeared on recyclingwasteworld.co.uk in February 2018.