Grow, reuse, upcycle, learn…

Eco by Birmingham City University Students’ Union (BCUSU) aims to help students live more sustainable lives

By Harinder Matharu, Project Manager 

✥What is the main thinking behind the project? 
Eco by BCUSU’s main aim is to help students to lead more sustainable lives, in turn developing our BCU community into one that is more aware and mindful of green issues and proactive in its approach to overcoming them. The project is to be as student led as possible, and the activities will promote sustainability and highlight the strong link between wellbeing, creativity and our interaction with the natural world.

Our EcoFund will support creative and innovative student and staff enterprises that are linked to sustainability and wellbeing. We will be working with similar projects in the wider Birmingham and Black Country community, collaborating ideas and providing volunteer support.

At the end of our project we hope to have engaged students who will be more sustainable, creative and employable and have a greater understanding about how their wellbeing is linked to the natural world.

The project, led by Emily Thomson-Bell, is funded by the Students’ Green Fund. Eco is part of 25 projects across the country, which will engage 50,000 students across the country and save 4,000 tonnes of CO2.

✥Who is involved with the project?
We are working with a number of partners and have many projects running including a £10,000 eco fund whereby we are funding student and staff-led projects. Examples include the Renew project where we are running upcycling furniture workshops for staff and students. We also have the BCU Bees initiative which includes setting up two apiaries at the University, one at our new allotment site and one at our city centre site.

Our onsite allotment project is a collaborative effort between our BA Landscape Architect course, headed by Russell Good, and BCU Growing Compassion, a School of Health project run by Jennifer Obbard. The allotment will be at our City South Campus and the build is scheduled for the end of April. Designed as part of a first year BA Landscape Architecture Module, the site will support our café with fresh produce, act as an outdoor workshop area for students, be a foraging site for students and staff, encourage biodiversity on campus and students to reconnect with their food and allow them to produce it in an urban setting.

We will have two electric vans that will drive around our campuses: one will be a mobile catering van selling fairtrade and organic drinks as well as hot food made from fresh produce from our allotment. The other will be a pop-up shop that will sell our upcycled goods.

We are working with a number of societies to help with the Eco Project such as our textiles society (called the BCU Crafters) and our fashion society, running regular workshops for staff and student members.

We are also working with various partners including:

Student Eats and the Chelsea Flower Show:
Student Eats help turn areas of campuses into growing spaces. This year they have a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show and we are working with them to assist with the build of their site, provide volunteer support and grow fenugreek (methi). A big part of Student Eats is promoting cross cultural collaboration and we will be running a cooking event at Edible Eastside where we will be cooking methi chicken, methi parantha (Indian flatbread) and methi aloo. The best methi plants will go to the flower show and we will encourage people to eat the rest.

Growing Compassion:
We are working in collaboration with students to encourage them to engage in our natural environment more. We hope this will enhance student awareness of the restorative benefits of natural environments and their application in healthcare contexts and explore ancient and historical relationships between health, healing and the natural environment.

Roots and Renewal and Aston Villa:
Roots and Renewal is a grow project based at The Barn Allotments in Witton, a mile from Villa Park. The project is spearheaded by Dr Robert Tyler and Peter Reed. The project works with young adults and families from the local community teaching them how to grow food and then how to cook it at Aston Villa’s Villa Midland Food Restaurant. The project also provides the restaurant with a variety of food –such as courgettes, herbs and a variety of potatoes.

Edible Eastside:
A grow project in Digbeth with whom we have 10 planters and 200 small windowsill grow boxes to give to staff and students. They are also running a number of workshops for us, such as foraging, cooking and pickling food.

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