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Smart Citizens Community Meet-Ups – Bringing technology & creativity together to protect nature

Members from Smart Citizens, Green Minds, Pollenize and Art & Energy come together to protect Plymouth’s wildlife and environment.

Projects and communities from Plymouth and the South West of England joined together at the latest Smart Citizens Community Meet-Up, to explore how innovative technology can support nature and conservation. Co-hosted by Plymouth College of Art-led Smart Citizens Programme and Plymouth City Council-led Green Minds project, the online event also featured guest speakers from Pollenize CIC and Art and Energy CIC. Over thirty people, including students and representatives of local businesses, came together as a community to discuss how digital technology and creativity can offer new solutions to protecting Plymouth’s wildlife and environment.

Participants were invited to share their own projects and ideas, leading to thought-provoking discussions ranging from the use of digital fabrication methods to create environmental public artwork and creating ultrasonic sensors to track bat activity, to using Plymouth’s new 360° immersive dome at Market Hall to visualise environmental data captured by sensors around the city.

Image of an environmental park sensor high up on a pole overlooking someone riding a bicycle wearing high vis, a couple other people walking and trees and a park in the background

University of Plymouth’s Environmental Park Sensor Installed in Plymouth (Photo credit - University of Plymouth)

Participant Chloe Georgakis recently started a collaborative project, working towards creating immersive art installations that use Augmented Reality technology to allow people to understand the wonders and benefits of seagrass and to celebrate the restoration of this vital habitat in Plymouth.

Reflecting on her experience at the Meet-Up, Chloe said, “I came looking to connect with other local creatives and draw inspiration. I found both of these things. There are some really interesting projects growing here, inspired by nature and driven by curiosity.

“I found out about the Art and Energy collective because they spoke at the Community Meet-Up session. A few weeks ago we attended a practical workshop that they hosted about creating solar powered artworks, in collaboration with the Smart Citizens Programme. Solar energy is vital to seagrass, as it's a photosynthesising plant that captures CO2. We think that there is an interesting connection there and hope to keep in touch.”

“The Smart Citizens team are a very supportive bunch. If you have a budding idea, the sooner you share it, the more likely it is to go beyond your head or your sketchbook and actually grow into something."
Participant Chloe Georgakis
Image shows a woman with brown hair in pigtails smiling and looking at the camera

Participant Chloe Georgakis

“The Smart Citizens team are a very supportive bunch. If you have a budding idea, the sooner you share it, the more likely it is to go beyond your head or your sketchbook and actually grow into something.

“My work partner is currently undertaking their ‘Design and Make: Part 2’ training and using this time to prototype our installation models. We plan to embrace digital fabrication processes to make our installations and utilise the technology available in the Fab Lab.”

At the most recent Smart Citizens Community Meet-Up, Eli Zahoui, Project Manager of the Smart Citizens Programme, shared how 2D fabrication methods such as laser cutting have been used during their free workshops to create bird houses and creative signs to raise awareness about wildflower meadows around Plymouth that have been planted by Green Minds participants. Eli was joined by Lee Nutbean, an electronics and coding expert, who is currently delivering another Smart Citizens training programme about creating Smart Citizen Kit sensors to collect and monitor important environmental data around Plymouth.

Representatives from Green Minds, a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) programme-funded project, shared their aims to rewild Plymouth and inspire a new wave of citywide investment in nature-based solutions. They were joined by project partners from the University of Plymouth who, alongside technology experts from The Data Place, have installed a network of sensors across the city collecting information such as wildlife activity, species sightings, air quality and more. Through technology, Green Minds aim to reveal Plymouth’s hidden nature and provide an educational tool to inspire communities to take action for nature.

Guest speakers from Pollenize CIC and Art and Energy CIC shared how they are combining technology and creativity in their efforts to protect the environment. Jenny Ayrton, Director of Art and Energy and Plymouth College of Art alumni, discussed the ‘Moths to a Flame’ project which aims to make 20,000 moths and record messages about the Climate Emergency for a public art installation at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Image shows a lazer cut bird house in a triangle A frame type design made out of wood

One of the laser cut bird houses

Owen Finnie, Co-Director and Founder of Pollenize, discussed how Pollenize have placed bee hives around Plymouth, working with local scientists from the University of Plymouth to conduct DNA analysis on the pollen residue. Using the bees as biosensors, Pollenize identify gaps within the foraging radius of the beehive and use this data to inform their rewilding seed packets, available to purchase by the local community.

Speakers and participants joined together in an interactive activity which prompted them to share and discuss both small and ‘big-thinking’ ideas about how community, creativity and technology could protect local nature and wildlife. Exciting connections and opportunities for collaboration appeared throughout these discussions between projects and participants, including combining the Smart Citizen sensors with those from the University of Plymouth, the Data Place and other organisations in the city to create a citywide data platform capturing environmental data.

Access a recording of the ‘Community Meet-Up: Nature & Tech’, on the Smart Citizen’s video channel, alongside other workshops and talks. To join the conversation and connect with like-minded people, come and have a chat on the Smart Citizens Community Meet-Ups Slack channel!

The Smart Citizens Programme hosts regular Community Meet-Ups, joining up technology with one of the programme’s themes, such as: Fab City, art and creativity, health and wellbeing, experimental manufacturing, and more. Open to everyone, these free events offer the chance to join new conversations, connect with local people and initiatives, and discover opportunities in and around Plymouth.

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Community Meet-Up Interactive Activity

The Smart Citizens first Community Meet-Up took place on 10 February 2021, focussing on plastic and technology. During the Meet-Up, participants had the opportunity to share their ideas and hear from projects around the city tackling plastic pollution through innovative solutions, including: Preventing Plastic Pollution, Precious Plastic Plymouth and Tavistock, 1000 Tyres Project and Plastiki.

The Smart Citizens Programme aims to continue connecting local initiatives, communities and entrepreneurs to encourage collaborative working and support innovative design thinking across the city.

This event is part of the iMayflower project and has been supported by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who fund the Cultural Development Fund, which is administered by Arts Council England

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