Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

MMU and MACF 'Tell Us' event

M:ACF, MMU & The Union MMU – ‘Tell Us’ event

On Wednesday 4th March 2015, following on from the previous M:ACF ‘Tell Us’ event in December, the same format of short presentations was used to bring together a range of projects operating in the Greater Manchester region, all striving towards a sustainable future for the North West.

The event took place in the impressive new student’s union building at MMU, with the opening remarks of the event given by Steve Connor, CEO of Creative Concern; an ethical creative communications agency with a positive outlook on sustainable solutions.

Following the opening remarks, Gavin Elliot, the Chair of the M:ACF steering group and a director at Building Design Partnership (BDP), took the floor to provide the audience with an introduction to M:ACF and the goals of the project.

Gavin explained Manchester’s ambitious commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 41% by 2020 and highlighted the progress that has been made so far. He described how 12% of the reduction target has already been reached, an accomplishment in itself, but he remained cautious; highlighting also the dramatic changes needed in order to reach the reduction target in just 5 years.

Following this enigmatic introduction, the presentations got under way in earnest. The format for the afternoon was a series of 5-minute presentations, each delivered by individuals involved with the various projects that were to be showcased.

First up was Liz Walley , a senior lecturer in Sustainable Business, and a co-convenor of the Sustainable and Ethical Enterprise Group (SEEG) at MMU. Having described SEEG’s role as a subject cluster for the sharing of opportunities and knowledge within the university, Liz emphasised the role that SEEG plays in embedding sustainability into the ethos of the university.

Continuing in the vein of sustainability within MMU, the next presentation was delivered by Haleh Moravej of MetMunch, the student food network that began at MMU in 2011. MetMunch is aiming to create self-sufficient entrepreneurs who are passionate about sustainability, through a creative living lab approach. Using MMU as a “sustainability boot-camp” MetMunch is attempting to create a new academic model that they hope will advance the concept of employability through ‘unique and successful’ sustainable partnerships.

Moving from the theme of sustainability within university, the next presentation by Clare Neilson of Conscious Confections focused on active community projects in South Manchester. Both the Moss Side Community Allotment, and Incredible Edibles' community café in Levenshulme featured in the presentation which highlighted the importance of ‘getting out and growing’ in terms of both nutritional and societal benefit. Ending on a highly motivational note, Ms Neilson urged the audience to try and focus on the authentic and not necessarily the perfect, a note which seemed to resonate strongly with those gathered.

In the final presentation before the first break, the audience were taken on a fascinating journey through the practice of urban mushroom farming in Salford. Vincent Walsh, CEO of the Biospheric Foundation told of his mission to use permaculture and monoculture principles to farm mushrooms on coffee ground waste for local restaurants. This method of farming has allowed him to produce an effective alternative to highly unsustainable imported mushrooms. When the mushrooms have grown, the waste coffee grounds are then sold on to the Forestry Commission as a highly effective fertiliser.

After a swift break for panel discussion, questions from the audience and refreshments, the presentations were soon underway again. Ric Frankland of Dwelle (a sustainable housing organisation) demonstrated the viability of new types of modular building, such as his show home installation opposite Platt Fields Park. Showing examples of inexpensive zero-carbon prefabricated new builds, Ric demonstrated how such constructions are a fantastically sustainable response to the UK’s current housing crisis.

Returning to sustainability within MMU, Valeria Vargas (Education for Sustainable Development Co-ordinater) and Sarah Beth-Cooper (SU Community Officer) gave their presentation on Responsible Futures at MMU. With a focus on the use of sustainable volunteers, the pair described how MMU students have been able to empower local communities whilst at the same time exchanging resources and knowledge.

Up next, Dave Bishop, chair of Friends of Chorlton Meadows, talked of the importance of semi-natural grasslands in the UK and how they served as the natural habitat for 20% of the UK’s endangered species. Following from this, the presentations again took a turn in another direction.

Richard Fox of Love Food Cookery Demonstrations engaged the audience with his fascinating insights into how much waste the UK’s population produces from unwanted food, with each household apparently producing up to £700 worth of avoidable waste a year. Throwing nifty tips to the audience on how to reduce food waste, and use up the last morsels of food that may otherwise be wasted, it's safe to say that Mr Fox’s talk was one of the highlights of the evening.

For the final trio of presentations, the focus shifted back once again to sustainability at MMU. Graeme Heyes, a postgraduate researcher at MMU, delivered a presentation on his research in collaboration with the Centre for Aviation Transport and the Environment. Talking around the issue of luxury goods in airport retailing and how such systems can be altered, he identified the need for new retailer models and low carbon infrastructure that would enable airports to become more sustainable transport hubs.

Quinn Runkle, National Union of Students (NUS) senior project officer and member of the panel for the evening, delivered the penultimate presentation; a talk on sustainability campaigns run by the NUS.

Representing such a huge number of students, Quinn stressed how the NUS is attempting to deliver sustainable development and sustainability. She shared enlightening statistics, including noting that 85% of students believe that their university should be actively  promoting sustainable development. It proved to be an interesting presentation and served to highlight the collaborative nature of the entire event; students want sustainability and MMU, The Union MMU and M:ACF partnership for the evening clearly demonstrated this.

Almost as a final demonstration of the points made in Quinn’s presentation, the evening’s final talk, delivered by Lisa Bach of Make a Difference, chose to focus on MMU’s Urban Gardening Society.

Based on the concept of university courses extending outside the classroom, the society has been engaged in some fascinating urban gardening projects in Manchester. The example of a Shakespearean sensory roof garden that the team created at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital School brought the presentations to a wonderful close. The presentation showed very clearly how universities have the capacity to empower local people by providing resources that they would not otherwise have, and how this can be done in a meaningful and sustainable way.

To conclude what was a heartwarming and inspiring evening, the final round of questions was answered by the panel, before returning to Steve Connor for the closing remarks. All in all, the evening proved to be a huge success, both for MMU and M:ACF.