The project was developed and led by Dr Loraine Leeson
2008 - 2013
Active Energy is a conceptual arts-led research project that has used citizen-led innovation involving older people in the creation of a prototype tidal turbine for the River Thames. Creative arts facilitation has tapped into community expertise to identify and pose practical solutions to key social issues, in this instance addressing the research question: How can the arts be used to enable the extensive life experience of older people to feed into the development of new technologies? New approaches to community involvement piloted through this project encompass inter-generational and cross-cultural learning and exchange involving groups in the UK and US, and new approaches to disseminating issues on the generation of sustainable energy.
Engagement with participants has been mainly through workshops with members of the Geezers Club at AgeUK, whose ideas created the basis for the project. Work commenced five years ago with an initial question: ‘What technology would you like to see developed that you feel would support your life, or that of your community?’ and proceeded with supporting participants to conduct their own research, while backing this up with expert input on their chosen topic. Engineers were enlisted to help develop, test and implement the Geezers’ idea of enabling the Thames to power London’s riverside communities. The focus was not only on technological solutions, but also addressed a key issue of public awareness and information. Workshops were also run in a local school to show how information and experimentation could become embedded in the curriculum. Pupils focused on the more achievable output of constructing a temporary wind turbine for the roof of the AgeUK centre and were mentored in the process by the older people’s group. A further opportunity arose to test this method of working in a culturally different location through a residency in the US in 2010-11, where a group of senior women in Pittsburgh PA chose the equally significant topic of Alzheimer’s research. The US and UK groups linked up though Skype to share experiences. Their joint input created the material for a six-projector installation for the Feminist and… exhibition at the Mattress Factory museum on the value of older people’s knowledge and experience to technological innovation.
In October 2013 the tidal turbine that has resulted from design development with the Geezers was tested on a Thames barge located in a prominent position opposite the Houses of Parliament. The turbine is thought to be the first of its kind to be produced at a small scale for a slow-moving tidal river, its low cost making it applicable for more widespread use in developing countries.
The project has led to further practice-based research. Lambeth Floating Marsh is a collaboration between artist/researcher Loraine Leeson and biophysical chemist Nithin Rai. The Western Riverside Environmental Fund will be financing the creation of a floating reed bed to support and monitor river organisms on the Thames. A live video feed to a web site will facilitate projections of river organisms onto the side of this central London barge on which the turbine was tested. This will provide a monitoring mechanism while also highlighting the importance of maintaining biodiversity in our waterways.