Aberdeen schoolchildren share innovative ideas for future of Union Street with city decision makers


PUPILS from Oldmachar Academy recently met with representatives of Aberdeen City Council and Our Union Street to showcase their ideas for the future of local high streets after taking part in the TechFest Blueprint Challenge (TFBC).

TFBC is a national competition aligned with the CREST Awards and grounded in STEM where students are asked to come up with realistic ideas for regenerating high streets.

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The 2023 TFBC saw a competition record, 34 teams from across Scotland taking part, including schools from Aberdeenshire, Dundee, West Lothian, North Ayrshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and Argyll and Bute.

‘Las Chicas’ from Oldmachar Academy were announced as the winners of the recent TFBC in December last year after coming up with a variety of innovative ideas for reshaping Scotland’s high streets. Their ideas included a U-shaped layout model for easy navigation, energy-generation pavements, a hydrogen-powered bus system and nature-inspired spaces to improve social interactions and mental health.

Judges said the vision of the S3 pupils not only showcased a profound understanding of urban planning but also reflected a commitment to fostering a healthier, greener, and technologically advanced future for Scottish communities.

The winners of the 2023 TFBC were joined by ‘Asphalt Assassin’, another team from Oldmachar Academy, on their visits to Aberdeen City Council and Our Union Street offices.

At Aberdeen City Council, the teams had a chance to present their ideas to Planning Authority Officers alongside meeting Young Ambassadors and discussing the Scottish Government Planning Innovation Award.

Sarah Chew, Managing Director of TechFest, said: “As an Aberdeen-based charity, it is fantastic that we have had so much engagement from not only local schools but also Aberdeen City Council and Our Union Street as we all look for realistic solutions to regenerate local high streets together.

“Both organisations are doing an amazing job championing the regeneration of Union Street and we were truly privileged to connect them with these young people who are full of innovative ideas to achieve that shared vision.

“It was an inspiring day and one of the proudest moments of my career seeing both teams sharing their fresh perspectives and engaging so positively with the Planning Authority Officers and the Our Union Street team.

“We are determined to put talented young people in front of as many local authorities and initiatives as possible – it would be a hugely positive step for their ideas to be embraced by decision-makers as we aim to regenerate Scotland’s high streets.

“Young people must be engaged with and taken seriously for the future of our nation and we need the Scottish Government to bring our high streets further up the agenda.”

Aberdeen City Council Education and Children’s Services convener Councillor Martin Greig said: “The Council’s Planning Authority team were delighted to have the presentation from the pupils from Oldmachar Academy on their vision for high streets in Scotland.

“The young people’s enthusiasm and ideas were highly regarded and were also very appreciated for their attention to detail.”

Both teams also visited the Our Union Street office where they met the project team and had a chance to present their ideas followed by a Q&A session.

Honey Keenan, Communication Manager, Our Union Street said: “Listening to and amplifying the voices of the next generation is crucial.

“Gaining insights into their vision for the future of their high street has been invaluable for the Our Union Street team.”

The TFBC is a collaboration with Bluewater, a specialist private equity firm focused on global energy. The initiative has been developed through Bluewater’s charitable division to inspire children to think about future energy and how this can be integral to a better environment and social agendas.

TFBC is an excellent example of project-based learning which allows young people to develop a range of skills, including problem-solving, creativity, innovation, teamwork and time management.

The annual competition is open to all S3-S6 students who share their ideas on how to create a high street that allows society to thrive while celebrating the natural world at the same time. Pupils are asked to take into consideration ‘’modern problems’’ surrounding architecture, economic stability, power generation and consumption, and how they can bring energy, technology and nature together to create a high street that meets net-zero targets and encourages nature and community to grow. The goal is to create a modern and progressive high street that is not simply about retail.

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