A Festival of Innovation

The NWG Innovation Festival comes to the region in July. Guest blogger NIGEL WATSON, Director of Information Services, at Northumbrian Water Group looks ahead to the exciting  problem-solving tasks set to challenge some of the most talented innovators in business.

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group
Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group

The North East has a proud history of innovation, from being the birthplace of the railways to the region that sparked such inventions as the friction match.

Now, some of the best-known names in business are descending upon the North East to explore how innovative thinking can be applied to environmental and social problems, with the aim of benefiting customers and communities.

Flooding, water leakage, infrastructure and even the teenager’s bedroom of the future will all come under the microscope during week-long “sprints”, with a range of industry and academic experts, and members of the public all dedicating their brain power and experience to the task at hand.

These “sprints”, which take design thinking developed by the likes of Google and apply them to a particular subject for a dedicated amount of time, will take place in Newcastle Racecourse’s marquee village as part of Northumbrian Water’s first ever Innovation Festival.

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We’re very aware that such problems aren’t surmountable by one company alone, so we are collaborating with some important partners. The festival is supported by IBM, BT, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, Ordnance Survey and CGI, with each of these companies leading a sprint throughout the week, from July 10 to 14.

Set in a festival environment designed to bring people together and be creative, we want to come up with, and develop the best new ideas. By getting our customers involved, we want them to be at the heart of this innovation – and to ultimately benefit from it.

We’re expecting 400 people each day, with around 300 of those actually getting involved in the sprints and a hackathon – where analytical experts led by Microsoft will delve into large volumes of data on leakage to see what lessons can be learned.

The sprint sessions will be sandwiched between yoga and mindfulness on the mornings and a range of entertainment on the evenings, including live comedy, music, inspirational talks, and even a pub quiz. At the end of it all, we will be converting one of the main tents into comic book heaven and hosting a special ball in support of the global charity, WaterAid.

The big questions under consideration during the week are:

 ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM

  • ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and headline sponsor Microsoft, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
  • ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
  • ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
  • ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
  • ‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

The NWG Innovation Festival is  delivered in association with Newcastle University, Genesys, Interserve, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys and Unify.

People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival, and how they can get involved at innovationfestival.org

For further media information, call 0191 3015678.

Reconnecting with the great outdoors

PAUL WHITE pays homage to the region’s scenery and explores the beautiful Low Barns Nature Reserve in the Wear Valley of County Durham.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

In the last year or so, I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors.

I remember when I was a kid, I had books galore on things like birds and could recognise many breeds and even some of their calls. I’d spend my weekends and holidays exploring the area in and around my uncle’s farm and any sunny day would be spent out and about.

That sort of thing was probably lost to football and girls and, to be fair, not that I was that good as far as either were concerned (all together now, “aww”).

Then life got busier as I got older and, as much as I enjoy a nice walk, other things got in the way.

But since starting to work with Northumbrian Water a year back, I’ve found new connections with the great outdoors. I won’t go into too much detail about the great work the company does for the environment, but suffice to say, I’ve learned to find time to just put my walking boots on and get outside more.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

Having had the need to visit Low Barns Nature Reserve at Witton-le-Wear a few weeks back for a whistle-stop tour, I decided to go back and take a more leisurely look around.

The site is one of many run by Durham Wildlife Trust and I had vague recollections of primary school trips there, but, despite it being only around five miles from home, I hadn’t been back since.

I’d certainly been missing out on this wonderfully tranquil place. From the reed beds (which are on the site of an old sewage treatment works – how’s that for a stunning change of use?) to the banks of the Wear, it has so much to enjoy.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

And the peacefulness is incredible. Needless to say, we signed up as members of the Trust on the spot and will be planning on visiting as many of the other sites around the North East as we can.

Between that and spending Easter weekend in beautiful Weardale, as well as recent trips to Kielder Water & Forest Park, I can safely say I’m hooked once more on the beauty of the North East.

Our region truly is stunning and not one of us can say we have explored and seen it all. So get out there and find those places that really inspire you with natural beauty.

Laughter is just the tonic

Last weekend saw the second instalment of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club at Wylam Brewery’s Palace of Arts. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE caught up with some of the stars of the show.

Wylam2
Wylam Brewery

Another sold out evening where ales were flowing gave the distinctive and airy venue a buzzing atmosphere. The evening was compered flawlessly by popular Hebburn actor and Geordie Rat Pack member, Steffen Peddie, who had the audience in stitches with his accounts of him monumentally peeing someone off at the Tyne Tunnel change machine, explaining why Slimming World coaches are evil and the highs (and lows) of memory foam mattresses.

steffenpeddie
Compere Steffen Peddie

First up was local lad, John Fothergill, who entertained us all with his dry and sarcastic accounts of life in London as a Geordie. A regular at the Comedy Store, Fothergill’s style is original as he moves from embarrassing sexual revelations to mocking his rural upbringing in Crawcrook.

John Fothergill
John Fothergill

Next on stage was Steve Day who brought a totally unique performance and shared witty observations of being a deaf man in a hearing world. He claims to be the only deaf comedian, and if there are others he hasn’t heard of them. Steve wasn’t born deaf but lost his hearing when he was a teenager, he explains: “I was about 18. They don’t know the cause, something that used to frustrate me, but I’ve learned to look forward not backwards”. His rants are enjoyable; especially a story about a Paralympics event he attended that showed Boris Johnson’s true colours. He educates the audience to the hilarity of deaf person snobbery, claiming people who were born deaf believe they are superior to him which he simply rolls his eyes at. Being a deaf comedian is great anyway he claims in conclusion, because you can never hear if anybody is heckling.

Steve Day
Steve Day

Headliner of the night was Edinburgh dwelling Canadian funny man, Tom Stade. Relatively famous on the comedy circuit, Stade has appeared on the likes of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Live at the Apollo as well as The Comedy Store and various comedy festivals.

He literally bounds onto the stage with endless energy and his performance was met with raucous laughter almost immediately. It’s impossible not to find this man funny.

His observations of quirky British habits were cleverly delivered, ranging from our obsession with buying flights for £29.95 regardless of the destination to his confusion of how we happily spend £3 on lattes (and physically demonstrated how we get sexually molested financially by coffee chains) yet are obsessed with Primark bargains and are all tight arses. British TV is also the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic. The highlight of his set had to be his impressions of coffee chain adverts if they existed including “Starbucks is where you can meet a new friend” and “Nero is where you go when the others are closed”.

Tom Stade with Helen Gildersleeve
Tom Stade with Helen Gildersleeve

I caught up with him after the show quickly and it’s apparent his magnetic energy isn’t just a stage act. He told us how he simply loves what he does and can’t understand how all these young folk want photos with him as he’s uncool and doesn’t even know what Snapchat is. Its ok Tom, I don’t either. But thanks for the photo.

The 350 strong crowd left the brewery in better spirits than when they arrived, and not just from the tasty beer on tap. I think this event has already become a regular calendar filler for many locals and it’s clear Cook skilfully selects the slickest of comedians and the range is always eclectic, varied and well, funny. I can’t wait for the next one.

Jason Cook

www.jasonlovescomedy.com

www.wylambrewery.co.uk

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