The Big Ideas Competition National Final 2021!

What an event! The culmination of our first ever fully virtual Big Ideas Programme, the Big Ideas Competition 2021 National Final, took place on Wednesday 23rd June – and it was INCREDIBLE!  13 amazing teams of young people presented their Big Ideas and showed us all, once again, how vital their voices are.

This year has brought even more new challenges for all of us (highlighted in this previous article) and yet, through hard work, passion, resilience and teamwork, we did it!  We’ve missed being able to go into schools so very much this year – but the 96 teams who entered the Big Ideas Competition in March proved to us that, with as much guidance and support we, their mentors, and their incredible teachers could give them, they are determined to have their voices heard no matter what obstacles are put in their way.  We can all learn so much from them.

At the National Final we were delighted to be joined by a selection of our nearly 70 business partner employee mentors from this year’s programme who collectively volunteered 100s of hours of support!  Amongst the audience there were also teachers, parents, MPs and other special guests, our exceptional judges, inspiring keynote speakers, and a panel of sustainability and entrepreneurial experts. 

“This was my first year mentoring for S4TP and it has been such a rewarding experience! The S4TP team are so warm, welcoming and helpful. It was great to be able to work alongside them to support the Big Ideas Programme. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm, imagination and commitment from all the teams who entered the competition – it makes me really happy to know that the future generation is so engaged with helping our planet.

It was also brilliant to see past pupils from the Big Ideas Programme at the National Final and hear about their successes since then, often as a result of their experience with S4TP. It just goes to show that S4TP can be a life-changing programme for young people, and I would encourage all schools to get involved as it offers a valuable chance for students to develop their skills and nurture their Big Ideas to help our planet.”

MENTOR Fenella Dodson, Sustainability Officer – Net Zero, Tarmac

The day started with an inspiring speech from 13-year-old Harriet Blessing who shared her own experience of making it through to the National Final of the Big Ideas Competition last year, despite her teammate having had to pull out, leaving her to present solo.  She motivated the teams by telling them all the opportunities she’s had this year, despite not ‘winning’ on the day – speaking at regional and national conferences, and becoming a member of the S4TP Advisory Board, amongst other things.

We had an impressive line-up of judges ready to listen to what the teams had to say: Dr. Martyn Kenny (Sustainability Director at our national partner Tarmac); Carolina Karlström (Senior Lead Environment & Climate Change at our regional partner SGN); Noorafsha Manga (Product Design Engineering Student at LSBU and S4TP Non-Executive Director); Kate Dearden (Head of Research, Policy & External Relations at Community Union and Competition alumna, forming part of the first ever winning team alongside Kimi Omolokun); and Zee Mumbe, our Young Person judge, who, at 11 years old, is already an advocate and and activist and a force to be reckoned with!

At the end of the presentations, we were again joined by long-time supporter of the Big Ideas Programme the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MPwho sang the praises of all the teams and their teachers for their hard work, creativity and resilience in this challenging year.  This was followed by a video message from Kimi Omolokun (judge Kate Dearden’s team mate from the team that won the first ever Solutions for the Planet Competition back in 2008), and also a short video presentation from guest Matt Burton (Group Head Of Business Development at musicMagpie PLC UK), which kept us all hooked on the protest against e-waste that was ‘Mount Recyclemore‘!

With just 10 minutes for their presentation and judges’ questions, each team had to ‘sell’ their Big Idea to our panel of esteemed judges. This was by far the most exciting part of the day for everyone. 

 The judges knew how tough their task was going to be, having already had a week to examine each team’s incredibly detailed business plans, however these presentations really did raise the bar.   

After lunch, teams had the opportunity to hear from four of our Business Partners (Tarmac, SGN, Mears Group and Northern Gas Networks) in a fast-paced carousel.  They heard about how each partner is addressing sustainability within their business and some of the STEM skills that they are looking for in new recruits. 

Another highlight of the day was our fascinating “Where do we go from here?” Panel Discussion.  We welcomed four sustainability and entrepreneurial experts: Gareth Jones (Director, Eucalyptus Consulting), Kat Luckock (The Social Entrepreneur Coach at Share Impact and S4TP Non-Executive Director), Kofi Atuah (Independent Innovation and Business Development Leader) and Daniel Harrison (History and Politics student at Worcester College, University of Oxford, Big Ideas Competition alumnus, and S4TP Non-Executive Director) who shared their reflections on the biggest sustainability challenges facing young people in 2021,  and then responded to a number of absolutely amazing questions posed by the teams. 

Apart from the sheer dedication it took for our teachers and teams to run the programme this year and to have 96 teams submit despite everything was amazing in itself.  What impressed us even more was how far the finalist teams had come along with their ideas and presentations between the Regional and National Finals.  This year, the schedule meant that there were only 10 days between those events, yet the improvements we saw were phenomenal!  Not only that – one of our teams was the definition of resilience as only 12 hours prior to the event they had to find a way to present from 4 different places, thanks to COVID-related self-isolations and an operation recovery!

We have created a special award, The Schofield Award, in memory of our incredible Chair, mentor and friend Kevin Schofield, who was a firm believer in radiating positivity to the world, getting stuck in with all your heart and the power of proactivity and collaboration.  The Schofield Award is for a team that embodies the very spirit of Solutions for the Planet.

The first recipients of The Schofield Award are Apollo, from Oaks Park High School, Ilford.  Their engagement throughout the programme has been second to none: their use of the forum in communicating with the Solutions for the Planet team and with their mentor, has been relentless in the best possible way; their seventeen-minute video presentation; the boldness and scope of their Big Idea; their Crowdfunder; the list goes on.  They threw themselves in to the programme heart and soul, and were thoroughly deserving of this recognition.

The judges awarded 4 Special Commendations this year, and they went to:

Green Life, from Oaks Park High School, Ilford, for their creative combining of social and environmental issues and extensive supporting work.

Panthers, from Heath Park School, Wolverhampton, for brilliant branding and social media including use of TikTok for their recipe video and an amazing radio advert.

Eco-Warriors, from Saint Gabriel’s College, London, for incredible graphics, networking and a dramatic development of their Big Idea since the Regional Final ten days ago.

Plastic Sucker, from Perton Middle School, Wolverhampton, for persevering through trial and error, for showing their science in a practical way and for strong teamwork.

Third place went to W.A.S.P, from Colton Hills Community School, Wolverhampton.  Their Window Applicable Solar Panels concept just blew the judges away! They were so impressed with their strapline too – “Take the sting out of your energy bill.”

In second place was Planet Helpers, from Heath Park School, Wolverhampton, with their very unique idea of creating dog toys out of recycled paper mache.  Their impressive prototype, and the video of it being tested out by a boisterous black Labrador, was just genius.

And our biggest congratulations goes to our winning team, Waste Warriors from North Durham Academy, County Durham. Not only were their business plan and presentation both detailed and of a very high standard, but the judges were especially taken with the embodiment of sustainability in their idea.  The circular aspect of having a community garden where food is grown from food that would otherwise be thrown away, and then the food that is grown is given back to those that donated the waste in the first place – this is exactly the kind of thinking that is needed to tackle waste of all kinds in our society right now.

Their teacher Mr. Dalton said, “The girls were completely blown away with their success yesterday. A big thank you to you, other members of S4TP, the mentors and judges.  The Big Ideas Programme has really brought the girls out of their shell and the transformation in their confidence levels and presenting skills is astounding.”

And the team themselves sent us this message, “We really enjoyed this competition and it helped a lot with our confidence, presentation skills and team work, it also gave us something interesting to do during lockdown. Also, we talked to a lot of people and we learned about other people’s ideas and all the other problems around the world. We feel a lot more confident going into our idea and future projects. We would like to thank Solutions for the Planet, our mentor and everyone else who is involved for helping us through this competition.”

While there can only be one overall winner, we think every young person who entered the competition is a winner due to the incredible amount of hard work, passion, courage and determination they have shown. We’re so proud of each and every one of you!  

We’d like to say a huge thank you to the teachers who ran this enrichment programme within their school this year – not enough recognition is ever given to teachers, but in particular this year with the challenges they have had to deal with, we want you all to know how appreciated you are.  Thank you too to our mentors – it is incredibly difficult to virtually mentor groups of 11-14-year-olds and yet you rose to the challenge and were fantastic.  We’d also like to thank those MPs who sent words of congratulations and encouragement to their constituency teams, in particular to Liz Twist and Alyn Smith, who were both able to attend and speak to their teams directly. 

Thank you to our incredible judges – you had a lot of work to do reviewing the portfolios ahead of the day, and your task was not an easy one with such a high level of entrants.  Thank you too to our guest speakers Harriet and Hilary, and Matt, and to our wonderful Discussion Panel experts.

Finally, we would like to thank all our business partners for their ongoing support of and belief in the Big Ideas Programme: Tarmac, IGEM, SGN, Mears Group, Northern Gas Networks, Kongsberg Automotive, Cadent, Linkcity and ISS Labour.  Thank you, too, to our partner BIC for providing our schools with pens and glue sticks for the programme, from their Ecolutions range, which was sent out to all our schools this year despite us not being able to come in person. The community engagement and social value you’ve all shown is incredible. 

We wish all the teams success in continuing to develop and implement their ideas. We can’t wait to hear how you all do!

“This has been another year of complex challenges and intricate solutions. It has been a testing time for the world and education has certainly suffered many setbacks; bubbles, isolations, lockdowns, lack of specialist rooms, the list is endless. Yet, like weeds through concrete, and as our students demonstrated today, independence and resilience often grow and flourish through the toughest times. I am inordinately proud of all of the participants who continued to care so deeply about the planet and their projects at an unprecedented time in history. It gives us hope that the world can be changed for the better. “

Leah McClure, Curriculum Leader for Science, Colton Hills Community School


Written by Sarah Milburn, S4TP Programme Manager

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd