It’s been in the news non-stop recently – we’re in a climate crisis, species are going extinct at a rate unprecedented since the last Ice Age and resources are becoming increasingly scarce and hard to extract. Yet this is nothing new, we’ve been aware of these issues for decades.
So what has brought them to the fore, and what is keeping them in the public eye? It’s the fact that this time, the voices that are loudest are those of schoolchildren. Following the inspirational example of 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, children across the world are striking from school to protest against our lack of action in the face of this global climate crisis.
Over the last nine months, I’ve been lucky enough to see this spirit of activism and this refusal to just accept this is “how things are” first-hand in schools across Scotland through “Making Circles”. This is a touring workshop that has worked with schools up and down Scotland, from the Isle of Mull to Dumfriesshire and most places in between. We introduce children to the idea of a Circular Economy – essentially how to cut out waste and use the world’s resources more cleverly – and together with professional designer-makers they work on a design and model on circular principles, such as designing for disassembly so that objects can be repaired and updated; or multi-functional objects, where one set of materials does several different things.
Before we started, I was warned that children wouldn’t understand this complex subject. However, we have run similar workshops for adults in business, and every time, the children have been quicker to grasp the concept and run with it. Their mindsets are not already fixed into accepting the status quo and they are able to see that with simple design changes we can create a better, fairer future for Scotland and the rest of the world. They understand straightaway that the way resources are used today simply isn’t fair, for other parts of the globe or for future generations – and they have the optimism and inventiveness to come up with some great Circular Economy solutions to make things better.
Several of the workshops were held in the Learning Centre at the National Museum of Scotland. Classes were able to combine the workshop with a day at the museum and were inspired by the design in the museum’s collections, from the shoes and headdresses in the Fashion & Style Gallery to the energy-saving inventions in the Energise Gallery. Some of the classes had never visited the museum before and have been inspired to come back for a longer visit. The children were also motivated by one of the museum’s more recent acquisitions – the skull of Lulu the Orca Whale, who was washed up on a pristine beach on the Isle of Tiree, only for her autopsy to reveal she had the highest levels of PCBs ever recorded in a marine mammal. She had never had a calf and it is likely that her entire pod, which lives in the waters off the West coast of Scotland, will die out. This story demonstrated the urgency of the problem and the fact that it is happening right here in Scotland.
A selection of the children’s designs and ideas from the “Making Circles” workshops will be in the Learning Centre at the National Museum of Scotland until 31 July 2019. We’ve included some of the designs here so you can be inspired by the work of Scotland’s children in taking the reins and designing a better future for us all.