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On the cards

Gerald Haigh meets A-level students working on projects for a Sustainable Design Award

A school desk made of cardboard? No, it isn't a joke like the Yorkshireman's chocolate teapot. It's a real and practical piece of kit, designed and made by 18-year-old Rebecca Heaton of Rugby High School for Girls as part of her A-level design and technology course.

Rebecca, together with fellow students from Rugby High and boys from the nearby Lawrence Sheriff School, took part in the pilot for the Sustainable Design Award organised by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) Students choose their projects from the research notes and case studies provided by ITDG, which is how Rebecca came to realise there was a demand for cheap, easily assembled school furniture. "It's not just in places like Africa," she says. "There's also a need in any country after a natural disaster such as an earthquake, where they're trying to get schools quickly back to work."

Rebecca's desk, which has a removable blackboard in the top, is made from sturdy thick card with a corrugated middle layer. It's a design that could be made on site, using discarded packing materials.

Rebecca's desk started as a design on a computer screen and was developed by trial and error. "I made about 20 models," she explains, "gradually getting bigger and using thicker card each time."

The recycling theme is common to all the award projects. So Jeremy Carne's sturdy bike trailer is a simple structure of tubular steel and timber, linked to the bike by a discarded inner tube.

Kirstie Nichols' design also comes with strong sustainable credentials. Her gadget is a hot wire made from scrap metal to cut and seal plastic. This enables people to make small plastic bags from discarded big ones which could be useful for people in the developing world who buy grains and spices in bulk then repack them to sell in smaller quantities.

"It's just a simple hot wire circuit and some aluminium sheet," she explains. "It doesn't need power tools and it will work from a car battery."

The ITDG Award not only provides students with an aim but it fits in with existing exam sylabuses, supporting A-level courses. ITDG also provides preparation days for teachers and study weekends for students.

Paul Cooper, a teacher at Lawrence Sheriff, says the scheme has had an invigorating effect on students: "The exam requirement is to design to an identified need and it can be a real problem for students to get their teeth into something and get started. This, though, really did fire them up. And everything they've done has demonstrated 'fitness for purpose', which is very important."

Kirstie Nichols agrees. "It gave us a huge buzz to have a starting point for work that would help the community."

The ITDG Sustainable Award Scheme is funded by the Department for International Development and backed by the examination boards and the Design and Technology Association. Entries are invited from all AS and A2-level students. Entry forms should be returned by the end of this term.Schools in England contact: Development Education Unit, ITDGTel: 01926 634400Email: in Wales: Ann MacGarry, Centre for Alternative Technology Tel: 01654 705983Email:

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