Wind of change

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Jessie Anderson describes how a special needs school in Cumbria built a wind turbine

Producing sustainable power with a wind turbine has saved on the running costs of a Kendal school, and also provided a valuable learning resource.

Sandgate School has a roll of 57 pupils with special needs ranging from severe to profound. The pupils - from nursery to post-16 - may have physical or learning difficulties or both. A number are wheelchair users.

Dan Hinton, the school's geography co-ordinator, says: "We operate a policy of complete inclusion. Disability is never allowed to limit opportunities."

Some time ago, Sandgate was offered space in the technology workshops of nearby Settlebeck in Sedbergh. "What would you like your pupils to make?" Dan was asked. A wind turbine was the unexpected answer.

Although geography throughout the school, and particularly at key stage 4, has been significantly linked to the project, other subjects including physics, design and technology, maths and art have also been involved.

Dan downloaded a wind-turbine design from the drawing board of the internationally-known designer Hugh Piggott. It has taken the pupils, mainly from KS4 and post-16 about a year to complete but there has been input in some form from everyone in the school. Four of the older boys chiselled the blades from blocks of pine. They wound the coils for the alternator, produced a design for the tail pieces, connected the wires and finally screwed and bolted the whole thing together and winched it onto a post on the school's ball court.

The only activities in which the pupils were not involved, for safety reasons, were welding, and pouring the toxic resin into the moulds for the alternator coils. Now the turbine is helping power the school's computers and charge batteries for equipment such as wheelchairs.

"We run a hands-on curriculum for geography," says Dan. With the Cumbrian preoccupation with wind farms and the frequently vociferous public exchange of views for and against, there has never been a better time for a hands-on approach, not only with the school's own turbine but also through visiting Lambrigg, a wind farm in the area. The pupils sat beneath the blades and compared them with the 60cm blades of their own turbine.

The wind turbine is, however, only one aspect of the school's commitment to sustainable energy. They have now installed a set of solar panels which are generating a significant amount of electricity and which have the added bonus of diminishing carbon monoxide emissions. The power produced is fed into the school grid and the surplus is sold to the national grid. The money saved goes into a fund to finance further equipment to increase the school's sustainable energy programme.

"The wind turbine has been the catalyst to make other things happen in the school," says Dan. The school environmental council has begun to link sustainability to conservation. Notices designed by the students, with the message "Turn off the Lights" have also been posted throughout the school.

By next term, a new weather station will be powered by the school's sustainable energy. KS4 pupils will study weather forecasting, cloud cover, climate change, wind speed, intensity of sunlight and so on. And they will be able to measure how much energy is being produced at any particular time. Headteacher Tom Robson describes the project as a partnership with the support of Cumbria sustainability officer Tim Gale and his team, a pound;5,000 grant from Cumbria County Council's local agenda 21 fund, and pound;3,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry. The cost of the turbine was pound;500 and the cost of the entire sustainable energy project about pound;8,000 lThe school welcomes inquiries from interested groups, tel: 01539 773636.

Dan Hinton is producing a photo record of the making of the Sandgate turbine

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