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Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival 2019

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3,000 people attended Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival, which took place at Newcastle Racecourse July 2019. The annual festival is a celebration of science and innovation and aims to tackle the biggest questions facing the environment and community using the latest technology.


How many people attended?

Around 3,000 people attended across the week from 665 cross sector organisations, including 118 SME’s, 105 PhD students and professors and 1,800 young people.

How did the idea for the Innovation Festival come about and what were your main aims/ objectives?

This idea came from our CIO Nigel Watson. Northumbrian Water Group had been using the Google Design sprint methodology to crack some of the big problems at an accelerated speed and Nigel loves a British summer time festival so had the idea to mash the two together.  The main aims of this year’s event were to tackle the really big questions facing the environment, the community and sustainability and doing this with a cross sector audience, stakeholders and sponsors.

Why was Newcastle Racecourse such a good venue for the Festival?

The racecourse is the perfect location for this annual festival.  We have people from all over the country and the world attending, so transport links and local hotels are a must.  The venue also has lots flexible of space for us to create an excellent festival vibe.  They are also great hosts and provide high quality service for our guests each and every time.

Talk to us about the festival structure and why you decided on this format?

The Google design sprint methodology is a great way to release creativity and to encourage collaboration amongst a wide variety of people from diverse sectors. It’s important for us to implement this method in a fun and inclusive way to be able to stimulate our guests and to produce innovative and excellent new ways of thinking; the festival format captures this brilliantly, allowing us to deliver fun and flexible activations and workshops.

Tell us about the journey to create a Zero Waste event and why this is so important?

Zero waste was an important aspect of the festival and is a key part of our own business plan.  With our 2019 event we wanted to make sure we didn’t leave a big footprint behind us. We worked with our partners Biffa to make sure everything we used from coffee cups to stationery, could be re-used and recylced.

There was a big wellbeing focus at this year’s event, why?

The wellbeing of our employees is a priority at Northumbrian Water Group and we wanted to extend this to our guests of the festival. As well as giving attendees the chance to relax and recharge so they could keep up the high energy and creative innovation, we wanted to provide opportunities for them to learn new skills to be able to look after their own wellbeing outside of the event, too. Activities this year included; yoga, pilates, stress awareness and mindfullness workshops, manicures – everything you can think of, we probably had it.

Can you tell us about the design sprints and some of the key ideas to come from these?

Design sprints were a key part of the festival, with the key objective being to pool innovative ideas from a diverse audience on how to use latest technology to tackle industry issues. These included topics such as; 5G with O2, vehicles of the future with Ford, surface water flooding with ICE/Wavin, unrivalled customer experience with CMS and enabling the rural revolution with CGI.

The sprints resulted in so many great ideas that we are now looking to build some of them into our business plan and top priorities for the coming years.  Examples of the top ideas that really stood out were, the use of mobileye technology in the Ordnance Survey to help us map above ground and a real time water sensor that would provide data to support management of our assets and allow local communities to engage with their local rivers. We loved the idea of an anti-tamper manhole sensor that came from one of the design sprints and we are already thinking about developing it. Four lots of seed funding were awarded for projects as a result of the festival, to create a depth model for our pipework, create a pop-up reservoir, a smart box to revolutionise the working environment in the cab of vehicle and an educational package around growing plants.


What were the main projects to come out of last year’s event and how are they making a difference today?

We have had 76 ideas from the last two festivals overall and we showcased 26 of these at our 2019 festival.  With innovation, not all ideas will come to fruition but we have had a good success rate and are being transparent about outcomes of the project.  We have created a culture that encourages trialling ideas so we fail fast and learn faster.  The projects which have had the most success so far are the shared underground map supported by Ordnance Survey and now the UK government.  By collaborating with other UK utilities and local councils we now have a map of the North East of England and are creating one in the London area.  This all came from an idea at our festival!  Again thanks to innovative thinking from a previous festival, we have created a number of sensor devices  which will increase the reliability and resilience of our services to customers.

What do you expect to come out of this year’s event/ what impact do you think it will have on the region? 

In addition to lots of great ideas, this type of event changes everyone who comes along.  This is a unique event which promotes science and innovation, is fully inclusive, boosts collaboration and is hard work but in a fun way.  Everyone who attends grows their mindset into a more positive can-do outlook, gains confidence and new skills and definitely a whole pile of new contacts to grow their network.  There are also ideas which get taken up by sponsoring companies which makes a commercial difference to them.  The local area also benefits hugely as we attract visitors from all over the country and overseas.  We use local suppliers and hosted many local SME’s.  This event has flooded  social media and puts a positive spotlight on the North East.

Conference date
9 - 11 July 2019

Total delegates

Newcastle Racecourse

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