A wall at the River Cole covered in street art depicting Small Heath and elements of the project
The 'River Cole Project' brought underused public open space back into use as a Community Commons.

The Creation of a River Cole Community Commons project, led by Birmingham Energy Institute at the University of Birmingham, was highly commended in the Benefitting Society category at the UK & Ireland Green Gown Awards 2023.

Part-funded by ERDF, with match funding from project partners Birmingham City Council, the Environment Agency, The Active Wellbeing Society and Sport England, the project has delivered a programme of blue and green infrastructure and environmental improvements and community engagement programme across a 55-hectare area in a deprived part of East Birmingham. It has also enhanced habitats and biodiversity and improved the sustainability, connectivity and accessibility of the site, bringing underused public open space back into use as a Community Commons.

The project draws upon Birmingham's institutional power and role as an anchor institute and civic university to leverage investment, bring organisations together, develop innovative ways of working in partnership, and deliver a project with significant benefit to society.

The judges commended the impressive partnership across the city and institution. They noted it as a great example of students and communities brought together to participate in developing a sustainable project and particularly liked the holistic approach, which sought to ensure the involvement of all community stakeholders. Judges also appreciated the response to feedback and described the bottom-up co-design and co-creation aspect of the project and how much they have done to allow for replication of the project in the sector and beyond.

We are delighted to have won this Benefitting Society Green Grown Award. As a civic university we are committed to supporting the growth and development of Birmingham, and projects like these are an excellent example of how we continue to work with partners to support local communities.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

The UK & Ireland Green Gown Awards are an established sustainability awards scheme for further and higher education. The Awards celebrate the innovative and change-making initiatives and projects in sustainability across the sectors, recognising their transformative power for our shared future. The UK & Ireland Green Gown Awards have continually grown since their Creation in 2004. Today, they reach a global audience of staff, students, supporters and other stakeholders.

Now in its 19th year, the 2023 UK & Ireland Awards, in association with UK Research and Innovation, have celebrated this year's winners at the Awards Ceremony, which took place at the Titanic Hotel Liverpool on 30th November—the evening showcased a diverse array of innovative projects that universities and colleges across the UK and Ireland are currently leading to create a positive change. The 2023 results showcase 20 Winner and 17 Highly Commended institutions.

Charlotte Bonner, CEO of EAUC, who delivers the Green Gown Awards, said: "The Green Gown Awards celebrate the most innovative and impactful work being done by those working in the post-16 education sector. The projects, initiatives and people showcased through the awards this year are, as ever, inspirational – it's been a privilege to be part of the judging. I look forward to seeing them flourish in future and to using their examples to springboard further action for sustainability."

Alison Robinson, NERC Deputy Executive Chair and Director of Business Delivery & Insight, part of UKRI and headline sponsor, said: "Congratulations to the winners of the Green Gown Awards. It is so great to see this exceptional set of finalists showing us what is being done across our sector to reach net zero. The quality of research and innovation, alongside the passion and enthusiasm of all the finalists, is inspiring. I look forward to following the progress of these projects as they help us all take climate action."

All winners, highly commended, and finalist entries, including project summaries, top learnings, short videos and infographics, are available online here: www.greengownawards.org/showcasing-our-2023-finalists