UWE works alongside children in Easton to monitor local air quality

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Photographer Anya Agulova 

Academics and students from a number of UWE Bristol departments are collaborating with the local community in Easton to investigate, on a granular real-time level, air quality and traffic’s impact on the local high-street.

St. Mark’s Road in Easton is a high-street bucking the trend, with new shops popping up in an amazing and unusual Covid recovery. The local community’s clear commitment to investing in their high-street isn’t limited to popping into local shops – residents are beginning to be interested in how traffic affects the street they’re proud of.

In the last few years air quality sensors that measure pollutants as small as 2.5 microns have begun to pop up all over the world, and St. Mark’s Road has been part of this. Although you wouldn’t notice on walking down the street.

“The sensors need to be waterproofed, so we put them into the drainpipes – nice and easy and out of the way,” said Stuart Phelps from Baggator (a community organisation offering a range of innovative programmes for young people in the local area) who has been the driver behind much of the project.

Easton Data Garden is growing

It’s not very glamorous, but these hidden sensors are providing real-world information that are inspiring local residents. Particularly the weekly children’s science and technology club – the ‘Easton Data Garden’ – which UWE Bristol have been heavily involved in.

“The data gathered from the sensors on St. Mark’s Road gets the kids thinking about what that means in the real world,” explained Stuart. “Seeing this information in real-time is changing their view of science.”

And the children are about to take part in workshops, alongside academics from UWE Bristol and the University of Bath, to build new sensors for installation in more pieces of drainpipe on St Mark’s Road.

New sensors from the University of Bath and the European Space Agency, will give a detailed real-time readout of nitrogen dioxide (a significant greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia and ozone. These will be installed alongside traffic monitors – supplied by UWE Bristol’s Digital Engineering Technology Innovation (DETI) Inspire project, which links to the EU citizen science project WeCount.

“Working with Baggator and the Easton Data Garden is a fantastic example of local residents leading on citizen science in their own area,” said DETI Inspire lead, Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers.

“The young people and their mentors came up with this exciting idea to use digital engineering to link local air quality monitors with traffic counting sensors, providing a real-time picture of how traffic impacts air quality on a granular scale.

“We are really excited to see how this develops and are looking forward to supporting their science learning and community development!”

That’s a lot of great data to look at and residents, and particularly the children in Easton Data Garden, want to see the results and identify any problems on their high-street. Again, UWE is stepping up to the ‘mark’, with several teams of students working on projects to help highlight St. Mark’s unique data set.

UWE students get visuals on the data

This includes a UWE Computer Science and Creative Technology student team undertaking the creation of a bespoke St. Mark’s Road website – where local news sits alongside local air quality data.

But Stuart’s not stopping there. He has a vision for this website to be viewed from a St. Mark’s shop window, with real-time data coming in from sensors mounted directly above the shop. And again, a student digital design team under UWE Bristol’s Dr Mic Palmer’s direction, are developing a bespoke display screen for residents.

Future of St. Mark’s Road

In the next few weeks, children from the Easton Data Garden club will bring their families along to workshops to build the sensors. Installation will happen soon after, all ready to start feeding delicious data into the website UWE students will deliver at the end of January. And viewed at the local corner shop!

All the while, local Easton children will be working alongside academics, asking questions about the effectiveness of real-world interventions, like, how do rumble strips impact on traffic speed and then air pollution? This will be the first time citizens have combined these technologies to directly test the impact of interventions on their streets – a necessary step to improve high streets.

For Stuart, almost the most important impact of this project, is the interactions made possible between the academics and children in Easton.

“The kids here wouldn’t normally have exposure to University and the people who work there, this project means they are getting to have those interactions” explained Stuart. “And the children are interested because it’s relevant to them, and because the academics are genuinely listening to what they have to say.”

Work alongside UWE academics is also a key part of another strand of Stuart’s work – supporting the local Muslim community to celebrate the end of Eid with a huge light display (called the Grand Iftar). Children in Easton Data Garden are again collaborating with UWE Bristol academics to design light patterns to be displayed on/in the Jamia Masjid Mosque dome.

We’ll be updating on the results coming out of Easton Data Garden in the next few months and later on in 2022 you can expect to see some amazing images from the Grand Iftar celebration.

See more about Easton Data Garden (& UWE Bristol’s involvement!) in the video below:


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