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Girls Academy wins North East Schools Wonder Challenge

Students from St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy in Sunderland win the Wonder Challenge North East event in Newcastle Picture: DAVID WOOD

St Anthony’s Girls Catholic Academy, Sunderland, took top spot at the final of the North East Schools Wonder Challenge.

Both the school and its winning team – comprising of Amrita Singh, Mary-Ann Mason, Heidi Scarth and Rue Rahman were awarded £500.

Held at Newcastle University, the finalists included teams from Haydon Bridge High School, Whitley Bay High School, Newcastle High School for Girls and Kenton School.

The challenge was to design a sustainable transport system in three stages. The first, set up a company, appoint a team and identify a site to develop. The second, the generation of a company proposal. The third, a presentation to the judges.

The judges were Neil Ramsey, secretary director, Northern Counties Builders Federation, Anjana Raj, social value manager, Sir Robert McAlpine, Victoria Beattie, head of estates at Port of Tyne, Alasdair Hill, social impact manager, Robertson Group, Ashleigh Coombes, social value manager, Wates Group, Mark Rowcroft, managing director, Exagen.

Angela Carney, senior vice president, NCBF, said: “We face a serious skills gap within the built environment and The Wonder Challenge provides a brilliant opportunity for pupils to research the career opportunities available in construction. It really opened up the minds of students, as they learned to work in the mindset of a business and considered wider issues, such as environmental needs.

“The teams had researched the merits of brownfield and greenfield sites from a perspective of environmental impact and how the energy used to power their transportation system would consider environmental issues.

“The challenge also provided opportunities for construction site visits and to meet young professionals from the built environment sector.

“A huge well done to St Anthony’s Girls Catholic Academy, whose passion was evident throughout their participation in the challenge. They genuinely cared for the environment with their solution. They considered the history of their town and their vision was about making Sunderland a better place for all. Ultimately, the judges felt they deserved to win as their design was so good it could almost be given to the Sunderland city council for adoption into their Transport Master Plan.”

Mrs Conqueror, St Anthony’s Girls Academy, said: “The team had to consider their personal strengths to produce a professional outcome. Their research was specific and detailed. The project allowed the pupils to develop a range of skills. I am extremely proud of the team and how they rose to the challenge.”

Established nearly 20 years ago, the North East Schools Wonder Challenge has been revamped over the years, in 2023, Northern Counties Builders Federation (NCBF) supported by Constructing Excellence in the North East (CENE), relaunched the challenge, which was previously led by the CITB, Construction Industry Council and CENE.

It was a call to action to schools within the North East Combined Authority areas of Tyne & Wear, Northumberland and Durham to challenge year 9 and 10 students to form mini construction companies.

The built environment sector presented teachers with the opportunity to have a ready-made project for students, assisting them in STEM subjects but also geography, design and English.

The scheme highlighted the diverse opportunities within the built environment, involving team work, design, presentation skills and report production.

A show of force from organisations within the built environment supported and sponsored the initiative. They included, sponsors Northern Counties Builders Federation, Carney Consultancy, Exagen Group, Robertson Group, Sir Robert McAlpine and Wates Group. Supporters and those donating goodie bags and stationery to the schools at the grand final include Aptus, AtkinsRealis, believe housing, Building Surveyors Ltd, Compass Developments, Corstorphine & Wright, Costain, Ethical Partnership, Fairhurst, Gleeds, Kier, Morgan Sindall, NEPO, Place Changers, Port of Tyne, Ryder Architecture, SAJ Transport Consultants, Thompsons of Prudhoe and Willmott Dixon.

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Students from St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy in Sunderland win the Wonder Challenge North East event in Newcastle Picture: DAVID WOOD

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