Last week, one of the biggest Festivals of Innovation the world has ever seen landed in the North East.

More than 3,000 people from nearly 700 leading organisations around the globe, descended on Newcastle Racecourse for Northumbrian Water’s third Innovation Festival.

The aim of the event was to come up with innovative solutions to some of the biggest and hard-hitting challenges faced by society and the environment, within five action-packed days.

Industry professionals were joined by engineers, local businesses, students, designers and members of the public, to focus on key issues such as climate change, the impact of 5G and vehicles of the future.

Around 1,800 young people also flooded through the racecourse gates to learn about skills that can support their career, with the aim of inspiring them to consider a career in science, technology, engineering, art or maths (STEAM).

The North East water company created the perfect environment for open innovation and collaboration where delegates delivered a year’s worth of work in a week.

They started by scoping and unpacking the nature of each problem through a number of different ‘sprints’, working each day to develop key ideas and create working prototypes of their ideas before presenting them back at the end of the week.

Some of the big ideas to come from the five-day-event included ‘Dragonfly’, a device that could be powered by water and would monitor the quality of water in rivers, helping Northumbrian Water further strengthen its industry-leading environmental performance. 

An app that will interact with sensors in the soil and help farmers and allotment holders understand how to care for their plants in a sustainable way was built by the ‘Plant Buddy’ sprint, while the ‘Mapathon’ sprint worked out what assets and data are most important to map at ground level using Mobileye tracking technology, and how this can build on the underground asset map idea developed at last year’s Festival.

In between all of the hard work and problem solving, the Festival saw a number of different activities taking place, including volleyball, yoga, tech demonstrations, pub quiz nights and musical bingo.

Throughout the week, festival goers were also joined by a number of celebrity guests, including BBC Business expert Steph McGovern, TV inventor Dick Strawbridge and gadget guru Georgie Barrat.

Festival Founder and Northumbrian Water Group Information Services Director, Nigel Watson, said: “Well, that’s our third Innovation Festival week over, and what a week it’s been!

“It’s just absolutely incredible to think we’ve seen people come from all over the world to join us here in the North East, to focus on innovation and to help us make a difference.

“All 3,000 of our festival guests have worked incredibly hard and I’d like to thank all of our sponsors, our partners and our guests who helped make it happen and contributed. Innovation isn’t all about individual genius, it’s about collaboration.

“We’ve had more than 7,000 creative and inspiring ideas come out of last week. Some of them may not come to fruition, but some of them will absolutely work. We’ll take them away, test them, modify them, and we’ll reach a point where they will make a real difference to our industry, our customers, our communities and our environment.

“Friday wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning and I’m very excited to start this new journey in innovation.”