Author: Simon Klee

Digital Team Goes Green For Nature! by Siobhan Neligan

Hounslow Council offers its employees two volunteering days each year to undertake charitable initiatives in the wider community so, on Tuesday 7th November, members of Hounslow’s Digital and IT team donned their gardening gloves and wielded their gardening tools to build nature habitats in the borough’s beautiful Syon Park.

In support of our strategic objective to deliver a greener Hounslow, the activities were led and organised by Digital Learning and Innovation Analyst, Adrian Griffee, who is also a seasoned conservationist. In his spare time, Adrian volunteers with a conservation group at sites across Southwest London, planting trees, managing invasive species, and promoting biodiversity. Adrian liaised with the grounds management team at the charity responsible for preserving Syon Park, who provided their advice and approval for the activity.


Pictured on site, left-right: Siobhan Neligan, Business Relationship Manager; Joyce Manangan, IT Commercial Team Leader; Simon Klee, Strategic Relationship and Engagement Manager; Mukhtiar Gill, Data Quality Analyst; Nicholas McCarthy, Head of Digital Services; Dione Harrington, Data Quality Analyst; Weronika Stelmaszyk, Data Quality Analyst; Anna Trichkine, Data Quality Lead.

Despite the November climate, and after the recent storms, it was a crisp autumn day and the sun’s rays lit up the stunning landscape of Syon Park. The famed park is host to a variety of valuable local amenities, including the Grade I listed Syon House, historic home to the Duke of Northumberland. The site hosts a popular garden centre, conservatory, arboretum, café, luxury hotel, and events venue which all contribute to the thriving local economy, history, and culture.

Syon Park is widely renowned for its 100 acres of landscaped parkland, designed by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century. Its grounds are a haven for nature and wildlife, with natural features including lakes, ancient trees, and scenic walking routes, all conveniently nestled within the bustling borough of Hounslow and overlooking the majestic river Thames. Syon Park is also home to Tide Meadow, 40 acres of tall grass washland, which is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

During a busy day of activity, the team split into two smaller groups to dig two large holes through turf and London clay soil, to form the basis of a habitat for stag beetles, insects, and other wildlife. The holes must be dug wide and deep enough to accommodate lengths of wood to be covered by the ground, to enable to decomposition process to take place. The team here demonstrated the vital depth of the foundations, at around 2 feet deep.

Pictured left-right: Nicholas McCarthy, Head of Digital Services; Simon Klee, Strategic Relationship and Engagement Manager; Hovik Avedian, Application Analyst; Siobhan Neligan, Business Relationship Manager; Joyce Manangan, IT Commercial Team Leader; Mukhtiar Gill, Data Quality Analyst; Weronika Stelmaszyk, Data Quality Analyst; Dione Harrington, Data Quality Analyst; Anna Trichkine, Data Quality Lead.

Once the foundations were in place, the next task was to carefully assemble variously sized logs in the holes, to create a pyramid structure of wood that will eventually decay during winter, covered by turf, twigs and soil. The gaps that begin to form within the decayed wood, protected from the elements and predators, become a thriving home for invertebrates and fungi – essential for local biodiversity.

One of the rarest and most important insects that it is hoped will take up residence in the newly created habitats is the stag beetle. Though they can be found across London’s parkland, stag beetles are a protected species, and are in steep decline across Europe. They are also the UK’s largest terrestrial beetle, and whilst their antler-shaped jaws may look fierce, they are harmless to humans. Their larvae develop underground in rotting wood for several years, and they emerge during the summer mating season, when they wield their powerful jaws to wrestle for partners. If you are fortunate enough to spot one, the London Wildlife Trust encourages you to report the sighting, so that accurate records of their existence can be kept. Stag Beetle Campaign | London Wildlife Trust (wildlondon.org.uk)

And at last… the finished habitats! Note the way the natural materials blend seamlessly into the environment. The grass will eventually grow back to reclaim the ground around the habitats, which will be a lasting refuge for insects and wildlife.

The team really valued the opportunity to get out into Hounslow’s great outdoors and work together on a small project that will ultimately play an important role in conserving local flora and fauna. It’s all part of our vision to collaborate towards a greener Hounslow.

Inspiring our future generation of technicians and engineers

Our children are our future councillors, business leaders, innovators and so much more but how do inspire them to think about jobs in engineering & technology when the terms alone are so abstract? Thankfully, for this very reason, TeenTech exists to ‘help young people understand the opportunities in the science, technology and engineering industries, no matter what their gender or social background

I was invited along as a business ambassador to represent London Borough of Hounslow at a recent TeenTech event at Roehampton University (they run these all over the country) and my role for the day was to support the teacher and help inspire their cohort of students. I was assigned to a group of 8 Key Stage 3 children (Year 7 = 11/12 years old) from Twickenham School who, it is fair to say, were not sure why they were there but were curious nonetheless, having found out two days prior that they had been selected to attend.

The day began with a vote asking the students whether they had any interest in working in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) arena and the responses were low. Following a day of engaging, exciting and interesting sessions that brought these to life the responses at the end of the day were much higher. Each cohort of students had a slightly different schedule, so they got to see different presentations and the group I was with got to experience:

  • Adding voiceovers/dubbing and foley sounds in the university film sound studio
  • Mind-bending physics showing how poor the human mind is at judging weight and volume, courtesy of the National Physics Laboratory
  • A talk from Queen Mary’s University on hacking (with a funky, hacked Teddy Bear that controls room access (with a card reader in one foot and speaker in another) and alerts you to intruders i.e. that pesky younger brother or sister, to stop them going through your room, through flashing eyes and a digital display on which to project your warning message!
  • A talk and demonstration on space flight and fuel from Dallas Campbell and a demonstration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning from Amazon’s Space Dept. which focuses on satellite launches and maintenance, particularly using them to monitor and react to emergency situations e.g.
    • Using satellite images to learn about environmental matters so when a volcano began to erupt satellite images were captured and the system was able to present a picture of where the issue was but also to recommend where best to evacuate people from as it had learnt how to track which way the volcanic smoke was heading – amazing.

The students had also been set a group task to be completed before the event which was to create a building of the future and to really think outside of the constraints of everyday thought; what technology would help? What innovative ideas could inspire new products for the future (I am not sure how practical the chicken-cloner idea is!); who would it help and how – then they had to make a model of it.

The creativity, thoughtfulness and intelligence of these students was so inspiring as they integrated renewable energy and accessibility without a second thought but were striving to find other ways to provide the best for others. To see these younger children getting so involved and thinking things through so thoughtfully and carefully shows that their future is in the right hands.

Finally, some food for thought for us as a council and thinking of these students as future residents, business owners and even councillors: one of the questions they were asked was ‘Where does your town or city need to make the most improvements?’ and the response was significant with over a quarter of the students stating Crime Prevention as most important to them as you can see here:

Graph showing student responses to the question 'Where does your town or city need to make the most improvements' with responses:
27% Crime Prevention
20% Education
13% Sports provision
13% Parks and Open Spaces
7% Transport
6% Entertainment Provision (cinemas etc.)
5% Cultural Activities (Theatres, Museums, Concerts etc.)
4% Youth Centres

Our first ever Digital Festival Hounslow

Wow, what an incredible month November was.  What started as an idea at the beginning of September turned into a 4-week reality and now it is hard to believe that our first ever Digital Festival Hounslow is over already.  The Festival was a resounding success and the figures speak for themselves:

  • Digital Festival Hounslow ran over 20 days 
  • We held 62 events of which 16 were open to the community
  • 7 events in partnership with local businesses including Chimni, See.Sense and our Community & Voluntary partners
  • Ran 3 events with two of our key digital partners, LOTI and SOCITM
  • 16 events in partnership with global business including Microsoft, Amazon and Google 
  • 6 events in partnership with Organisational Development 
  • 3 events in partnership with Public Health 
  • 26 events delivered by D&IT 
  • 2 Councillor led sessions
  • We had 80 different speakers​
  • ​We delivered over 55 hours of live content
  • 18.5 hours which was recorded and is available to watch back on our SharePoint site​
  • 10:30 has been uploaded to our YouTube channel for the public to view
  • Finally: ……. we had 2700 sign up requests!

We delivered events on Wellbeing and Technology, Assistive Technology in Social Care, Social Prescribing, Employment, LinkedIn and CV writing, smart cycle lights, digital inclusion and so much more. We have archived the recordings these sessions on the council’s YouTube channel.

Feedback on the Digital Festival Hounslow has been overwhelmingly positive and whilst we can’t include them all here are a couple that really sum the month up for us:

‘This has been a great initiative, and I’m proud to work in an organisation that continuously prides itself in new initiatives and involving colleagues in doing so too. I feel very connected and not isolated (considering when I work remotely (I have no other interactions) which isn’t how it’d be if we were at Hounslow House.’

‘There have been some really great events and the well-being session have had a positive impact, we should have more of these’

This would not have been a success without the work of our partners and the engagement of our community, so we extend a huge thank you from us all to everyone who took part in one way or another.  We will take all we have learned to make next year’s even bigger and better.

Thank you from all of us in the Digital Festival Hounslow team

See you next year!