Why UBI should be ‘Universal’?

I was delighted to read that England is planning to run a 2 year long trial of UBI (Universal Basic Income) in 2 geographical areas. Given the number of positive results from trials across the world already though, I do hope trials aren’t being used as a way of avoiding ever implementing UBI for real!

But the thing that pleased me most with this proposed trial was that the participants within those areas would be selected randomly. The case for UBI is most often on providing a safety net for people who can’t work or are not paid enough for the work they do to meet their basic costs of food, warmth and a roof over their heads. It would be wonderful if UBI could solve that crisis without people having to endlessly prove they are desperate enough and deserving enough to receive state benefits in unhelpfully dependent and humiliating ways.

In contrast, a few years ago I read a mass of survey data on what people across the UK (if given UBI) would use it for. Many said it would give them the ability to get better qualifications or retrain for different work of the kind they would be more interested to do – nursing, social care, engineering and teaching being some of the ones mentioned. Some said it would take away the risk of starting up their own business. Others said UBI would enable them to work part time or not all so that they could care for their kids, a sick or disabled family member or their elderly parents. This, as it happens, could reduce the load on our struggling care system. Others who are artists (of every kind) would jump at the chance to be able to practice as artists (visual, musicians, performers, film makers, writers, poets, etc) without having to spend most of their time in unrelated jobs simply to pay the mortgage. How much richer our society would be with more art of every kind. Ditto, people who said they’d prefer to work for social enterprises or even as a volunteer in their community as this is work they consider much more fulfilling to them because it would be making a tangible difference to the community they live in rather than supporting large corporations from whom wealth is rarely redistributed in ways that benefit society.

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Scything a path through our field

We discovered last summer that it was definitely necessary to cut back the grass to keep a path up the field to the wood. Last year we did this with strimmers which worked but were hardwork, noisy & fuel hungry. We recently discovered https://www.handpowered.co.uk/ who use traditional hand tools and age old techniques, including scything, hedge laying and drystone walling to help people (like me!) manage land in an ecologically friendly way.

Danny and Helene from Handpowered came over from Llanidloes today to scythe this season’s path through the fast growing field grass and up through the rougher ground at the start of the wood. I was amazed how quickly the path emerged with the unhurried swinging motion of the scythes.


And a short while later, here’s the path for 2023…..

Next challenge the bracken……

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Update – foldable, deployable dome structures on Arran

Great to hear the latest progress from another of our ‘I’ve got an Idea’ fund projects. On the isle of Arran, Alistair is experimenting with geometric principles to construct dome like structures for occasional or emergency housing which can be folded away in a compact format when not required. It’s proving a fascinating but challenging process involving repeated experiments to see what works – very much in the spirit of our fund! Alistair’s experiments involve switching between small scale cardboard modelling and then using 3D printing and the laser cutter (which we funded) to create parts and hinges to check the mechanism works. He’s now prototyping a more elegant telescoping arm mechanism and tessellated scissor panelling which will provide rigidity but also pack down.

Inbetween, the laser cutter also gets used for making parts for a local dementia craft project involving Easter chicks and highland cow clocks!

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Mobile waste water collector & washing station update

Delightful to hear from Lucy Powell of Outside Lives Ltd in North Wales today with an update of the first ‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ award we made. They had an idea to try to construct a mobile handwashing station which collected rainwater and could then be trolleyed to wherever on their site they needed it that day. What appealed to us about this project was both the way that the Outside Lives team work together with community members to dream up, test and build their ideas but also their innovative re-use of parts from unexpected sources. You can catch a flavour of this in these photos

Solving problems together as they crop up
Getting there….
I love the re-use of this wonderful handle

Updates from our funded projects are always a joy to hear about. A few of our projects sucessfully achieve what they set out to develop and try in a matter of months but most projects (exactly as we would predict) encounter unanticipated challenges and setbacks which require further invention, redesign and experiments along the way. That is just fine with us as that’s how even the best ideas usually proceed and where the most fun and learning happens.

Our Idea fund is currently open for new applications but please read the criteria carefully before applying.

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Art, conversation & Pie-economics

The endless joy and stimulation of working as an experimental psychologist with visual artists….

Larks & Ravens has just run our first experimental Pie Supper at https://bricksbristol.org/ We invited 4 guests to use art and sharing a pie supper to generate conversations about how to divide a pie in a fair way. Politicians and economists often talk about “growing the pie” so everyone gets “a larger slice” – but does that actually happen? How do you divide a pie fairly? What happens in your home? Who deserves (or doesn’t deserve) what size of slice and why?? 

It certainly stimulated convesation. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Idea Fund Award : Using everyday items to manufacture complex scaffolds for tissue regeneration

We are delighted to announce our first ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund award of 2023 to Dr Ramneek K. Johal, a research scientist in the fields of biomaterials and regenerative medicine. As well as working on defined projects, Ramneek likes experimenting in her own time to seek novel solutions to the problems encountered in the lab.

Collagen I is one of the most abundant proteins found within the human body. Its role is two-fold: to provide a suitable framework (mechanical strength) for tissues and to foster cell attachment and function.  Bovine and human collagen I are highly conserved at the molecular level and bovine collagen is widely used in tissue engineering due to its low price and abundance.  It is particularly useful for the development of scaffolds for soft tissue repair and regeneration such as skin. 

Skin provides a mechanical barrier to the human body protecting against invading pathogens and the elements. Damage to the skin can occur and in the UK ~ 175,000 people attend Accident and Emergency with burns and scalds every year (www. cks.nice.org.uk).  Thus, there is a need for engineered replacements/scaffolds that mimic the skins naturally complex 3D architecture.   

There are a number of techniques that can be used for the manufacture of 3D scaffolds including ice-templating.  This is a technique whereby a suspension of collagen is frozen, with ice crystals forming a labyrinth like architecture (Figure 1). The collagen is trapped at the ice crystal boundaries, and when the ice is sublimated using a freeze drier the collagen is left behind forming a porous scaffold.  Many factors can influence the scaffold architecture including the freezing temperature, rate of freezing and the shape of the mould.  Currently, the moulds are made by the lab’s workshop, however they are both time-consuming and expensive to manufacture. If a mould doesn’t correctly influence the geometry and pore size of the current scaffold, it’s back to square one in terms of design and manufacture (with added expense!).

Ramneek’s idea is to use cheap, everyday household items such as tea light holders, plumbing fittings, small toys and baking trays as moulds. By varying the freeze-drying temperature/freezing rate she will be able to determine how these everyday moulds influence geometry, pore size and porosity of collagen scaffolds.   Scanning electron microscopy will be used to visualise the formed scaffold interior.  The data produced by this project will help both academic and industrial researchers in the development of novel (and potentially cheaper) scaffolds for tissue regeneration. We wish Ramneek well in her novel experimentation.

We are proud to continue to fund a fascinatingly wide diversity of technical ideas.

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Does IR heating keep you warm without wasting energy?

In terms of domestic heating, the UK faces a major challenge from the combination of fossil fuel reduction, the rising cost of energy and our poorly insulated housing stock. We need to find ways to keep people comfortably and affordably warm in a diversity of housing without wasting energy.

Infrared (IR) heating is one option. Instead of heating the air, IR panels heat the occupants directly along with the thermal mass of the room (walls, ceiling, floor and furniture). This mass absorbs the heat and radiates back into the room which gradually warms the entire space.

Given that IR heating is decentralised and heats people directly, what difference does that
make to people’s thermal comfort and their home’s energy efficiency? To address this question, I interviewed 20 UK households who have IR as their primary source of heating. You can read the results here.

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Experiencing an Idea Fund project live at ‘Hot in Here’ performance

Thoroughly enjoyable visit to Bath this week to meet Pigfoot Theatre and see their energy harvesting dance floor tiles (funded through our ‘I’ve got an idea’ fund) in action in their powerful & joyous ”Hot in Here’ performance. Well done Pigfoot Theatre for their innovative idea of floor tiles at low cost which can easily be transported and configured to new locations. ‘Hot in Here’ is current on tour around the UK.

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Researching households who use Infrared heating

This month, I’m interviewing 20 UK households who are heating their homes with Infrared heating. How do they use it? How well does it work for them? How much energy does it use?

As an experimental psychologist, I’m trying to unravel the complex interrelationship between (a) people’s thermal comfort, (b) types of domestic heating (radiant, convected, conducted) and (c) energy.

My motivation is how we can keep individuals (who are wildly variable in both physiology and behaviour) comfortably warm in houses (which are wildly variable in size, age and energy efficiency) without wasting energy or money. I think the clue may be to switch thinking from heating space to heating people.

The research follows on from the trial I ran exploring person-centred and hybrid methods of heating in rural Welsh homes earlier this year.

Thank you to the Herschel customers who are helping me with this research and Herschel Infrared for enabling it to happen.

It would be interesting to do a similar set of interviews with heat pump households.

My findings will be published on this website in December.

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How to plan a research project

I thought this guide might be over simplistic but actually it makes some very useful points and I strongly recommend a read. I certainly was reminded of mistakes I’ve made in my multiple research projects over the years.

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