IT'S SOMETIMES difficult to trust that the statements from world leaders at times like these are genuinely held.

Is saving the planet a phrase or a passionately held belief? When the cameras are gone and more localised challenges persist, will the commitment waiver and - crucially for all of us - is any of it happening fast enough to make a difference?

Surely we need to start locally because that is where we can make the most difference, we need to value the little steps that can build into major change and we need the doers to outnumber the delayers.

The North East is way ahead of the curve here, and people like Feysal Shifa are the ones making it happen in the home of innovation.

Thankfully there is an army of Feysals out there - young people who start life with eyes wide open to what is happening so don’t have to work their way through any deep-seated misconceptions.

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They know there is a job to do and they want to play their part.

In 27-year-old Feysal’s case, his job is at Scott Brothers, the haulage and recycling business on Haverton Hill Road in Stockton which was set up by David Scott fifty years ago.

The business has evolved into a major force in the sector, which is where Feysal comes in.

“As a Teeside University graduate, I was involved in previous research for the company as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership,” he told me.

“The company has an ‘urban quarry’ which converts construction and excavation waste into sand and aggregate for the construction industry. But some of it is ‘filter cake’ - which can only be used as low-value pond lining clay or fill.

“I was trying to find a way to make much better use of it and eventually came to work for the company in their own laboratory.”

His earlier start in education wasn’t quite so clear-cut.

“I grew up here and went to what was then Oakfields school in Acklam. I was alright, but more into sports as a kid to be honest. I was the athletics and football kind of guy but as I grew older and time went by I guess I found my potential for learning and something just clicked into place and I thought ‘this education thing isn’t actually too bad’.

“All the time my parents were supporting me to move further than they did and then letting me utilise the opportunities that I’ve had that they didn’t necessarily have.

“I think that attraction to education was always there but when I was younger my own interests were focussed elsewhere. But then education became a priority for me.

“Then having that lead to university and getting to where I am was a real journey for me and gives me sense of achievement - it makes me feel good about myself.”

The fact that the chosen speciality was a technical one stems from his preference for kinesthetic learning - hands-on rather than listening and taking notes. It’s the sort of thing a good teacher will spot and work with, and a bad one will just ignore. Thankfully, Feysal got the good ones.

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“I suppose I’ve always been good at technical stuff so earlier on it was called DT - Design Technology - where I learned by doing things as opposed to just sitting and visualising them.

“I’m not really very good at just listening, but when it comes to doing things, that’s what I’m good at - applying knowledge to reality.”

Feysal has had a loving and supportive family who saw his potential, a schooling that developed it and now has a job making a difference. He is very aware of being an example of what can be done.

“For me, ever since university finished it has been about trying to give back to the community because I grew up here trying to make some sort of positive change and maybe help the area become more developed and have more opportunities.

“There’s no need to always look in a certain direction or be too gloomy about it. I hope there is inspiration for some of the youngest people to see someone who feels similar to them doing things in the region. Maybe that can be a trigger for them.”

He is also quick to praise the ‘versatility and ability to think outside the box’ that Scott Brothers has shown leading to the ‘Feysal brick’, or to be accurate, three prototype bricks made from that leftover filter cake and now bonded to such a high standard that it is already attracting interest from one of the UK’s major housebuilders, along with an Australian company specialising in recycled products. The process was long and arduous, but step by step the right process was revealed.

“It started off simply enough - they had a lot of material waste that would otherwise go to landfill and the question was what can we do with it. So we started to analyse and characterise what sort of waste we have and, of course, as a company you look at whether it could be revenue generating in some way.

“You are than just trying all sorts of different approaches all the time. There was plenty of literature about and reviews conducted into materials of that nature, so I used that existing knowledge to kickstart something else.

“It’s a process of finding out one thing which leads you to finding another and you filter it and narrow it down until you get to a point where you think ‘this is the way to go’

“Then when it comes to the prototype itself, trying to perfect the mix was the challenge. In a way, we always knew the product could be made, but this was about the precise conditions and characteristics necessary for this application.

“Only when the product is perfected is it possible to see all the ways it could be used, creating sub products within the product.

“We’ve made the brick which is good for certain things, but the beauty of the material is it is flexible and versatile so it can take more than one form and be used for more than one thing.”

Dr David Hughes, Associate Professor in the School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies at Teesside University, said: “Developing new materials and processes which reduce the environmental impact of engineering forms a key pillar of Teesside University’s research output. Therefore, we are delighted to have played a role in the development of this new material which could have a major impact on the construction industry.”

Scott Bros director Bob Borthwick is understandably pleased with the results. He said: “For Feysal to have even produced a protoype brick is an amazing achievement.

“A number of organisations around the world have been trying to perfect a cementitious product that can be made into a brick – but it is Scott Bros that has made the breakthrough right here on Teesside.”

Feysal is polite and proud: “There is certainly some sort of sense of achievement knowing that you’re doing something that’s capturing an interest in recycling and contributing to make the world a better place.”

His is just one random example of what will be hundreds of environmental breakthroughs being made in businesses across the region.

They began here in the North East because ideas that had never been heard of before were given a chance - and could now literally change the world.


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