Press Office


Princess Royal given an insight into how technology is changing lives


Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, was at Newcastle University this week to see how technology is being used to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.

Joining senior leaders from across the Commonwealth as part of the Commonwealth Leaders Conference organised by leadership development charity Common Purpose, Her Royal Highness visited the world-leading research team at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab.

Pioneering the use of technology to improve people’s lives, the research team showcased a number of projects including the Ambient Kitchen, which uses electronic tags and sensors built into the floor, utensils, appliances and cupboards together with intelligent software to support people with dementia.

Delegates also saw how 3D printing is being used to support children with disabilities, empowering them to design, modify and make their own bespoke aids that will help them in their everyday lives, and an electronic chequebook to support the needs of people at risk of social and financial exclusion.

Speaking afterwards about what they had seen, delegate Anwar Akhtar, Director of RSA Pakistan Calling, said: “It is fantastic to see so much intellectual ability and effort going into technology and then being used to help some of the most needy and marginalised people in society.

“As someone who works on human rights and welfare in Pakistan, where technology and power is often used only to benefit a few, to see so much energy for good here in Newcastle is really life affirming work.”

Peter Wright, Professor of Social Computing at Culture Lab, added: “It was an honour for us to host this event and be given the opportunity to showcase some of the work we do here to future leaders of private, public, and not-for-profit organisations from around the Commonwealth.

“Technology has the potential to play a central role in the development and improvement of people’s lives all around the world, and understanding the needs of different communities so we can tailor that technology and make a real impact on society is going to be the big challenge going forward.”

Newcastle was one of five UK cities to host Commonwealth leaders participating in the prestigious CSCLeaders programme.  CSCLeaders assembles exceptional senior leaders from across the Commonwealth to tackle challenges that businesses, governments and society face today and build the global relationships needed by the leaders of tomorrow.  HRH The Princess Royal is the President of the CSC Leaders programme. The 14 delegates included Robert Mkwezalamba, Communications Workers Union of Malawi, O’Neil Outar, The University of Alberta, Canada, Faried Sallie, Head of Technology, De Beers, and Yondela Silimela, Executive Director: Development and Planning, City of Johannesburg, South Africa.  HRH The Princess Royal is President of the Commonwealth Study Conferences.

Her Royal Highness and the Commonwealth delegation were met in Newcastle by Newcastle University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Brink, The Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear Nigel Sherlock, the High Sheriff for Tyne and Wear George Scott Esq, and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor Mrs Margaret Wood.

Investigating the Challenge: “How do you get societal - as well as economic - value out of technological innovation?",  the delegates also visited Science Central hosted by Newcastle University’s Professor Phil Taylor and Director of Newcastle Science City Fiona Standfield.
They also visited the University’s DriveLab where the team led by Professor Phil Blythe are investigating the use of technology to help people drive safely for longer and retain their independence.

Fiona O’Connor, Operations Director for Common Purpose in the North East who organised the conference in this region, said; “We have a great history of innovation in our region, and we are now establishing an international reputation for innovation in newly emerging sectors too.

“Common Purpose is delighted to be bringing together civic, business and academic leaders from the North East to showcase examples of their expertise, know-how and technology to senior leaders from across the Commonwealth, and to develop future networks for international dialogue and cooperation.

“Engaging with such a diverse group of international leaders through CSCLeaders, brings a fresh perspective on leadership and will also highlight opportunities and new networks for our own regional businesses too.”

The group also visited Northumbrian Water’s award-winning Bran Sands waste water treatment works at Teesport, near Middlesbrough.
The facility is home to a cutting edge Advanced Anaerobic Digestion plant that uses an innovative, natural biological process to convert the sludge remaining after sewage treatment into electricity to power the site. Since its establishment in 1995, Bran Sands has won four environmental awards.

The findings from the North East will be incorporated into practical project proposals that will be further tested in Singapore, Toronto, Delhi and Lagos over the coming months.

CSCLeaders is sponsored by BP, Weir Group plc, Glencore, Anglo American, PwC, Powercorp and Crowdicity and has additionally been supported in the north east by Newcastle University and NCFE.

published on: 29 March 2014