Citizens are key actors in building sustainable and resilient cities. Therefore, in the Lighthouse City Turku, one of the innovative elements applied in RESPONSE project is peer mentoring method. It comprises of a training of a group of voluntary mentors, who are all also residents of the PED area. The aim is to better reach residents, increase their awareness and bring forth their insight from their own perspective. As residents of the PED area, the peer mentors have first-hand experience of the life in the Student Village.
The concept of energy positive district (PED) may be new to many residents, and citizen engagement by mentoring makes it more comprehensible and accessible. When information travels from resident to resident, it is often easier to understand and accept. As the mentors themselves have noted, energy issues, such as how the energy is produced and how much energy they consume, are not always as visible to citizens.
In the spring 2021, 10 mentors were recruited representing different fields of study and interests from geography to energy and environmental technology and from law to innovation management. What is in common with them is the motivation to influence and work towards climate change mitigation and sustainability. Throughout the first year, mentors were introduced to the RESPONSE project, some of its technical solutions and energy issues in general. As one of their first tasks they explored how energy issues are discussed in social media and elsewhere in the web.
RESPONSE mentors have been recognized quite well in Turku and they have been interviewed to several local publications. In addition, mentors were invited in August to the Climate forum Turku, which was satellite event of the 2021 European Covenant of Mayors Ceremony. Mentor Damla Lehtinen took part in a discussion “Climate friendly Student Village” with other RESPONSE partners, TURKU PED owner TYS’ CEO Risto Siilos and Head of the heat department at Turku Energia, Jari Kuivanen.
The peer mentoring, as well as other project activities related to citizen engagement in Turku are led by Turku University of Applied Sciences (Turku UAS). More information: Ritva Salminiitty, citizen engagement manager, email@example.com and Heidi Heikkilä, project coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treasure hunt by mentors
After a few months of background work the mentor group held its first own activity at the end of May 2021. The mentors decided to take advantage of the sunny days and organised a safe, open-air event that could be held during the pandemic. This was the perfect occasion to not only actively engage students but also present them the “energy positive” actions that have already been taken or that will take place in the student village area. The event was structured in the form of a treasure hunt, in which participants were following clues given on Instagram which led to the locations related to this project where the treasures were hidden”
The “treasures”, which included vegan, organic and fair-trade products, were hidden in 10 different locations around the Student Village. These places comprised the newest and more energy-friendly TYS buildings, spots for shared bikes and electric/hybrid cars and also areas that contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle, like the urban gardens that are for rent just next to the residential buildings.
If the participants wanted to take part in the competition, they were asked to share photos of the treasures found from each spot on Instagram. The purpose of this was to motivate the participants to find as many locations as possible and thus to learn more about the project. The idea of the event was to create something fun but also informative that would engage the residents.
The response to the event was indeed very good, many people were participating and having fun looking around for the treasures, which had all been found within only a few hours. Several people also shared their pictures in the TYS Instagram channel and gave positive feedback to the mentors. Now the challenge for the mentors is to keep up with the high expectations and organise new events. Their plans for the future include both formal and more casual events with hope to reach the young and “more distracted” tenants and also to share valuable information with everyone interested in more energy-positive living.
Mentors Martina Angeleri and Damla Lehtinen