Published: 18th SEPTEMBER 2023

From pixels to pavements: Inspiring future engineers through Minecraft

Discover the groundbreaking Minecraft Street Builders project, a pioneering initiative reshaping youth engagement in engineering and street design. Through this collaboration, we're bridging the gap between youthful imagination and seasoned engineers, while laying the foundation for an inclusive urban landscape.

Encouraging young people to discover highways engineering through Minecraft

Through this project, we created opportunities for school students to meet and work with the local authority engineers who design borough streets.

Using the power of , young people informed the engineers on what their perfect street would be and the engineers advised the young people on how to make their design jump off the page and become reality.

This approach is designed to spark interest and curiosity among the young people and inspire them to consider highways engineering as a viable and fulfilling career path.

Using Minecraft Street Builders we also strengthened highways engineers' confidence and experience in effectively engaging with 13 and 14-year-olds, an age group with whom they rarely come into contact.

Designed by children for everyone

If we focus on what makes a good place for children to live in, we can create a city that benefits everyone.

Children are an indicator species, meaning that if a city successfully meets the requirements of children, it will be a safe and healthy place for all residents.

This includes considerations such as kerbs for pushchairs and wheelchairs, green spaces that are great for playing, seating which provides places for socialising and quiet reflection, or artwork and colour which makes us all feel great about where we live.

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Children are a kind of indicator species, if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone. Blockquote quotation marks
Enrique Peñalosa

The Minecraft Street Builders' journey

ߣߣƵ linked 10 male and six female engineers from the London Boroughs of Newham, Hounslow, and Haringey with 13 and 14-year-old students from five different schools in the boroughs.

The project was delivered in two phases:

Phase 1 - Training workshop for engineers

ߣߣƵ conducted a training workshop for engineers focusing on various aspects of designing inclusive and engaging public spaces.

The workshop covered the following topics:

Designing for different users

The workshop explored how gender, age, abilities, and cultural backgrounds can influence individuals' experiences and travel mode choices.

By understanding these nuances, engineers can create spaces that accommodate and cater for the needs of everyone.

Benefits of engagement and co-design

Co-designing street space ensures collaboration between urban designers and the public who live, work and play in the urban space.

It also encourages innovation and empowers people to influence street planning decisions.

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It's nice to do something different - when we consult residents it’s the noisy ones that come back… we’re often batting off negative responses, so it's nice to be around something positive. Blockquote quotation marks
Participant engineer

Children from Newham, taking part in the Minecraft project. Credit: Paul Tanner.

Best practice engagement process and methods

We provided engineers with insights into effective engagement strategies and methods including conducting surveys, focus groups and workshops to gather valuable input from the community.

By following best practices in engagement, engineers can create positive and constructive connections and build trust with the public.

Skills and facilitation tips for working with young people

Our workshop equipped engineers with the skills and techniques to effectively engage and collaborate with young people.

We provided guidance on how to facilitate discussions, active listening, and how to empower young individuals to contribute their ideas and perspectives.

Engineers being trained on Minecraft. Credit: Bronwen, ߣߣƵ

Minecraft as an example of digital engagement

We introduced the engineers to Minecraft as a digital engagement tool to involve the community, especially young people, in designing and envisioning public spaces.

This interactive and creative approach allows for virtual exploration and experimentation, fostering active engagement and encouraging innovative design ideas.

Learnings from the training session with the engineers

Phase 2 - Workshop with students

The second phase of the project involved putting the engineers' new engagement skills into action.

Together with digital youth engagement experts, BlockBuilders, we brought together 30 Year 9 students, and delivered three separate workshops for each of the three boroughs, at their schools.

We also invited local councillors to attend the event.

The workshop provided a platform for engineers and councillors to engage with young people and gather insights into their needs and preferences regarding street design.

Children from Newham, taking part in Minecraft. Credit: Paul Tanner, all rights reserved

Using Minecraft as a design tool, the young participants took the lead in creating their ideal streets.

Engineers listened to the students' ideas and provided guidance and support throughout the design activity.

The students had the chance to learn about our people-centred design process, and how street design significantly impacts on people’s well-being and quality of life.

The workshops also helped raise awareness among the students of potential career paths in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects, and how they are important in real world situations.

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I really liked doing the Minecraft session because it made me have an understanding of what you could do to make a safe space. Blockquote quotation marks
Student participant

Transforming traditional engagement

More often than not, secondary school students lack the opportunities to get involved in the decision making taken by their local council, their voice goes unheard, and there is little engagement between engineers and young people.

Following the workshops, engineers reported an increased understanding of the ideas, needs and wants of young people. These will now inform their designs in the future.

They also said that they would be more confident in planning and facilitating engagement with young people and intend to use similar methods in future interactions.

Minecraft creates a powershift

Our Minecraft format worked well as a creative tool to engage and empower young people.

Engineers noted a power shift in the room, as the young participants demonstrated fluency in the software, becoming the experts who explained their designs to the engineers.

This collaborative process allowed both young people and engineers to learn from each other.

Lee O’Neill, Plashet School in Newham

There’s a deficit of female designers and engineers and, as a girl’s school, we want to bridge that gap and get our students to aspire to these career paths.

Exposing young women to these types of professions will go a long way to getting girls to think about engineering and urban design.

It was a dynamic environment, lots of energy. Our young people were just getting stuck in, their inhibitions were gone.

Kids play Minecraft at home and events like this really marries their passion for the built environment and their passion for playing Minecraft.

As a teacher I know children and young people need to have a stimulating environment, one that is good for learning.

Projects like this are about giving value to what young people think is important and consulting them on the environment they use every day.

Changing students' mindsets about street design and career paths

Engineers brought their knowledge and experience, not only in terms of their technical abilities in street design, but also in their career paths and life experience.

The workshop provided a space for dialogue enabling students and engineers to talk about what engineering entails, how they experienced it and how they got into the profession.

It was those aspects of this work that made this project particularly impactful for students.

The students also gained insights into how engineering improves lives and their local areas.

Learnings from the training session with the engineers

Councillor Katherine Dunne was impressed by the innovative designs. Credit: Paul Tanner, all rights reserved.

The project’s legacy

The approach we took in this project has made a significant impact and is now being integrated into our national youth engagement strategy at ߣߣƵ.

This means that the valuable lessons we learned and methods we developed during the project will now shape our work with young people across the country.

To ensure successful implementation, we are investing in iPads and a Minecraft license so we can deliver these workshops across England.

Councillor Katherine Dunne, Hounslow Council

Emissions from transport make up one of the biggest portions of emissions within the borough.

Young people understand that it’s their future we’re talking about, but also the future of the local environment.

When we talk to them, they really have some fantastic ideas about what they would like to see in their local areas, as well as understanding those global issues

Whenever I talk to young people in schools I feel an enormous sense of energy and some really brilliant ideas coming through.

Expanding the project

In March 2024, ߣߣƵ partnered with Westminster City Council (WCC) to deliver school street transformations using Minecraft workshops as a collaborative design tool in five primary schools across the borough.

We used the results of a Healthy Streets audit of the streets around each school to spark discussion with school children across Year 3 to Year 6 on their perception of their school street. We used the to agree with them on variety of design features that would improve their school street. Each pupil then had the opportunity to come up with their own design for their school street, using a Minecraft base model built by the ߣߣƵ team.

Pupils were able to quickly produce creative ideas that varied in themes from colourful seating areas to adventurous play-on-the-way designs, giant trees, urban farms, rain canopies, public libraries and a variety of welcome signs.

The ߣߣƵ team facilitated a group debate based on the main themes that came up in the pupils’ designs, generating a list of priorities of design themes for each school. The ߣߣƵ engineers and urban designers then fed these key themes into ambitious concept design proposals for the streets surrounding each school, including road space reallocation to support pupils’ health and growth. WCC will be incorporating key features from the proposals in the consultation and overall school street design.

Carla Leowe, road safety officer from WCC transport policy team, said: "ߣߣƵ were commissioned to deliver Minecraft sessions across five of our schools to support capturing the pupil voice throughout Westminster’s School Streets Programme. They coordinated the bookings and their engineering expertise shone through with not only the pupils but staff at each of the schools. All pupils were engaged with having first-hand input into the area they frequent near-enough everyday which was empowering to see. This programme has not only helped pupils understand highway schemes through gamification but allowed officers to deliver a scheme that aims to make real behavioural change for younger generations and all of those that use our streets regularly. Thank you to the team!"

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The workshop was an exciting and engaging way of making the children think more about their environment. They said they felt proud to be able to make a difference for future generations. Blockquote quotation marks
St Vincent de Paul RC Primary School teacher

Work with us to give many more UK schools and engineers this opportunity

We invite you to take the next step towards meaningful youth engagement and inclusive engineering projects.

Let's start a conversation about how we can work together to create positive change and amplify the voices of under-served people in our communities.

Contact us if you're interested in exploring how our team can support you.

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Partnerships team

Partnerships team

Thank you to our partners

We couldn't have done this without the collaborative efforts of the engineering and built environment teams from Haringey, Newham, and Hounslow Councils.

provided 15 laptops preloaded with the Minecraft world file and shared their invaluable technical expertise throughout the workshops.

Thanks to the who funded the project.

And the wonderful schools we worked with: Harris Academy, Tottenham (Haringey), Oasis Academy and Plashet School (Newham) and Rivers Academy in Hounslow.

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