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Creating a buzz at Newcastle Helix

A community of workspace occupiers from The Lumen are collaborating with Newcastle University and Newcastle and District Beekeepers Association (NDBKA) to co-locate bees within Newcastle Helix. 

Helix is a pioneering city centre development spanning 24-acres, housing a carefully curated cluster of residential, commercial and knowledge exchange tenants. 

Landscaped with users in mind, Helix connects communities with outstanding facilities for science and tech businesses, harnessing the creativity and innovation of this progressive ecosystem. The site itself, its open air public spaces and buildings, are designed around principles of biodiversity, sustainability and community collaboration. These values are central to The Lumen’s bee project.

Bees are considered to play an integral part in our macro and micro ecosystems, pollinating the plants used for food and medicine by humans and other species.  It is understood that one-third of the world's crops are pollinated by bees. There are around 270 species of wild bees in the UK. And one single beehive of honey bees can have up to 50,000 bees in mid-summer. This leads to high demand for pollen and nectar. One of the challenges large cities face, when working to grow and protect their bee population, is ensuring the quality, quantity and accessibility of forage to support them.

Beekeeper Ian Campbell said: “Newcastle and District Beekeepers Association were delighted to be invited to provide training and support to The Lumen in order to introduce honey bees to a city centre location. Our apiary managers already had experience of rooftop urban beekeeping and understand the challenges it can bring. 

“Forage in city centres can be finite, and any project needs to be aware of the welfare of the bees and potential impacts on wild pollinators. We introduced a limited number of hives to assess the site and are providing essential practical training for The Lumen’s Beekeeping group. We encourage as much planting for pollinators as possible, even small areas of pollinator friendly flowers can make a big difference, especially plants that flower in early and late season. 

“Beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding hobby; it is a practical craft learnt over time and strong early support gives better long-term outcomes for beekeepers. As a small charitable organisation, training and outreach work are core objectives; it has been very rewarding to provide this to the Newcastle Helix site. We look forward to the ongoing project in 2023 and in time a handover to tenants at The Lumen.”

In September 2021, The Lumen approached NDBKA to support the creation of a new honeybee habitat within Helix. Working closely with local beekeepers, a number of tenants undertook a classroom-based beginners training course. Two hives were then installed on The Lumen rooftop in April 2022 when practical training began.

The Lumen is managed by property managers and placemaking consultants Creative Space Management. The building offers state-of-the-art workspace, often across large floor plates, for public and private sector teams from Homes England, Savills, NHS, North of Tyne Combined Authority and Scott Logic. Legal firms Clifford Chance and Hay & Kilner are also confirmed to be joining The Lumen in 2022 taking total occupancy up to  78% (1,284 people). The whole Lumen community are invited to collaborate on the bee project, learning to care for the bees and grow the colonies for the benefit of the wider Helix site.

Beekeepers check The Lumen hives weekly and Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory is working closely with The Lumen and NDBKA to monitor the activity of the bee colonies, and understand their impact on biodiversity across the full 24-acre development.

The Urban Observatory deployed beehive sensors with the help of NDBKA to explore whether the data insights could be used as a useful indicator of biodiversity within Helix. The sensors observe acoustics inside the hive, which can be interpreted, with the help of NDBKA, to look at bee behaviours. Hive weight is also monitored, and can indicate whether there are enough local food sources within the typical 2km bee forage radius. Changes in hive weight and behaviours can be used alongside the expertise of the beekeeper, to care for the hive colony. The data collected is accessible via the open data portal at the Urban Observatory. 

Dr Jennine Jonczyk, who was Programme manager at Urban Observatory and now at National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) said, ‘‘Whilst it’s too early to comment on whether this data will be a useful indicator of biodiversity, it’s collection and the opportunities it presents is really exciting from an Urban Observatory and NICA standpoint. 

“These data insights allow us to care about our work environment and are a great example of a ‘Internet of Caring Things’ product. This data can provide objective evidence, if necessary, on how we can collaborate with the Helix management team, making small changes in planting around the site to create positive changes to our environment. 

“Providing data about things that matter to stakeholders is the whole ethos of the Urban Observatory.”

Data collection started in May 2022 and insights drawn will continue to support and inform the Helix community to provide the very best environment for the hives.  The longer-term aim is to develop self-sufficiency within The Lumen building, training enough occupiers to handle and care for the bees so that they can continue to thrive. 

Sarah Wilson, Regional Property Director, Creative Space Management, said: “This project is a fantastic example of collaboration at Helix. With the vision of The Lumen building team, the enthusiasm, time commitment and support of The Lumen occupiers and the expertise of the Newcastle and District Beekeepers Association and The Urban Observatory, we have created something really special for the whole Helix community.”

The Lumen’s Assistant Manager, Sarah Thompson added: “The best part about this whole process has been The Lumen community coming together to care for these bees and help them to thrive, playing our part in the biodiversity of Helix - something we are really passionate about. We have big plans to raise money for local charities with the honey produced by The Lumen beehives so watch this space for more updates on that!”

You can stay tuned with The Lumen bee story by following them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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