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Comment | Let’s hear more innovation stories

Mark Hansford

Back in May, I wrote asking: where are all our creative thinkers (NCE 14 May)? Civil engineers who are pushing boundaries and showing a new generation that our profession is chock full of enterprising spirit. I’m not sure what I was expecting, and probably wasn’t expecting to be inundated. And I’d have been right - I wasn’t.

But what I did get was a call from civil engineer Richard Allen, inventor and owner of the Ecobunker - a rather ingenious way of using old astroturf to rebuild bunkers on golf courses. And this man was no crank; no mad professor. This man is a serious entrepreneur, and a man willing to put his money where his mouth is.

To prove it, he took up the challenge of showing me his innovation in the flesh. At Southerndown Golf Club as it happens - one of the first courses to install his ecobunkers. Yes, that’s right - I played him at golf. And quite an incredible round of golf it was too: not just because I played rather well (I did); not just because Allen played rather better (a streak of five birdies in six holes is hard to live with); and not just because Southerndown is rather beautiful, offering as it does views over the dunes of Porthcawl, Wales. But because I got to experience first-hand the genius of his invention. I can report that his bunkers are superb: they play fantastically; they look natural; they have an excellent whole-life cost (eco is for economical); and they’re sustainable, using as they do a waste product that would else go to landfill (eco also is for environmental).


So all in all, it was a great day. And what made it truly great was not seeing that Allen, an ordinary civil engineer with a day job at WYG, could come up with an idea. We all do that, all of the time. What made it truly great was hearing his story; hearing how he had taken his idea, patented it, developed it, invested in it, marketed it, and is now building it up into a serious business - so serious that he has even had an audience with one of the biggest names in golf - the legendary Jack Nicklaus. And he has won work out of it.

In short, he is the sort of civil engineer who would walk Dragons’ Den. And that is a very good thing. We need more like him. Are they - you - out there? Well… it’s time to find out.

This week, NCE is calling on students and graduate engineers to take part in our exciting Next-Generation Dragons’ Den at our all-new Future Technology Forum and share your innovative ideas with the industry. We’re seeking out five smart, efficient and technologically advanced rising stars to pitch their ideas on how to meet the government’s Construction 2025 vision to a panel of visionary industry leaders.

These people are driven by finding smarter, technology-driven solutions to any number of issues that need resolving now and in the near future. This is your chance to show what you - and the industry - can do.

So if you visit one website this summer, visit But if you visit two, visit click here. We really look forward to receiving your entries.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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