Above: beach volleyball court at the OYDC

Becca Pickering graduated this year with an MEng degree from the University of Bath. Here she discusses her work helping to plan the ACE2Zambia expedition, an initiative which saw architecture and engineering students deliver improved sports facilities for communities in Zambia.

I loved mathematics and product design at school and knew my career had to utilise the two somehow. In sixth form I was lucky enough to do work experience at engineering firm GGP Consult, where I now work. Their work helped inspire me and I knew engineering was the career for me. My favourite structure has to be the Milau Viaduct, and having lived in both Bath and Bristol I have an admiration for much of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s work.

I got involved in ACE2Zambia through the University of Bath, who were looking for six students to support the great work of UK Sport’s IDEALS programme - IDEALS stands for International Development through Excellence And Leadership in Sport, and for the past ten years they have been providing students with the opportunity to head to Zambia to develop their coaching skills, whilst in turn utilising sport as a tool for development. I had several friends who had been involved in the IDEALS programme and they had nothing but excellent words to say about their experiences, so I wanted to be involved. 

Zambia construction team
(Above: The Multisurface court at Mtendere - team members, contractors, and users.)

We were in Zambia for six weeks: from 24 July to 1 September. The purpose of the trip was to develop three sites: Munali, Mtendere and the OYDC (Olympic Youth Development Centre). At Munali Secondary School we resurfaced two volleyball courts, essential to improving player performance and supporting the coaching opportunities provided by IDEALS.  We also resurfaced the multipurpose court at Mtendere, making a huge improvement to the school sports facilities. At the OYDC we constructed the first ever beach volleyball court in Zambia - supporting up and coming athletes as well as providing opportunities to the community to try out the sport. 

I oversaw the beach volleyball court project, for which we used rammed earth tyres. These formed the court perimeter and retained the sand. This was a new construction technique I was unfamiliar with prior to the trip, and as such I had to do a lot of research - meeting with experts who had used the method and watching Youtube and Grand Designs to try determine any limitations. The technique had not been seen by our contractor either and thus we had to teach them during the construction. We also taught them how to survey, which was an excellent day that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

The Zambian people were some of the nicest I have ever met - always willing to help and forever wanting to say ‘hello’. We made some friends for life, and I still maintain regular contact with our contractor. 

All three courts have now been completed and seem to have been a big success. The opening ceremony held for the Munali Community School showed us how excited the local community were about their new volleyball courts - the ceremony was a real spectacle to behold! I felt a great sense of achievement and it was enormously rewarding to see the courts in use, with so many happy children using their new facilities.

I would highly recommend that other students get involved with similar trips in the future, and will certainly try to help them where I can. It really was a once in a lifetime experience.


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