With the UK construction sector showing shoots of new growth, timber is playing an increasing role as a sustainable, cost effective and speedy option for new buildings of all types. The rise in its use to create larger and larger buildings over recent years has brought new challenges to the design sector and it is vital that construction designers of the future, and indeed the timber sector, have an appreciation and understanding of the material.

With five full years under its belt and entering a sixth year, TRADA is immensely proud of its University Engagement Programme (UEP).

Initiated in 2010 to support the teaching of timber in schools of architecture and engineering across the UK, the programme is ever expanding and a key part of TRADA’s educational work for the construction industry.

Universities have recognised that timber is now a mainstream building. material rather than a specialist one playing second fiddle to steel and concrete. The TRADA UEP, in turn, is ready and willing to help lecturers and students with teaching and studies.

TRADA has funded the programme to the tune of over a third of a million pounds to date, ensuring that my role as dedicated University Liaison Manager is full time. This means during the autumn and spring months, a huge amount of time is spent travelling across the UK delivering technical lectures – showcasing what can be achieved in timber to inspire; explaining timber properties to inform and exhibiting a case of timber samples to illustrate the actual materials students see in buildings and might consider in their designs.

A dedicated area on the TRADA website houses our Academic Resources. This is a series of online units and modules available to students and lecturers alike through free ‘academic access’. The past academic year, September 2013 to September 2014, saw a near doubling of use of these resources, proving their value to designers of the future and the success of the UEP in engaging with construction education.

The third strand of the UEP – our competitions – is also expanding. Those of you who visit Ecobuild will be familiar with the Dan Kemp Memorial Pavilion, as the winner’s design is built and displayed at the show and will be again in 2015. In fact, our experience with competitions like this (and those with the North East Timber Trade Association, the Western Timber Association, and Coventry and Sheffield Hallam Universities) gave us the confidence to launch a National Student Design Competition in timber in 2014, TRADA’s 80th anniversary year.

Overall the TRADA UEP has achieved a great deal in its first five years, from engaging with a wide range of universities, to providing useful resources and prize-winning opportunities. Although much of this would have happened with TRADA’s funding alone, the support of a range of partners in the timber industry has made the UEP even more successful.

TRADA and all of those who have supported the Programme are very proud to be supporting the education of students who will, as they become fully fledged designers, have timber at the forefront of their minds. And, as they are very likely to be tasked by future clients with designing in timber, as the sustainable building sector grows in strength, the continued importance of the TRADA UEP is assured.