Hertfordshire student on his award-winning project helping the homeless

Alec Conway on a yellow background

Alec Conway has come up with an inventive idea to help the homeless - Credit: James North

Hertfordshire Life's Julie Lucas speaks to Alec Conway, a University of Hertfordshire industrial design graduate, on his award-winning project to provide homeless people with a fixed address. 

Julie Lucas: You won Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow, tell us about that.

Alec Conway: The Solve For Tomorrow competition is a programme that challenges 16-25 year-olds to come up with tech ideas that tackle societal issues in education, sustainability, social isolation, diversity and inclusion.

It’s a great competition that gives young people the opportunity to share ideas regardless of background or education.

JL: What was your idea?

AC: Project Dignity - it aims to create smart street lockers that double up as a PO box – giving those who are experiencing homelessness a personal and permanent address allowing them to access local services.

The provision of a fixed address is a key part of preventing people who are experiencing homelessness from being permanently excluded by society, as it allows them to open a bank account, access essential services and employment opportunities. 

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The digital lockers also act as a hub to find local information and resources, as well as a donation point for the general public. 

The idea behind was born when I was interrailing around Europe. On my trip I saw many people experiencing homelessness having to carry their possessions around wherever they went, and it made me think why do they not have anywhere to keep their belongings?

I studied industrial design at the University of Hertfordshire and when I returned from my Europe trip, we had to choose a problem for our final major work and I chose homelessness, that’s where I began Project Dignity.

JL: What's next for the project? 

AC: Winning the £10,000 prize has given Project Dignity the opportunity to get up off its feet. 

Samsung is funding the first prototype, a major step for us, as it means we can get out and test the idea, find out what works and what can be done better. Ultimately testing the service is essential in ensuring that it helps those that need it most.

As well as the money, the mentoring I’ve received has given me the opportunity to get where I need to be faster. 

I’ve been able to connect with industry professionals who have really helped me understand how the project can work in real life and what needs to be done to make sure it’s a sustainable business model.  
JL: Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur?

AC: I am very much a designer at heart but winning the Solve For Tomorrow competition has helped me learn essential business skills and connect with people who have expertise in different fields, getting me to look beyond just the design and plan for the business’ future.

It’s an exciting time as we start testing and getting a feel for how the project works in the real world. We’re speaking to the charity Street Angels and I’m looking forward to seeing how that partnership develops.

For more on Solve for Tomorrow, visit samsung.com/uk/solvefortomorrow