LEGO designer’s appeal: back me again on fatberg model

The designer at the centre of a campaign to persuade LEGO to make a new model featuring drainage engineers tackling a fatberg has told Lanes Group plc the Whitechapel fatberg was the main inspiration for his idea.

Wastewater operatives from Lanes, working for water company Thames Water, carried out most of the work to clear the giant fatberg in London’s East End in 2017.

The designer, who goes by the name of MOCingbird, revealed that after reading about the Whitechapel fatberg, which weighed over 130 tonnes, he set about creating a slightly smaller one – out of LEGO bricks.

MOCingbird acknowledges his inspiration for the proposed new LEGO model – and appeals for continued support for his idea – in a question and answer interview given to Lanes, the UK’s largest independent wastewater and drainage specialist.

He also reveals:

  • Lanes was the first drainage company to write to LEGO supporting the model idea, helping trigger a similar response from other organisations in the UK and the USA.
  • The UK drainage industry was instrumental in the fatberg model achieving the 10,000 votes needed for LEGO to consider manufacturing the fatberg model.
  • The designer said he would be happy if Unblocktober – the campaign first launched by Lanes to protect sewers and seas from misuse and pollution was associated with a final model.

As the model – Sewer Heroes: Fighting the Fatberg – was not one of those selected for production by LEGO when considered by its panel of experts, MOCingbird is determined to put it forward again.

That will involve reaching the 10,000 vote target yet again, and he reveals he still needs thousands of votes.

Lanes Group Development Director Richard Leigh said: “We’re 100% behind this second push to have the model marketed by LEGO. It would be an excellent way to give consumers an insight into the challenges of keeping sewers flowing across the world, and how they can help drainage specialists like Lanes achieve that.

“MOCingbird’s creativity has already raised huge awareness about the topic, and the problems caused by sewer misuse. I have no doubt, given the public’s fascination with fatbergs, the model would be a best seller for LEGO if people could buy it. I would urge everyone to vote for Sewer Heroes: Fighting the Fatberg again.”

Follow this link to vote for Sewer Heroes: Fighting the Fatberg:

Q&A with MOCingBird with Lanes

What gave you the idea of Sewer Heroes: Fighting the Fatberg? By chance, was it the story about the Whitechapel Fatberg that you saw first, or have fatbergs been in the news in Germany too?

The idea for this model originated from the supporters’ comments I had received on my prior design ‘Basement & Sewerage’, which became my first LEGO Ideas project to reach the goal of 10,000 votes.

Back then, supporters kept asking “Where’s the fatberg?” – obviously, many of them were industry professionals familiar with this issue. And then at some point I just wanted to find out more about the topic.

Building a new LEGO Ideas model based on this idea was not the first thing that came to my mind, but over time I convinced myself this was something I really had to do.

Also, after ‘Basement & Sewerage’ had not been selected for production by the LEGO Ideas jury in February 2022, I immediately started working on the yet untitled ‘Fatberg’ project.

I did a lot of research on fatbergs and related topics since I was aiming at a realistic depiction of what was really going on with blockages in the sewers. But I also had to find the right balance between authenticity and the model’s displayability and playability as a LEGO set.

The famous Whitechapel fatberg incident was the one I found the most information and pictures about, so I drew a lot of inspiration from that case for my LEGO build.

As far as I know, fatbergs are not such a big problem in Germany, possibly due to different regulations. Most of the information I found on the internet was UK-related.

You got to 10,000 votes for your design idea very quickly – what did you think of that achievement?

Only a fraction of all submitted LEGO Ideas projects reach 10,000 supporters at all. And most of those that reach the goal take several months or even up to 2 years.

‘Sewer Heroes: Fighting the Fatberg’ reached the goal after only 26 days, which was incredibly fast. So of course I was very happy about this achievement.

How significant has the support in the UK been to achieve that?

As far as I can tell, most industry support comes from the UK. That’s where most of my followers on LinkedIn are located, and I guess the majority of endorsement letters that were sent to LEGO additionally also came from the UK.

Lanes was one of the companies to write such an endorsement letter, I think they were even the first. Later on, big associations from the UK, the US and other countries joined in with their own letters, too.

You talk about getting a very positive reaction from people in the international sewer cleaning industry. Why do you think that happened? And is the support still there?

The water and wastewater community’s great support for the model certainly has to do with the unique opportunity it offers to make the public aware of a problem that is otherwise hard to make people pay attention to.

This LEGO set seems to be the perfect vehicle for getting everyone interested in the topic – from kids to adults – without a wagging finger. But of course it’s not only about the message the model conveys.

The water and wastewater community also likes the design because it turns the spotlight on their important work which usually remains invisible to the public.

Moreover, there has never been a realistic sewer-related LEGO set, so this could become the first one ever, and a lot of people in the industry would like to put the model on display at their workplace.

I’m really happy the water and wastewater community likes my model so much. After all, it was also meant to be a ‘thank you!’ project for all the support I had initially received from the industry for the ‘Basement & Sewerage’ model.

What are the next steps to get LEGO to make the model? And how can people help you further?

After the original submission had reached 10,000 votes in only 26 days to reach the review stage, the jury eventually did not select it for production, but chose another fan design instead.

Now my resubmitted project needs 10,000 supporters once again to enter the LEGO Ideas review for the second time to get a new chance of being made into an official set.

So, at the moment, people can help by voting and posting comments on the new project page to express their support. Progress towards the goal is slower this time than on the first attempt. But almost 4,000 votes are already in after 40 days.

We are sure the model will be fun to make – but do you think it will also help educate people about using sewers more responsibly? Did you think about that when you selected the design?

My main intention when I started building was to create the best LEGO model about the topic I could personally come up with.

I didn’t know if all of this would work at all, but I just kept on designing. The educational aspect became kind of automatically built-in throughout the process.

I did not force anything into the model on purpose Everything somewhat fell into place in a natural way. I guess this is one of the things that make the set unique: it’s educational without moralising, and even if you ignore the educational aspect entirely, it’s still a very nice LEGO model for play and display.

Lanes started the Unblocktober campaign to educate people about sewage problems leading the environmental ones – – would you like to see the campaign included in the final design? It could help its message get to thousands more people around the world!

My original design does not include any third-party intellectual property (IP) because I have committed to only build models not connected to any IP. Now, if Lanes could work things out with LEGO to make sure the model becomes an official set on the second attempt by tying it to the Unblocktober campaign, I would not object at all.

What has been the reaction from sewer engineers to your design? Were they impressed, or did they politely (or otherwise!) point out where they thought you made technical mistakes? Drainage engineers can be very particular about their work!

I did many hours of research on every aspect of the build, from the truck to the kitchen to the sewer to the colour of the workers’ helmets.

I also reached out to two FOG (fats, oils and grease) experts from the UK to get their feedback and input since I wasn’t able to answer all the questions about this complex topic only by doing my own research.

So far, I haven’t had any complaints from engineers. I think they are aware that depictions in a LEGO model have their limits in regard to realism.

One criticism I did get on several occasions was about the missing vent stack at the back of the model. But that’s a detail I actually omitted on purpose because it would have been too much of a visual distraction, from my point of view, while not being all that important in relation to the model’s main topic.

When researching drains and sewers for your design, what facts about sewers and the way they’re maintained surprised you the most?

The most surprising aspect to me was how expensive all the blockage and fatberg removal work is every year.

Fatbergs are said to be very, very smelly (mostly because of the fats in them). Have you thought about the idea of having a bad smell impregnated into your LEGO fatberg? That might be a world first!

If LEGO decided to introduce such a feature to be included in some of their sets, I have my doubts they would choose my model to be one of them! On the other hand, this feature would definitely draw a lot of attention to the set and it would be a lot of fun for kids, as long as it could be turned on and off…

How confident are you that your design will one day be manufactured by LEGO?

The official motto I chose for the resubmission campaign is “Rejected, but not defeated!”. My hope is that, if the project reaches 10,000 supporters for the second time, LEGO will have a much harder time to reject it again. It’s not so easy for resubmitted designs to gain enough support, but so far progress looks very promising. Of course you never know what the jury will decide, but I still hope my design will be made into an official LEGO set one day.

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