Even before I was ill, baking was not my strong point – so when the charity Headway asked me to organise a ‘Mince Pie Morning’ to raise funds for its Christmas appeal, it was a fairly solid “no”. That said, I did want to find a way to say ‘thank you’ for the help they have given me over the past few weeks. For those who may have missed the news, I was taken ill in July and had a Colloid Cyst removed from my brain – something I described in an earlier post.Continue reading
Well I told you I was ill…or so said Spike Milligan’s famous epitaph – and I did go around telling everyone I was ill, I just had no idea exactly how unwell I was…Continue reading
A few years ago, in another life a was a writer, journalist and stand-up comedian. During that time I wrote the Old Romantics Column for the Lincolnshire Echo with my friend Stu Wilde. On the stand-up scene we were joined by another friend, Gary. Lockdown does strange things to people and we thought a podcast about the good and bad old days might be a way to celebrate the Old Romantics era and do something positive while disconnected by the pandemic. So I invite you to take a nostalgic journey through the past with The Rotten Retro Time Machine and take in the best and worst things that happened in the past 40-odd years. If you enjoy the show please consider making a donation to YMCA Lincolnshire, which provides emergency access accommodation, known as the Nomad Centre, the only direct access night shelter in Lincolnshire.Continue reading
One of the key responsibilities for being a United Nations Academic Impact Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) Hub for SDG 16 is to promote Goal 16 and all the Global Goals. The lockdown period has seen lots of opportunities for us to deliver projects on the ground to support our communities and also to join lots of conferences and online discussions. Although it doesn’t quite match being there in 4D, it means most are recorded and can be shared. I thought I’d post some that I have taken part in. Some times things don’t go perfectly, but then again, neither do the ones in real life.Continue reading
With universities under great scrutiny to demonstrate how they serving their communities during the Covid-19, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the work currently being undertaken at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Many commentators have been quite vocal in the higher education sector media during the lockdown, calling for universities to demonstrate their value to their cities and regions. These posts have largely come from a national leadership perspective so I just wanted to share experiences of helping to create a truly civic response from a local practitioner perspective.
On Friday, I tweeted this:
I wanted to try to capture the work (that I am aware of) undertaken in the past few weeks by the university towards supporting the city of Leicester and beyond in the pandemic.
Recently the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement posted a useful and thoughtful piece on its website saying universities are: “…reconsidering the importance of engagement. Whilst engagement needs to adapt too, its importance in the current climate could not be clearer”. As my primary role for the university is public engagement, these words really resonate.
Public engagement at DMU has always been a high priority. The pandemic has given DMU the opportunity to rethink how we connect with our communities, but more importantly it allowed staff and students to do meaningful work for the good of our city in a time of real need. Admittedly, my tweet on Friday did not do this justice so I want to expand on that.
Yes, there’s been a lot of time talking on Teams, but there has also been a lot of time spent doing, making, volunteering, promoting and sharing. For myself and the public engagement team at DMU, it has been some of the busiest times of our careers. It has also been a rewarding time, allowing us to interact with so many staff who have come forward, willing to play a part in the university’s response.
Rethinking engagement in our communities
It has also allowed us to rethink engagement in our communities, switching events online where we can. I believe some of this work will shape the future of community engagement, sure we want to go back to the tried and tested human interaction but we have seen how online and streaming activities are a far greater tool than were ever appreciated before (ask Joe Wicks…) I can’t hope to capture all the good things DMU has done so far but I can highlight some of the public engagement activities that I have been involved in so far that go towards answering some of the questions raised earlier about value of universities and civic responses.
From the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, DMU was immediately able to mobilise a team of 200+ staff and student volunteers willing to work with local community groups on relief responses including delivering food and medicine and checking in on vulnerable people.
There is already a huge volunteering ethos at DMU and new partnerships and approaches to volunteering (e.g. phone calls to vulnerable isolated people) will stay with us into the next academic year and beyond.
Personal Protective Equipment
The university, through its Faculty of Health and Life Sciences has a long-standing close-working relationship with the city’s NHS services. Some immediate responses saw a supply of 200 nurses to the city’s hospitals and donations of kit and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) strengthening existing relationships.
Staff from the Arts, Design and Humanities and Computing, Engineering and Media faculties then began 3-D printing PPE to NHS specification:
Hundreds have now been produced and delivered. Concurrent to the 3-D printing of PPE, the university has worked in partnership with 3-D Crowd – a charity formed by DMU alumni, to create a distribution centre in a university building to source and deliver vital kit to hospitals and care homes.
This is in full operation and has taught us a lot about repurposing a space and working collaboratively at speed.
One of the success stories of public engagement pre-lockdown was the development of a network of arts clubs for young people across Leicester. Since the pandemic, the public engagement team has worked with the artists to create online arts sessions and keep the creative sessions running.
This is something that we may seek to continue post-lockdown to connect more communities with the arts clubs.
Working to ‘build back better’
Another key initiative we are leading is how to after the pandemic and support key organisations and community groups to survive and thrive by developing new projects, research and ideas that set out a recovery plan for the city in the short, medium and long-term. More than 70 academics have been meeting online to discuss potential ways forward. I believe this could pave a way to new forms of public engagement post-Covid-19 and we work with communities at grass-roots level to co-create projects for the initiative.
Public Engagement in Research moving online
Public lectures, seminars and talks by PhD students and academics are moving online in the short-term with public engagement staff working with Events specialists to create interactive sessions through software like Microsoft Teams. This is already presenting opportunities for targeting interest groups and local communities to participate, as well as developing International reach.
With universities under great scrutiny to demonstrate how they are interacting, serving their communities, coronavirus has created opportunities to respond in new ways and demonstrate impact. From the work undertaken at DMU, like those mentioned here, it has also allowed us to try new forms of engagement and develop of new partnerships at a time when working with communities and partners was at risk of being severely reduced.
Yesterday I was asked to present an example of my public engagement work to a small group of academics and third sector workers to demonstrate how university and community partnership working can create impact. From my list of recent activities I chose the work #DMUlocal did with Professor Jo Richardson, a housing researcher, from the Faculty of Business and Law, to try to measure the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and thought I should share it here.
I felt it was a good example of how De Montfort University (DMU) had worked with a leading charity and other agencies to capture the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and how best to tackle it – and its impact led to almost 40 people off the streets and into accommodation.Continue reading
I haven’t been to India for a couple of years, I think it’s fairly well known I don’t like flying and despite my love of De Montfort University’s Square Mile India programme, the food and the politics of the country, I cannot face an 11-hour journey including an internal flight to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. That said, my trips to India have impacted my life, I have seen extreme poverty, people living under questionable religious order (the caste system), beautiful colours, interesting faces and millions of people enjoying another level of spirituality I could not reach no matter how much drink and drugs I consumed on a journey to truly find myself. I can live with the fact I’m not George Harrison but it certainly feels like India does effect people in a way visits to other countries do not. Sure you can see poverty in London, New York, Berlin, and the bottom of your street, but few comeback from a holiday and say ‘that was truly life-changing’. Yet people who come back from India do, so much so it’s becoming something of a cliche. When the brilliant folks in ADH at DMU said they wanted to a research exhibition about India in The Gallery, I thought this was my chance to lance my boil and actually investigate whether students volunteering in India was truly life-changing or just a cliché. I am in the process of writing a paper on this, but as the exhibition closed last week I wanted to share the story so far and I’m happy for an academic collaboration to get the paper into shape for a future journal submission. I also created a podcast with Chris, Kainaath and Lucy from one of the focus groups that you can hear here:Continue reading
Heading home from a night spent at the Times Higher Awards with a banging headache and a huge feeling of disappointment probably isn’t the best time to update this blog, but it might help me get a few things off my chest. Naturally being shortlisted for a national accolade and not walking away the prize is a bit deflating. Even though the judges thought we weren’t number one, I thought I could share some insight into De Montfort University’s work in Leicester Prison, so at least I’ve told you how good it is. Since I am trying to theme my blog posts around UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 – let me point out that work in prisons forms an important part of the targets. The UN indicators recognise that poor prison conditions and prison overcrowding point towards systemic deficiencies in justice systems. Reforming the penal system and prisons is high priority across the world, as well as access to justice. These areas include a lack of access to legal aid, alternatives to imprisonment, youth crime prevention programmes, offenders’ rehabilitation; social reintegration measures, as well as the overuse of pre-trial detention. The programme at Leicester Prison very much focused on offenders’ rehabilitation and social reintegration. The idea was, and continues to be, that by working with staff and the men inside the prison, the university might be able to influence a different path to reoffending upon release.Continue reading
What are the benefits of student volunteering, beyond enhancing a CV or developing soft skills? Are there other talents developing or changes in behaviour less obvious and unintended when an undergraduate gives their time to a project or cause?
I’m presenting a piece of research at the Refugee and Migration Exhibition at De Montfort University that suggests that student volunteers are showing an increase in their political participation as a result as giving time to work with refugees and migrant communities. The Refugee and Migration Exhibition has been organised by the Arts, Designand Humanities Faculty and has been inspired by DMU’s close involvement with the Together Campaign, so look out for any exhibition-related tweets with the hashtag #JoinTogether. Lots of DMU researchers are giving talks on their specialisms too. As part of my talk I’ll discuss how political engagement amongst young people has been lower than other voting groups for several decades. In the United Kingdom, since 2010, the 18 – 24 age group has received considerable scrutiny in the wake a major political decisions and election outcomes. Historically the public good of higher education was considered to not only supply a well-educated workforce for the country but to create well-rounded and civically-engaged individuals that would benefit society. Since the UK Government’s introduction of full tuition fees in 2012, questions have been raised about the purpose of universities, with an increased focus on economic and employability outcomes for graduates. In light of falling political engagement amongst young people, the government’s Electoral Commission has encouraged UK universities to seek new ways to encourage more young people to vote. Volunteering, which is offered in some form by most UK universities, is recognised through various studies as a way of building social capital and creating civic engagement. This research presents a case study of whether a programme of focussed volunteering for university students can better enhance participants’ political awareness by exposing them to people directly affected by political policies, in thiscase refugees and migrant communities. This research seeks to identify whether participation with refugee and migrant communities can lead to increased political engagement, likelihood to vote or future activism. I present the outcome of a pilot study linked to my PhD which used mixed methods of qualitative and quantitative research involving a questionnaire and focus group of a small group of students who discussed the effects working with refugees on a recent trip to Berlin (pictured top), which I podcasted with their permission.
You can hear the podcast here:
I have gone 28-hours without sleep. I was awake through the coldest night of winter so far with many other hardy souls from De Montfort University, Leicester, to demonstrate our solidarity with victims of breaches of human rights worldwide with a 24-hour vigil. I was willing to deprive myself of sleep and do this is because I believe that being civically and politically engaged is a crucially important attribute all students should learn and develop. Secondly a vigil is really interesting and entertaining, a place where views of different people from a variety of disciplines can come together and pull ideas apart and put them back together again and develop understanding. Finally, I believe that an outdoor vigil that lasts 24-hours is symbolic. It shows an unbroken chain of commitment that gives those suffering violations of human rights hope that there are good people out there who want to make the world a better place.Continue reading