One of the good things about being an applied researcher is the community interaction that it affords. My research often allows me to work in close partnership with the community, be that individuals or groups, or geographical areas. Those community relationships are important to me, I want my research to be relevant, authentic (in terms of a fair representation of the voices of those from particular communities) and that involves close working and relationships with community partners. To make those relationships work, mutual working is important, and in terms of research relationships, making the relationship reciprocal is one way of ensuring best practice and good values are at the core of the work. Research for me is part of the wider public good ethos of universities within our societies and that’s something I feel very strongly about.
Part of the reciprocity of the university can be about supporting learning in the communities in which universities are situated. Best practice about facilitating community learning can be seen in different places and in different formats, some examples from the North of England include: The Social Science Centre, Lincoln which offers free social science education in Lincoln, or Converge at York St John University in York which offers education for those who use mental health services. There is also soon to be a Social Science Centre in Manchester, and it was announced last week they are running a short course to discuss Brexit (details here). All these approaches are then offering something back to the community, reaching out, drawing in, and using expertise from universities to make positive educational impacts in the lives of those who live near those institutions. That approach I believe is inspiring, breaking down barriers about what goes on in universities, who university academics are and what kinds of things universities teach and research is a vital part of making academic life more transparent. It also feels like in the current political climate, and the rejection of ‘experts’ that such transparency feels so very important and needed.
To this end, it was deeply exciting last week to be part of a new community learning module at Leeds Beckett University (Details here: Community learning flyer).Born out of our existing community relationships, this module aims to give young people (including young parents), the chance to come and experience university, see what health and social sciences means at university. It might be a small step in comparison to other work that’s going on in some of the places listed above, but to me the messages are the same, how can we, as academics, engage the community and how can we work with the community for everyone’s benefit?