From April to September 2023, Student Hubs worked in partnership with University College Birmingham to deliver a One Community Forum and other research activities, culminating in a recommendations report.
Our Birmingham Projects Officer, Mahwish Schwitters, and Birmingham Intern, Chandan Varier, spoke about their experience during the One Community Forum Toolkit launch event in partnership with the Civic University Network and UPP Foundation: you can watch this event here. We wanted to share more about the project with University College Birmingham, the work we delivered, and the impact the project has had on them as a university.
Delivering the University College Birmingham One Community Forum
On Wednesday 19 July 2023, Student Hubs held a One Community Forum at University College Birmingham with 14 guests, including 4 representatives from local organisations in Birmingham, University College Birmingham staff and students, and Student Hubs staff.
The aim of a One Community Forum is to bring together stakeholders from the university, students and local community to discuss key social issues in that area. You can read more about our One Community Forums at our toolkit and our blogs about our 2022 and 2020 Forum events.
Our One Community Forum with University College Birmingham had the aim of developing their knowledge, research, and understanding of the needs of the Birmingham community, and how students could actively support local organisations through the knowledge exchange strategy. The Forum specifically explored three themes: health and wellbeing; business; and digital.
Volunteering and how this could provide opportunities for knowledge exchange was a large focus, alongside what opportunities could be explored in-curriculum. All Forum attendees agreed that volunteering had multiple benefits for students during their time at the university. Rephrasing the term volunteering for students to highlight its social value was another focus point, as it breaks down assumptions individuals may have about what volunteering can practically involve, and helped us to understand what opportunities could be attractive to students. More discussions followed about what would be needed from University College Birmingham to support effective community engagement with these initiatives.
The One Community Forum facilitated many in-depth discussions which inspired our next steps for research and recommendations in our partnership with University College Birmingham. Key findings from the One Community Forum included:
- Accessibility as a priority to explore for community organisations and students in building new opportunities for knowledge exchange
- Barriers faced by both students and communities to this work, including lack of time, capacity and financial support
- Social issues present in the Birmingham community impacting both community members and students relating to cost of living crisis, homelessness and mental health
- The gap in on-campus opportunities for community organisations to reach students, including working with the Guild of Students and during key parts of the academic year, such as Welcome Week
Attendees shared comments including “[I enjoyed] the opportunity to meet professionals from different disciplines and to share ideas”, and “[The Forum had] very engaging speakers and [I] liked the networking aspect”.
Building community relationships and student voice
Alongside the delivery of the Forum, the latter part of our activities on and off-campus at University College Birmingham saw Mahwish and Chandan speak to various community organisations and students about their perspectives on this work.
The community organisations we spoke to varied in social issue and community engagement focus, covering a broad range of topics including housing, healthcare, mental health, local voluntary groups and more. Interviewing these organisations allowed us to present a diverse set of perspectives about what knowledge exchange activities could be valuable both for their organisations and the community more broadly, what support they could use specifically from student volunteers, and what initial opportunities for partnership could look like with their organisation
With our students we asked questions about volunteering and knowledge exchange, seeking to understand what would help support students to get involved in these initiatives if they were available through the university. Students shared with us that the support from the community organisations they worked with; the flexibility and proximity of the opportunity; the awareness of what was available and variety of opportunities; the ability to participate as a group; and seeing other students role modelling what this could look like in practice were all factors which would support their engagement.
It’s been a pleasure to work in partnership with University College Birmingham, and they are planning to use the research and recommendations from the summer in the development of their knowledge exchange strategy.
I would recommend Student Hubs as they create opportunities for students to learn, connect and undertake initiatives within their local communities to impact and effect change, which in turn helps students to grow and develop personally. They encourage students to get involved in issues that really matter to them and raise their awareness of local and national issues. I believe this may increase students understanding of citizenship, community, and collaborative working. The way the session I attended was delivered, was fantastic. It was engaging and allowed for lots of discussion and brought together professionals from all different disciplines together with students and really encouraged us to work together to think about co creation, removing barriers and new perspectives. Student Hubs would be beneficial to other institutions they can add value student engagement but also importantly support and encourage civic and social responsibility which is invaluable when we think about preparing students for the wider world and encourage them to be the change they want to see.A UCB staff member who attended the Forum
We want to thank University College Birmingham and their staff team for supporting us to deliver this project partnership, and UKRI and Research England, without whose funding this partnership would not have been possible.
If you would like to find out about partnership opportunities with Student Hubs, you can download our University Partnerships brochure to get an insight into our partnerships. Please get in touch with Fiona Walsh McDonnell, Partnerships and Development Director at email@example.com with any questions or if you would like to discuss further how Student Hubs could support your institution.