On 24th January 2024, Student Hubs will be holding a conference in Birmingham themed on the ‘Social Purpose University’. In designing the conference, we have considered how we can support institutions on various stages of the journey to social purpose, and our afternoon breakout strands are themed using the language of our new strategy, in kickstart; build; and embed.
Today we want to focus on what it means for us to be part of a university’s journey in ‘kickstarting’ activities which engage students and communities in meaningful place-based activities, sharing two case studies of our work.
Our next two blogs will focus on what our work looks like supporting universities to ‘build’ this change, and what it looks like for an institution to ‘embed’ these activities through and beyond our partnership.
Kickstarting Royal Holloway’s strategic change in their Volunteering team
In 2019, we worked in partnership with Royal Holloway to provide consultancy support in their strategic exploration of their volunteering strategy. They wanted to better understand the state of play within the university for volunteering, and also what opportunities they could explore looking to other examples of best practice and case studies at other institutions.
Our team undertook a series of activities, auditing their existing internal provision, conducting stakeholder interviews, and providing broader sector benchmarking and research. This culminated in a final report and recommendations for future practice.
In September 2023, our CEO Sim Dhanjal-Field was the keynote speaker at Royal Holloway’s Festival of Volunteering Reception, and it has been incredible for us to see the journey and commitment of Royal Holloway to their volunteering practice across the Volunteering team’s 20 year history, and in the four years since we worked in partnership with them as part of this consultancy project.
We’re proud to have been a part of that journey, and as Sim shared as part of her keynote speech, Royal Holloway shares our belief that: “Often overlooked, but crucial whilst at university, are the benefits to wellbeing and a sense of belonging that [volunteering and social action] activities can have on an individual. Having a strong sense of self, and validation as part of a community, can have a profound impact on [students’] life goals, as well as retention, progression, and success at university. It’s not just that volunteering makes [students] feel nice, but that allowing them to put their knowledge to use, break out of the university bubble, and make genuine connections with other people, enhances their sense of belonging.”
Kickstarting Leeds Conservatoire’s knowledge exchange activities
In 2021-22 and 2022-23, we worked with Leeds Conservatoire, a specialist institution focused on performing arts and music. Leeds Conservatoire set out to kickstart their knowledge exchange strategy with a variety of internal and external partners across these two years, and we were one of the many partners their Employability & Enterprise team worked alongside as part of this exploratory work.
We undertook two projects across the two academic years, both involving the hiring of a fixed-term staff member to support activities with the Leeds community and their student population. Our first project delivered a One Community Forum and other activities, and our second project delivered more targeted research and recommendation activities alongside other student engagement opportunities.
From our Partnership and Development Director Fiona’s HEPI blog in November, we shared an example of the impact we saw on a student from our project partnership: ‘In April 2023, we matched a Leeds Conservatoire student with a challenge brief from a local arts charity, the Geraldine Connor Foundation, to provide free student consultancy and volunteer their expertise. The student said they ‘really enjoyed it!’ and when asked about their experience, they agreed they developed professional skills from the activity, including planning and organising. Among other skills, they agreed they gained increased confidence; improved their ability to adapt and overcome challenges; and enhanced their university experience.’
You can read more about our One Community Forums as part of our ‘Build’ blog with University College Birmingham, but alongside our events and programme delivery, what Leeds Conservatoire found highly valuable about our partnership was our ability to provide clear guidance about the research we had undertaken whilst working in partnership with them, and the recommendations we set forth for their next steps. As a small institution, we were able to provide Leeds Conservatoire with both short-term and long-term actions which could ensure that momentum continued on their pursuit of artistic citizenship at their institution: you can read more about this approach to artistic citizenship and their research through our Partnership and Development Director’s HEPI blog here.
Often those initial steps towards delivering and scaling social purpose activities can be the hardest for institutions to achieve, and that is the type of support Student Hubs are well placed to provide as part of our mission to mainstream student social action.
Helping you to kickstart social purpose activities
We are excited to showcase a range of case studies and approaches to kickstarting, building and embedding activities at our January 2024 conference, which will include Royal Holloway and Leeds Conservatoire as breakout session speakers, sharing their practice. You can find out more and buy your tickets here.
We hope you are able to join us in Birmingham, and we look forward to seeing how you kickstart social purpose at your institution.
If you would like to find out more about our opportunities to support your institution with kickstart, build or embed projects and consultancy, please get in touch with our Partnership and Development Director, Fiona Walsh McDonnell, at firstname.lastname@example.org.