Case Study: The Oxford Hub
- Community groups
Who: The Oxford branch of Student Hubs.
What: The first of the Student Hubs to be set up, it is the focal point for charitable activity at Oxford University, from volunteering to social entrepreneurship, and for training and information on a range of social and environmental issues, events and careers.
Why: To create an umbrella network of charitable organisations in Oxford that facilitate student volunteering
The Student Hubs were founded in Oxford in 2007. The initial concept was to work with student-led charitable societies, helping them to become more effective and efficient. Its founding members had had previous experience of leading student groups, experiencing first hand the range of frequent (and easily avoidable) problems common to such groups. There was already a good deal of public engagement activity around Oxford, but the Hubs’ founders realised that it would be even more effective (and sustainable) if they were able to coordinate all of these activities from a central hub. They also discovered that many community groups in the city felt that, despite being surrounded by the university, it was difficult to engage with the students in any meaningful way, as they didn’t have the means or mechanisms to get in contact with the relevant people.
"There was lots happening on campus already – we thought it would be better if it came together, to make it more sustainable and better networked." Adam O'Boyle, Executive Director, Student Hubs
The Hub team brought together all these charitable groups and spoke with them all to determine what they most wanted to achieve. That initial dialogue was the catalyst for all of their early initiatives: the Hub now provides an easy mechanism for students to find out about opportunities, and to act as the helping hand for them to engage with volunteering.
For the organisations involved, the Hub provides the network, with each partner working autonomously, using the Hub team to ensure that they can utilise shared resources, training or networking opportunities.
The Hub has a website, sends out email bulletins, runs weekly events and termly social networking meetings, all of which encourage students to become involved, empowering them to tackle social and environmental challenges, both at university and afterwards.
The Hub is run by students, for the benefit of students and student societies. This is the main tenet of the philosophy behind the Hub's approach - if you are trying to engage students, they should have full ownership of their actions. Beyond this, it aims to encourage all of its member societies to forge strong strategic links with each other, academic institutions and the wider community.
Student Hubs is only three years old, but it already reaches more than 12,000 students on a weekly basis and has ploughed the equivalent of £80,000 into Oxford’s local community alone. A list of its achievements:
- It has run 55 speaker events with student charities and put over 2,000 students through its weekend conferences.
- It has championed International Development, Social Enterprise and Climate Change and supported over 100 student-led groups.
- It has incubated 20 student-led community volunteer projects and worked with over 1,000 volunteers.
- In less than three years, it has leveraged a £2,000 grant into a charity turning over £180,000 per year
- Student Hubs now has further hubs in Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton.
The founders are now looking to the next stage of development, which they will undertake in conjunction with the local community.
What worked well
“The most remarkable thing has been the huge amount of energy from students in all diffferent activities." Adam O'Boyle, Executive Director, Student Hubs
There has been passion from all sides throughout the project: from the university, which has been very supportive, and from the community, which has shown lots of enthusuiasm to get involved.
Students involved with the Hub
As with any voluntary work, the volunteers have to be trusted with what they are doing. The Hub offers guidance and management to make sure that each project is heading in the right direction.
On the financial side, a lot of the Hub’s community volunteer funding comes from government sources, so there is insecurity around that at present, as well as the funding they receive through the universities.
Compared to the range of initiatives being run through its network, the Oxford Hub is lightly staffed, consisting of three administrative staff running the network.
Some of its main challenges have been around fundraising, but they are now moving into a building in the centre of Oxford, which will provide a café/bar/restaurant and a lounge area along with their offices. It is hoped that this will multiply their impact many times over, due to the size of their presence in the middle of town.
- If you are setting up an organisation involved in public engagement, find a champion in your university as high up the university structure as possible.
- It can take quite a long time to build relationships with the most important people to you, as well as find out who those people are.
- Any public engagement work with students has to be truly student-led: don't lose sight of this.
- Talking to all stakeholders at the start of any public engagement process is vital. For those working in this area, it is very important to have a good dialogue btween the organisation for whom you're working and those you're trying to help. Community-university relations can become frayed, and it is quite easy for communications to break down, so it's important that you start out with the right atmosphere. With voluntary work, it's far too easy to alienate those you're trying to work with, and you rely on their goodwill and that of your partners.
Name: Adam O'Boyle, Executive Director
Name of organisation: Student Hubs
Telephone: 01865 403353
As a final note, the Oxford Hub team are always happy to advise anyone wishing to set up public engagement work - they have plenty of best practice and advice that would be of use in any engagement context.