Manifesto Signatory

University of Hertfordshire

updated on 03 Nov 2023
6 minutes
Everyday Lives in War - First World War Engagement Centre logo

Why we've signed the Manifesto

"Universities are not just international and national institutions. They are very much a part of the local community. Universities bring great value to local economies and perhaps even more so in areas of deprivation. We must continue to add value – and if we do so then we will be valued too. The University of Hertfordshire is already a major resource for its community, but we are keen to develop our public engagement even further and I believe that the NCCPE will be able to help us with this vital work."

Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hertfordshire

Our approach to public engagement

We have long played a central role in promoting the economic, cultural and social prosperity of our community. We aim to be seen as a valued resource for local people and organisations; to be at the heart of key local strategic partnerships; and to engage with, and be valued by, all parts of our community. By increasingly embedding the principles of public engagement in our research processes, we are committed to strengthening our research through public feedback and interaction in order to deliver societal benefits not only at a regional level but nationally and internationally too.

Examples of public engagement in research:

  • Our Heritage Hub brings together community interests in history and heritage across the region. It provides a unified, outward-facing identity for our heritage engagement activities, pooling our academic expertise across this broad field to run collaborative initiatives with social enterprises, housing associations, libraries, local authorities and museums.
  • Co-production of health studies with external stakeholders and members of the public is integral to our research cycle. In partnership with the NIHR’s Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) in the East of England, our Patient Experience and Public Involvement Unit has led evaluations of the impact of patient and public involvement in research, and shared best practice.
  • The University’s own Bayfordbury Observatory is at the centre of a programme to inspire the next generation of astrophysicists and astronomers. This involves open evenings, school visits, an inflatable planetarium for roadshow events and stargazing projects in local primary schools.
  • Our award-winning Oral History team has brought together experienced academic researchers and students to engage with local communities and tell stories of retirement, emigration to Australia, Stevenage Football Club and the Hertford Choral Society.
  • Our First World War engagement centre supports community and local history groups to develop their research skills and explore lesser known stories from the conflict a century ago (see our ‘hallmark’ activity).
  • Through a £600,000 grant from the EPSRC, our computer scientists are transforming a suburban residential home into a ‘real-life’ testing facility for human-robot interaction that is open to researchers and industry. The Robot House is also a venue for members of the public to explore issues about the ethics of AI and the team has run outreach activities in local schools, including giving A-level students the opportunity to program our interactive humanoid Pepper.
  • Our Sparks Might Fly initiative invites theatre companies to work with our academics to interpret their research in new ways and to use the power of theatre to make academic research accessible to all.

Our public engagement hallmark

Lunch menu for the 'Food in Wartime 1914-1920' public engagement event

Through engagement with community groups across the UK, the Everyday Lives in War Centre has sought to capture the missing stories of the First World War, moving beyond traditional narratives of courage and brave sacrifice to explore daily life during wartime and legacies of the conflict.

Led by University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with the Universities of Essex, Northampton, Lincoln, Central Lancashire and West of England, the AHRC-funded project has created networks of university and community researchers. Academics have helped local history groups to develop greater confidence in their research skills and to tackle more challenging research questions relating to FWW; research collaboration has enabled a mutual recognition of expertise, with community projects generating new knowledge about the conflict and its legacies.

Novel research themes have included: how children’s perspectives of FWW were shaped through teaching, toys and loss; how the War inspired a boom in fortune-telling as anxious relatives sought news of loved ones in the trenches; the revival of forgotten plays and personalities of the wartime theatre industry.

The Centre has worked with over 200 community groups and heritage organisations nationwide and funded around 20 co-produced research projects. A key aim is to broaden community participation and social inclusion in response to the sense that, traditionally, the academic community has tended to undervalue research by local history groups.

Find out more:

Our public engagement talking point

University of Hertfordshire is at the centre of regional, business-facing initiatives such as the Hertfordshire Science Partnership and Hertfordshire Growth Hub. However, geography poses challenges to engaging publics across the region; our campuses are out-of-town and, unlike city-based universities, we do not have a major population centre on our doorstep.

We have learnt to pursue a very targeted approach to public engagement across Hertfordshire’s towns. Our oral historians have worked with Stevenage Football Club to capture memories of fans, staff and players; our Centre of Sustainable Communities has worked with Letchworth Garden City to promote garden city principles; our public health researchers have run events in Hatfield’s Galleria shopping centre. We are keen to share best practice with universities who face similar geographical challenges.

Scaling up our activities nationally and internationally has been achieved through close collaboration with other universities. Our First World War engagement centre has reached local communities across the country through partnerships with around ten institutions. Our astronomy outreach has informed our contribution to multi-institution projects to advance radio astronomy – therefore supporting upskilling – across Africa and in Thailand. We are always looking to collaborate to apply what we do at a regional level to a wider context.

Our public engagement people

Dr Carolyn Devereux, Daphne Jackson Fellow, Centre for Astrophysics Research

Project: Engaging children in care in astrophysics research

University of Hertfordshire runs a wide-ranging astrophysics and astronomy public engagement and outreach programme, for which Bayfordbury Observatory, the University’s own teaching facility, acts as the hub.

Through a commitment to interact with harder-to-reach groups, Dr Carolyn Devereux has led a programme to engage children in care in astrophysics research. Working with the council-run Hertfordshire Virtual School, which brings together children who are looked after, Carolyn – a foster carer herself – has organised bespoke observatory open days for children in care and their foster carers, and young people who are carers. 

One event attracted 120 attendees new to astronomy, from toddlers and teenagers to adults. Activities include planetarium shows, lab experiments and telescope demonstrations. The programme is designed to accommodate the possibility of challenging behaviour, address traditionally low attendance rates among this audience and respond to specific learning needs, such as autism.

At a Hertfordshire Virtual School residential event for Year 10 children in care, Carolyn organised a ‘Mission to Mars’ session to help motivate the children for their science GCSE. A school educational adviser said the children’s’ “thirst for science was definitely quenched”.


Catherine Manthorpe, Head of the Research Office