Who: Student-led activities in partnership with the community, coordinated through Active Student (The University of Brighton’s volunteering service) as part of a wider university ‘On our Doorsteps’ strategy, led by the Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP).
What: Establishing community connections through volunteering opportunities, where both students and permanent residents volunteer together.
Why: To overcome the growing issues of ‘studentification’ within areas of Brighton with a high student population.
Where: Across the local community, including in a school, park, residential home and local action meetings.
When: Ongoing with the scheme piloted in the academic year 09/10, with various short term and part time activities continuing throughout the year.
‘On Our Doorsteps Volunteering Project’ was set up to establish strong community partnerships in the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean areas of Brighton; where there is a University campus and many students live in private rented accommodation. In response to ‘studentification’ issues, the project developed a consultative approach to working with the community on a range of student-led activities. Allowing students and residents to work together in enhancing their neighbourhood.
This project was a step away from our previous volunteering opportunities, which were predominantly placements. Rather the project developed a student element within the wider university social engagement strategy, ‘On our Doorsteps,’ led by the Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP), which has, developing mutual cooperation at the heart of its aims.
The strength of the project emerged through the ethos of mutual cooperation, which completely changed our approach to working not only with the community but also internally, developing connections to the SU and the students themselves through student-led activities. From building beehives to oral history projects these relationships have begun to be established and are changing the relationships in the communities.
In just a year the project has exceeded all expectations, with the creation of a sustainable model. There are established working relationships, and we have been able to create a directory of volunteer opportunities in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, with the exchange of information and knowledge between the university and the local residents.
It has already begun to change perceptions, to develop the university and its students as more accessible resources to the community, with people viewed as people rather than a stereotyped label attached to them.
- Encourage students and local residents to volunteer together to make a positive difference to their neighbourhood.
- To recruit and support students to create a diverse range of student-led volunteering opportunities.
- To develop internal relationships, developing a partnership with CUPP and the Students’ Union in the recruitment, training and support of student volunteers.
- Enhance a sense of accessibility to the university within the local community.
Results and outcomes
What worked well
‘Working with’ and not ‘doing to’ the community
The strength of this project has emerged from consulting with the community, remembering that it is important always ‘to do with’ and not ‘do to’ the community. Moulsecomb and Bevendean are deprived areas where money is often targeted however frequently this does not go towards what the people who live there really need. Therefore this approach has been well received, with residents keen to engage as these activities were being shaped by their needs.
The consultative approach, working in partnership with the local community and being advised and guided by the experts who live or work in the area, allowed the development of activities which had real benefits in the area and allowed a strong relationship to be built between the university and the community.
This project has achieved much more than was anticipated within its first year, towards its long term goals of changing perceptions of the students and university within the community, which surrounds them. At the last steering group meeting, local resident representatives highlighted that there was a distinct improvement in the perception of students in the local community and there was an enthusiasm to continue and expand the project. This has been echoed at both Moulsecoomb and Bevendean Local Action Team meetings. The Community Liaison Officer also reported a positive move from the negative stereotyping of students.
"We didn’t promise the world and raise people’s expectations, we were really honest about what we hoped to achieve, and have been able to take the first steps towards overcoming the issues in the community and increasing accessibility to the university." Volunteer Manager
This project has presented the university as an accessible place, with the community being invited to a celebration event on the campus, and using rooms for meetings as allowed the university to feel part of the community and not a closed door.
"The On Our Doorsteps Volunteering Project has been a gateway to the University!" Local Resident
Variety of opportunities
The project has successfully worked with the community to develop seven short term volunteering activities alongside part-time volunteering. They were all collaborative with students and residents volunteering together, furthermore many of these activities produced visual impacts in the community, which enhanced the profile of the projects. For example, a Masters student led a volunteering project with 3 other students and some residents of Chailey Road to paint the mural on an uninspiring brick wall. The student was supported by the Council’s graffiti Officer and has consulted with local residents and received a design for the wall. These short term opportunities alongside part-time volunteering allowed a variety of actions to take place, with a greater number of students interacting with local residents.
What didn't work well
Establishing the channels of communication between the university and the community took a lot more time to develop than was originally envisaged, as there were no established networks before this project. Yet the time it takes to build relationships with the local community is time well invested. Building trust has to happen before you can devise joint projects together. Success was achieved through becoming visible in the community, attending numerous local meetings and developing conversation around the idea of the project.
- Time is the most important resource for this project, to support students and forge community connections. Where initially 15 days were deemed to be sufficient the actual staff time invested was 80 days.
- Using a variety of volunteers in both part time and one off activities reflected the needs of the community and the actions they wanted. Those needed are targeted to develop the partnerships rather than it needing to be a fixed approach.
- Project management training was provided for all the student volunteers
- Key to the sustainability of the project was the link in to senior management built into the project (the Deputy Vice Chancellor was on the project Steering Group) enabling it to leverage high level support for student volunteering in the institution.
- Links to the community were forged through attending local meetings, such as the Local Action Team and working with the Community Liaison Officers.
- It’s important to say no to some ideas, always keep the aims and ethos of the project in mind.
- Student-led projects require more support than anticipated particularly when establishing new community partnerships. Recruiting students through a series of workshops held across the Brighton campuses, allowed students to generate a range of ideas and gain an understanding of how to run a project. Having developed this interest students were able to manage their own creative control over the project developing projects with the community and largely recruited a team of volunteers themselves.
- It is important always ‘to do with’ the community and not ‘to do’ the community.
- Be visible. You need to get to know your community to build up trust.
- Be honest and realistic with goals for the community.
- Hold a celebration event on the university campus for everyone involved in the project. It helped us to make the university feel more accessible to the local community.
Name: Beth Thomas-Hancock
Name of Organisation: University of Brighton
Telephone: 01273 644145