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Cupp Helpdesk

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CUPP team image

Cupp team, Summer 2014


Who: CUPP (The Community University Partnership Programme)

What: Cupp was set up by the University of Brighton using seed money from Atlantic Philanthropies in 2003 to tackle disadvantage and promote sustainable development through partnership working.

Why: The (Cupp) Helpdesk helps to build trust, commitment and understanding between the University of Brighton and its communities.

Where: Across the university campuses and surrounding areas: Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne & Hastings.

When: Ongoing  

Project description

Background to Cupp

Cupp focuses on creating partnerships that provide long-term benefit to communities and to universities, helps develop ideas into projects, provides start-up funding, and helps networks and communities to develop. Its work spans the community, voluntary, social enterprise and public sectors in Brighton & Hove and across Sussex. Increasingly Cupp advises on community engagement nationally and internationally. 

The Helpdesk

The Helpdesk is both a virtual desk - providing the connections to the range of University expertise, and an actual one - there is a Helpdesk manager who can help members of the community and groups to navigate and negotiate within the University.

How it works

The Helpdesk is a first point of contact with the university for those seeking partnerships with university staff and students. People can contact the Helpdesk through the University of Brighton webpage, Cupp website enquiry form, by phone or email:

The Helpdesk manager can provide one to one support and facilitate contact with members of the university community who are able to offer resources, guidance and support with these enquiries. Enquiries through the Helpdesk have included those from organisations who:

  • want to access university resources and facilities
  • are looking for advice, guidance or support on research
  • have ideas for projects or activities that might involve students or staff
  • are interested in developing longer term partnerships with the University


The Helpdesk as Enabler

For many, the Helpdesk is the first point of contact into the university and the rest of Cupp’s activities. The manager works closely with the rest of
the team on all areas of student community engagement and community knowledge exchange in order to best respond to enquiries and best support partnership development. As an enabling platform, the Helpdesk plays a crucial role in the following ways:

1. Building trust, commitment and understanding.

The Helpdesk balances the needs and perceptions of academic professional advancement with those of community partners, and of the community as a whole. It has helped partners to learn from each other in reciprocal arrangements, and has emphasised communicating research results so that those who are implicated in them can gain access to research outcomes.

2. Providing recognition and resources.

The Helpdesk provides formal recognition of the contribution made by the University's staff and students to Cupp's work. This is achieved through a range
of recognition activities including: staff Excellence in Community Engagement awards (see launch video), Community engagement research sabbaticals, Cupp publications, press and publicity, and events to showcase and celebrate successful partnerships and their projects. Many enquiries from the Helpdesk have been included in case-study publications (see Cupp publications). Cupp runs regular events across its sites that include community and
academic partners presenting their work together.

3. Sustaining community partners.

The Helpdesk can adapt to the needs of its users and has worked to develop longer-term initiatives in response to changes in both higher education
and community voluntary sectors. For example, Cupp staff members have supported training in the community voluntary sector offering their own expertise or brokering input from academics. The Communities of Practice approach has also been used as a model to support ongoing community knowledge exchange between practitioners, academics and other members of the local community.  


Development of the Helpdesk

The Helpdesk was envisioned at the beginning of Cupp’s establishment in 2003. In the early phases it was supported by a Senior Researchers Group and a Community Research Forum. The former was made up of senior academics across different disciplines and held regular referral meetings to discuss and respond to enquiries. During this time Cupp was able to buy out time for key academics to take part and work on setting up partnership projects. The latter discussed common research themes and helped develop communities of practice.

As Cupp has become more established within the university and adapted to changes both internally and in the community voluntary sector, the groups that formally brought together researchers and community partners no longer convene. These structures became less appropriate due to additional pressures and time constraints on its members and as Cupp’s own networks and triage systems have improved.

Today, the Helpdesk is still supported by engagement activities both internally and externally, which provides a good network of support and possible pathways for enquiries. On average we deal with 200 enquiries a year and able to respond to the majority of requests for help. Its success has resulted in the model being adopted by Cupp’s business counterparts with the development of a new Business Helpdesk.

Examples of how we've helped include:

  • Supporting organisations to carry out detailed evaluations of the impact of their own work to a level requested by their funders
  • Compiling evidence of residents' priorities in a community needs survey
  • Developing evaluation questionnaires for use at a range of events to help build links with other interest groups.

Lessons learnt

  • Importance of having an open access point to help people navigate the university
  • Importance of creating a variety of spaces for community and university participants to get together e.g. one to one; events; drop ins      etc
  • Importance of internal and external engagement activities to provide support networks and pathways for enquiries
  • Importance of Cupp team infrastructure and activities in all areas of research, learning and teaching.

"I could have spent ages and ages hunting for the right statistical methods, but being referred to the relevant academic within the Uni meant I could get hold of the information I was after and gain some useful tips." Community Partner


Name: Bethan Prosser

Name of organisation: CUPP (The Community University Partnership Programme)


Website: CUPP


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