Susanne Martikke, member of the UK Community Partner Network, shares her experiences of community-university working.
As part of my job as research officer at Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) I’d been trying to make connections with academics since 2005, but it was not until the 2012 Community Partner Summit that I realised that what I was doing had a name and an agenda attached to it!
I still remember getting the email invite to this first community partner summit and thinking, well, yes, I’ve been working with academics in various ways, but I don’t really know if that counts. I filled in the application form to attend the event anyway – as a mother of two small children, I do admit being quite tempted by spending two days and nights away from home, far away from nocturnal interruptions in the form of sleepy toddlers. And I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go to Bristol those two days.
Not just because of the uninterrupted sleep, although that was a significant part of it, but because the event really opened my eyes about the fact that what I was doing in Manchester was part of a movement, not just a national one but an international one. So, all my attempts to make research findings, expertise and training more accessible to voluntary sector staff, all those joint events with academics and the research network I host were actually CUP (community-university partnership) working. All of a sudden, the growing trend of academics getting in touch with me to get my input into research ideas they wanted to pursue started making sense – they were actually being encouraged by their funders to ensure their research would be impactful and one way of doing this was to make sure it actually meets a real need.
I found out that the power and equity issues I had been encountering along the way were shared in common by all the other community partners who came and that in places like Australia, Canada and the USA there were well-developed networks of people involved in such work that tried to address some of these issues through capacity-building, networking and lobbying. I decided that as a sub-regional voluntary sector support organisation GMCVO had much to contribute to that discussion. I also thought, if there was a way of cracking the problem of how to involve community partners as equals in CUPs, then CUPs would be a great opportunity for the voluntary sector for the following reasons:
- Access to funding, resources and expertise
- Increased leverage through evidence
- Opportunity to inform the research agenda
- Access to the opportunity of being more reflective/research-minded
- Ability to join forces with likeminded academics to transform social issues
Back in Manchester, I convinced GMCVO that we should get involved and we’ve been part of the UK Community Partner Network ever since.
We’d love to hear about how you feel about CUPs too and what encouraged you to take your first steps into this world! So please comment below, we look forward to hearing more stories!