If you’d have asked me what I thought of CUPs three years ago, I’d have said ‘Err…posh alternative to a mug?’. That was before I got involved with the Catalyst project at Lancaster University, which proved to be the doorway to the fascinating and complex world of community-university partnerships – also known as CUPs.
So was it something I’d thought long and hard about? Well, in a word, no. At the time, I was employed as a Social Enterprise Development Manager for Age UK Lancashire, and had been working with a group of community organisations in West Lancashire to try and develop an online way to manage befriending services. We were all non-tech people so it was proving difficult – and then I got an interesting email. Lancaster University were holding an open event to encourage people to put forward projects that benefitted the community, and that also had a digital technology angle. So I went along… and I didn’t know it at the time, but that one action had a huge impact on my future work.
The Catalyst project has been so interesting that it deserves a blog post to itself another time, but that was the starting point for me. Fast forward to 2014, and I’ve seen a host of other CUPs develop, worked on ones with other universities, and have learned a lot in the process. But I didn’t know that CUPs were an actual thing until a contact forwarded me an invite to the UK Community Partner Network’s Annual Summit in Bristol last September. Sounds interesting I thought, and headed off not really knowing what to expect. That experience was fantastic – I decided there and then that I wanted to be part of this, and when the call for Associates to develop the network came this spring, I was right there with my application form.
So why am I passionate about CUPs? Well, speaking purely from the community angle, I’ve seen that they can bring the following benefits:
- New skills: CUPs enable you to tap into some real experts that you could never afford to employ for your organisation.
- A shift in thinking: There’s a tendency to accept the status quo when you only talk to your peers. Take the conversation outside its usual context, and you’ll be amazed what you notice. I’ve seen organisations become completely re-invigorated by their CUP work, as if they suddenly feel that anything is possible.
- Additional resources: A co-produced research paper on your specialist area could make a huge difference to your next funding application. The 3D printing facilities in the IT faculty could make it easy for you to produce a scaled prototype of your new product. You’ve generally got no idea what a university can offer until you get talking, but I’ve found it’s usually surprising.
- A willingness to argue without emotion: Sounds weird, but a lot of community projects are driven by people who feel intensely about the cause they support, and any challenge to an idea can be seen as a personal attack. Academics argue because they like to, and there’s nothing personal in it. An idea that’s been thoroughly questioned and examined is likely to be a more successful one ultimately – so a valuable skill to learn.
We’d love to hear about how you feel about CUPs and what encouraged you to take your first steps into this world! So please comment below or see how you can submit a blog idea to the UK Community Partner Network. We look forward to hearing more stories!