Lots of people have helped to create the UK Community Partner Network (UKCPN), including the amazing working group who were set up to get things going. We hope that many more people will be involved as it grows. If you want to get a feel for some of the things we’ve done so far, have a look at the information below about how the UKCPN began, and why we believe community-university partnerships are worth exploring.
How the UKCPN began
The seed for the UKCPN was sown by community partner Kim Aumann (Amaze) and academic Angie Hart (University of Brighton). Following their own experience of partnership working, and contact with others doing the same, they noticed a lack of opportunity for community partners to meet, connect and learn from each other. They wondered about the need for a cross UK approach to building and promoting the conditions for truly equitable partnership work to occur. So they approached the NCCPE and together they developed a proposal for funding to progress this idea, to find out whether there was an appetite for a network from other community partners.
With funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Connected Communities Programme (CCP), the first 12 month project set out to explore the potential to mobilise community partners, so that they could identify and develop ways to create mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships. Despite the diversity of engagement work, it discovered a series of concerns shared in common by community partners, lots of exciting good practice and a genuine enthusiasm to connect. With help from a working group of community partners, two public engagement organisations (NCCPE and Cupp, the Community-University Partnership Programme at the University of Brighton) and a group of supportive academics, the project laid the early foundation for a UK wide network.
A second 12 month CCP grant was secured in 2013. This was used to create a space to share community partner learning and experience about the risks and opportunities of joint working, and establish links between community partners at regional and national level.
This early formation work included: two national community partner summits; a website sharing expertise and facilitating connections; producing community partner resources; making national and international connections; linking with North American partners at Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) to learn from their long standing experience supporting community partners; consulting with community partners including a survey and focus groups to inform the development of the network; promoting the importance of the community partner voice at numerous events; and writing journal articles.
Following this, the NCCPE agreed to host the network for its next stage of development. By linking with the NCCPE, infrastructure support has been achieved and the UKCPN is now set to help build our collective capacity, positively influence local university partnership practice and inform Higher Education policy and funding.
What’s so great about Community-University Partnerships (CUPs)?
Members of the network are passionate about the value of community-university partnerships – but we recognise they aren’t the right mechanism for everything! Our stories and resources contain many examples of people grappling with challenges, experimenting, succeeding, failing and learning.
However, even though we may not always achieve the win-win ideal, we are pretty sure that working together with universities can achieve more than we can do alone:
- They harness different expertise
- Generate new understandings
- Provide valuable access to information and resources
- Help us know more about how communities could better tackle important problems
Whilst committed to the value of community-university partnerships, we don’t present a rosy coloured picture, but a pragmatic look at the current reality. Some partnerships are working well, partially working, or not working at all, but the successes and challenges all provide useful insights. That’s why we set up the network – to capture what helps.
There are very few national initiatives here or abroad that support the capacity building or connection of community partners working with universities. In our view, community partners need infrastructure support and real decision making powers if we are to create enduring partnerships for the future. Mobilising a network of community partners can help to make that happen.
We are really interested in hearing your stories about how you make community university partnerships work. Or maybe you have developed resources you could share that could help others on their way. Many in the network are looking to solve tough problems: if we can make the process part of this slightly easier, that has to be a good thing for everyone.