Yesterday I was asked to present an example of my public engagement work to a small group of academics and third sector workers to demonstrate how university and community partnership working can create impact. From my list of recent activities I chose the work #DMUlocal did with Professor Jo Richardson, a housing researcher, from the Faculty of Business and Law, to try to measure the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and thought I should share it here.
I felt it was a good example of how De Montfort University (DMU) had worked with a leading charity and other agencies to capture the true scale of homelessness in Leicester and how best to tackle it – and its impact led to almost 40 people off the streets and into accommodation.
I haven’t been to India for a couple of years, I think it’s fairly well known I don’t like flying and despite my love of De Montfort University’s Square Mile India programme, the food and the politics of the country, I cannot face an 11-hour journey including an internal flight to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. That said, my trips to India have impacted my life, I have seen extreme poverty, people living under questionable religious order (the caste system), beautiful colours, interesting faces and millions of people enjoying another level of spirituality I could not reach no matter how much drink and drugs I consumed on a journey to truly find myself. I can live with the fact I’m not George Harrison but it certainly feels like India does effect people in a way visits to other countries do not. Sure you can see poverty in London, New York, Berlin, and the bottom of your street, but few comeback from a holiday and say ‘that was truly life-changing’. Yet people who come back from India do, so much so it’s becoming something of a cliche. When the brilliant folks in ADH at DMU said they wanted to a research exhibition about India in The Gallery, I thought this was my chance to lance my boil and actually investigate whether students volunteering in India was truly life-changing or just a cliché. I am in the process of writing a paper on this, but as the exhibition closed last week I wanted to share the story so far and I’m happy for an academic collaboration to get the paper into shape for a future journal submission. I also created a podcast with Chris, Kainaath and Lucy from one of the focus groups that you can hear here:
Heading home from a night spent at the Times Higher Awards with a banging headache and a huge feeling of disappointment probably isn’t the best time to update this blog, but it might help me get a few things off my chest. Naturally being shortlisted for a national accolade and not walking away the prize is a bit deflating. Even though the judges thought we weren’t number one, I thought I could share some insight into De Montfort University’s work in Leicester Prison, so at least I’ve told you how good it is. Since I am trying to theme my blog posts around UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 – let me point out that work in prisons forms an important part of the targets. The UN indicators recognise that poor prison conditions and prison overcrowding point towards systemic deficiencies in justice systems. Reforming the penal system and prisons is high priority across the world, as well as access to justice. These areas include a lack of access to legal aid, alternatives to imprisonment, youth crime prevention programmes, offenders’ rehabilitation; social reintegration measures, as well as the overuse of pre-trial detention. The programme at Leicester Prison very much focused on offenders’ rehabilitation and social reintegration. The idea was, and continues to be, that by working with staff and the men inside the prison, the university might be able to influence a different path to reoffending upon release.
Using waste ground coffee to grow mushrooms, create a make-do-and-mend culture and find ways to stimulate a ‘sharing economy’ were at least three ideas for a ‘Smart City’ I didn’t see coming. They were given to me at Leicester’s first Proaction Café at the LCB Deport. I was asked to host a table at the event and seek a solution to my challenge – in my case consulting people on what does Leicester as a Smart City mean to you? It is part of what hopefully be a series of Proaction Café’s in the city led by Leicester Interchange. Billed as ‘Idea Generation’, the event invited people to come to support others to generate ideas on how they can address social issues that affect the lives of Leicester’s residents. Around 30 people joined the session and they were invited to choose which subject they would like to contribute to from the five table hosts at the event.
Most people don’t know what a ‘Smart City’ is, and let’s face it why would they care? Even the most simplified definition, like this one, taken from Wikipedia, would switch off any man or woman in the street quicker than a dodgy smartphone battery: “A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IoT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.” If you haven’t already blown your own brains out and get the gist of it, you soon realise that this stuff is much bigger than us, so probably wont engage with it. To quote The Smiths: “It says nothing to me about my life…” I met with my colleague Dr Lee Hadlington who sits with me and on the De Montfort University Smart City Project Board to work out how we can get people more involved in the idea, as we work on a plan to see how Leicester could be a Smart City*.
I was recently with a delegation of De Montfort University (DMU) students researching Berlin’s response to the huge influx of Syrian people to the city – so that we can reinvigorate a programme to help refugees and asylum seekers in Leicester, United Kingdom. During my time in the German capital I recorded the following podcast with two DMU students, Nabs and Ruth, who were interviewed with ex-Syrian refugee, now architecture student, Manar.
In a gloomy, dank school gymnasium in a backstreet of Berlin I got a tiny insight into what life is like for the displaced people of Syria who find themselves trying to settle in Germany. One sports hall in the complex was turned into a makeshift community centre for children and families. Adjacent to this was the living area for up to 150 families who have come to Germany in search of a better life. In my role as Head of Public Engagement at De Montfort University, I was with a delegation of (DMU) students researching the city’s response to the huge influx of Syrian people – so they can reinvigorate a programme to help refugees and asylum seekers in Leicester,