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Working with educational institutions

A story from St Peter’s and the Moors Big Local

June 2015

David Manohar is a resident in St Peter’s and the Moors Big Local area and a member of the Big Local partnership. He also works at the University of Gloucestershire. David presented at our Big Local spring event in Bristol in April to tell us about how their Big Local partnership is working with its local primary school and university to benefit the residents, the area, the children, the school, the students and the university. Other Big Local areas may be able to do similar things with schools, universities, further education colleges and other educational settings to everyone’s benefit - if they are not doing so already!

‘Good neighbours’ is one of the themes of the St Peter’s and the Moors Big Local area in Gloucestershire. The Big Local partnership sees local institutions, including the local primary school and the University of Gloucestershire which has a campus in the area, as an important part of this theme and its overall Big Local work. The shared view is that the people of the area and the educational institutions in the area are assets to each other. To reflect this, the local primary school was invited to design the area’s Big Local logo, which it successfully did by organising a design competition for its pupils.

When a local child discovered that David works at the university, they expressed their wish to study there, which pleased David very much. However, David is aware that many people locally don’t feel confident to approach the university and despite people saying that they wanted to visit the university campus, they never have. So, David set about improving links between the university and the area by contacting a senior person in the university, who responded positively.

Through a series of meetings which included senior university staff, the local borough council and the Big Local rep, bridges were gradually built. This all led to a picnic at the university for the residents which was a great success and was a key step in the process of building stronger links between residents and the university. In time and with some more negotiations, there is an idea of converting an old pavilion on the university campus into a community facility. There is the possibility of a collaborative project between the university, local residents and a local rugby club to create a club house.

The Big Local partnership is now able to make use of various university facilities and has taken up many offers of support from the institution, including local research projects. The university has adopted Big Local into four of its course modules involving landscape architecture, geography, sociology and youth work. The university has a strong desire to be an active part of the area and is committed to community development. This involves staff and students engaging with the area and local residents as well as the university developing its contribution to adult and community learning. 

Lots of the university students live in the Big Local area. Although they are passing through while they complete their studies, many of the students wish to contribute something and make links with the area and the other people who live there. To this end, as part of their studies, university students have made links with the primary school and the community café. They have also walked around the area to talk with residents and others to find out about local hopes and aspirations, the community’s needs and other projects going on. As part of their university work the landscape architecture students did research with local residents, collecting views, producing special maps of the area and creating action plans. The geography students looked into the green spaces and natural assets of the area, researching residents’ views on the river and its surroundings, doing chemical tests and then making a poster to share the residents’ views on the river and their recommendations. Likewise the youth work students mapped community assets and services in the Big Local area and made recommendations around future improvements. The sociology students also talked with local people and are particularly interested in seeing how local peoples’ views do and don’t affect decision-making. 

The Big Local partnership wants to continue working closely with the university for the next ten years and more. University interns and student volunteers will play a growing role in this and the university has very good arrangements around volunteering. There is a shared wish to bring in more university courses which engage local people, including history, arts and sports courses. Local demand for a community and sports centre is also being looked into.

David said that the number of activities, plans and possible projects was too long to list. However, some of these ideas for the future include community café sessions where students and residents can get to know each other, an exciting community orchard project involving traditional varieties of Gloucestershire apples, and primary school workshops where students get to understand the children’s experiences, views and opinions on local life, including mapping local spaces, places and people of importance to them. 

For more information please see the St Peter’s and the Moors Big Local website or e-mail the partnership at sptmbiglocal@gmail.com

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