Connected Communities at Staffordshire University

Introduction

Connected Communities is Staffordshire University’s approach to civic and community engagement that makes a positive difference to our place. Sitting within the Connecting Communities pillar of Staffordshire University’s strategic plan, it specifically focuses on animating our city and regional connections for the economic and social benefit of our place. Connected Communities has a clear mission and vision and sets out a road map towards developing a Civic University Agreement that will be a main driver for our civic impact in the future.

Mission

Through Connected Communities, Staffordshire University aims to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire a great place to live, work and study.

Connected Communities will establish and galvanise partnerships between Staffordshire University and the local community that will improve, empower and inspire communities to work towards the continued improvement of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Through Connected Communities we will work together with community, civic and industry partners to:

  • help local businesses adapt to technological change
  • support the development of higher-level skills in industry
  • improve the health, wellbeing and quality of life of local people
  • improve access to quality education for school pupils and adult learners
  • develop new community and civic leaders in every field of public life

Connected Communities is built on three operational pillars: Co-creation, Community Giving, and Place Shaping, demonstrating our commitment to working in partnership with others, sharing our resources and benefiting our place.  The vision is informed by the voice of our key stakeholders though our Staffs CAN, resulting in an annual programme of civic activities, teaching and research that is responsive to local need, aspirational for our place and impactful for our communities.

Staffs Civic Advisory Network (CAN)

Connected Communities is fuelled by our commitment to co-creation, and is driven by the proposed Civic Advisory Network (CAN), which includes the voice of our key community and civic partners: students, staff, members of the public, community organisations, alumni, and civic and industry partners. Our approach will be collaborative, and evidence based, and while our activities will have a significant impact locally, learning from our approach will inform civic engagement practice across the globe.

Recent Posts

Get Talking Hardship: a participatory action research project exploring the realities of hardship

“Hardship is when you have to be all excited with your kids about going round for Grandma’s for tea but really it’s because you can’t afford to feed them.”

Stoke-on-Trent is the 14th most deprived city in England in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation with many areas of the city among the top 10% most deprived in the country (City of Stoke on Trent, 2018) and 33% of children are considered as living in poverty (Child Poverty Action Group, 2018).  Over a third of its population over over-indebted (Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire, 2019). 

Between January and July 2019, Staffordshire University were asked to conduct research into hardship and poverty in the city on behalf of the Hardship Commission, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. In order to reach people who are often overlooked in research, we adopted a participatory action research approach, training and supporting 43 community researchers to take an active role in the research process, interviewing participants, analysing findings and making recommendations for action.

The Get Talking Hardship Report outlines the causes and effects of hardship and poverty and makes recommendations for action. We found the causes of poverty include both push and pull factors. Push factors include insecure incomes and zero hours contracts, increased cost of living and threat of redundancy.  The welfare system was also problematic for many, especially the need for access to technology to claim Universal Credit, delays in payments and benefit cuts and freezes. Housing and local spending decisions were also identified as contributing to hardship and poverty. Stereotyping and stigma were also seen as contributing to hardship, as well being an impact of hardship and poverty.  

Pull factors included ill health, both physical and mental, and unexpected household problems such as death of a partner, divorce or even unexpected cost of repairs or replacement of household goods. 

The effects of hardship and poverty on individuals included having to make difficult choices, getting into debt and difficulty accessing services.  Within communities hardship and poverty have reduced the amount of group activities available which has had a negative impact on ‘community spirit’ in some areas.  Equally, poor physical health and mental ill health are identified as an effect of hardship and poverty, demonstrating that health problems can be a cause and effect of hardship.  

The Get Talking Hardship Report identifies actions for change.  There are no simple solutions.  However, the report identifies that collaborative working across agencies and a culture change to account for the multi-factorial and multi-impact nature of hardship are needed.  The report includes recommendations which include the continued need to work with people experiencing hardship and poverty to better understand and address the issue.  

The value of this research lies in the participatory approach adopted.  Working with a team of community researchers has been invaluable in reaching people in hardship and poverty and challenging assumptions often made about people in hardship and poverty. The Hardship Commission have committed to working with the community researcher team to embed their learning into their priorities over the next 5 years. 

The full report can be found here: Get Talking Hardship Report 

To find out more about this research and the Get Talking approach to participatory action research please email Nic on n.gratton@staffs.ac.uk 

 

References 

Child Poverty Action Group (2018). Poverty in Your Area. Retrieved from: www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/poverty-in-your-area-2018/

City of Stoke on Trent (2015). Areas of Deprivation Stoke on Trent Joint Strategic Needs Assessment. Retrieved from: http://webapps.stoke.gov.uk/JSNA/JSNA.aspx?ID=177

Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire (2019) Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire Business Development Plan 2019 – 2025. 

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