Civic University Project: We need you!
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
What does a civic university mean to you?
That is the question being posed by UEA’s new Civic University Project – and all residents of East Anglia are welcome to have their say.
“The UEA was founded on civic principles,” says Laura Bowater, associate pro vice-chancellor for innovation. “We are the University of East Anglia – and we have always celebrated our sense of place within the region. It’s in our DNA.
“Being a civic university is about putting the region at the forefront of what we do.”
Universities across the UK are looking to explore their identity as anchor institutions – large, often non-profit organisations that play a defining role in creating and reinforcing local economic ties.
“Anchor institutions have power to affect the quality of life in their region but we need to make sure that power is used effectively,” Laura says. “Universities need to demonstrate their value within society – in the local community as well as internationally.
“We are a publicly-funded institution. So, although we’re here to teach students, we’ve got to be more than that. We feel very connected to our region, and we want people outside the university to feel connected to us, too.”
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An unexpected opportunity to rekindle the sense of civic connection between the university and the community was triggered by the pandemic.
“There aren’t that many positives that have come out of the pandemic,” Laura says. “But one was that lots of people in the region stepped up to help those around them to get through a crisis, which led to new interactions and meaningful relationships with other anchor institutions and local businesses.
“We have expertise within the university that can be transformative in our local communities. We supported the region with Covid sequencing and testing, for example, and by working with businesses to manufacture face masks, hand sanitiser and visors.
“It felt so positive. It’s exactly the direction we want to take. And if we can do it for the pandemic, there must be other things that we can do.”
Fine City Neighbours
Fine City Neighbours is one example of a grassroots project promoting civic values by celebrating the spirit of neighbourliness.
“We put together information to help mutual aid groups support each other during the pandemic in partnership with a huge range of civically-oriented institutions in Norwich,” says Ben Little, lecturer in media and cultural politics. “Across the city, the sense of coming together was great.”
The project was supported by Museum of Norwich, Norfolk Library and Information Service, Voluntary Norfolk, GoodGym Norwich, Get Involved and Norwich Theatre.
Voluntary organisations at UEA are further evidence of civic assets. From the UEA Law Clinic, which provides free legal advice, to the UEA Union of Students’ Headucate project, which supports young people’s mental health, a range of services are providing vital support.
UEA is also a recognised University of Sanctuary – an accreditation awarded to universities demonstrating an ongoing commitment to creating a culture of inclusivity and awareness by welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. This builds on Norwich’s reputation as a community tolerant of those seeking sanctuary, which was established when the city welcomed the Strangers – Protestant refugees who settled in Norwich after fleeing the Catholic Low Countries in the 16th century.
To cultivate this new civic agenda, the UEA’s Civic University Project will run open forum events across East Anglia until January 2023 in which members of the community can express their views.
“The Open Space meetings are designed so that local people can share their voices,” says Katja Taits, administration, events management and marketing assistant. “We want anyone interested in exploring what the UEA could be doing civically in the local community to come along and tell us what they think.”
The first event will take place from 10am to 4pm on November 27 at the King’s Centre in Norwich.
Up to 100 separate conversations will take place throughout the day, which will be recorded, written up and shared with attendees. The aim of the democratic process is to compile these insights into a public charter.
But it is not just individual members of the community who can share their input – UEA also wants to hear from businesses in the region about support they would like to receive from the university.
Further events will be hosted in Ipswich, King’s Lynn and across East Anglia, with the largest event taking place at The Drill House in Great Yarmouth, currently planned for February 19, 2022.
“By the end we’re going to have an encyclopaedia of ideas from across Norfolk and Suffolk,” says Katja. “We will then distil the essence of all those conversations down to just one paragraph explaining what a civic university means to the region.
“It’s an adventure to find out what people want from us as a civic university. So please, come along and surprise us.”
For more information and to sign up to the event, please scan the QR code or contact email@example.com