Comm-UNI -ty: A Community University for Study and Action on Power and Participation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Social and International Studies

Abstract

This project aims to develop a Community University (Comm-UNI-ty), where knowledge exchange is embedded in a horizontal working relationship between academics and community activists to co-design and co-deliver a curriculum around power and participation. The project builds on an AHRC Connecting Communities funded Scoping Review on 'Power in Community'. The Scoping Review combined a review of literature on power and power in communities with 'Power Talks' in eight communities across the north of England. The academic literature revealed that the idea of power as based on the domination of the 'other' has been effectively challenged by other understandings of power, which stress, for instance, non dominating forms, eg. power with or power to. The 'Power Talks' revealed that community residents engaged in change processes (community activists) practice that other kind of power. At least amongst the eight participant groups, power was defined as about cooperating, sharing, enabling and listening. Participants spoke of not wanting the 'power of the powerful' and being keen to hand power on if they managed to win positions of power. In rejecting dominating power, many activists found, however, that their capacity to influence the 'powerful' and bring about effective change was limited. A research proposition emerged from the study: to what extent can non dominating power be effective without reproducing dominating power? In our feedback of the Scoping Study to 'power talk' participants, we discussed how this proposition could be explored more deeply. The idea emerged of building a Community University (shortened by one participant to Comm-Uni-ty). The Community University would be a departure from traditional University outreach, partnership and engagement. It would take the idea of 'University' into communities and build a space where academic knowledge could be exchanged with experiential and practical knowledge, without privileging one over the other. It seeks to bring knowledge production and social action together through this knowledge exchange process and through continuous systematised learning (visual and/or written field diaries) which would enable participating students themselves to assess the impact of the Comm-Uni-ty over a year through their efforts to bring about change. Thus, the pathway to impact would be tracked as an integral part of the knowledge exchange design, and participants would produce the evidence of impact themselves through their peer and academic assessed Comm-Uni-ty assignments. This proposal was itself constructed through a participatory process with 24 potential participants from a varied range of socially diverse grass roots community activists, many of whom have had no connection with formal education and who were deeply sceptical towards mainstream politics. We learnt through this process that the curriculum and activities must be taylored carefully for non academic users with busy and complex lives.Thus, the proposed activities included creative approaches to applying social scientific knowledge and aims to experiment with pedagogy and methodology. Through our civil society partner (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and our co-applicant ( Salford University) we are looking to the potential replicability of this approach in other Northern cities. Our final celebratory and impact event will aim to showcase to state and statutory bodies how with appropriate support and co-design, grassroots community participants can themselves deliver change responsibly and productively. In this way, the project will seek to overcome the disconnect between state and society and foster enhanced participation in politics and change at the local level where evidence suggests most people are interested in acting but this potential for participation remains mostly unrealised in practice.

Planned Impact

This project will firstly benefit community groups and individual activists in the inner cities of Bradford and Sheffield. The project aims to enhance the understanding and practice amongst these community participants of power and social change processes. By making social science knowledge accessible, by giving value to existing non academic and experiential knowledges of participants , by involving participants in all aspects of the design and ongoing impact assessment (supported by the Impact Advisor), and by ensuring that the delivery of the programme is fun and creative, we will have laid the groundwork for strong ownership and receptiveness. We envisage that individual participants will gain intellectual tools that they would not otherwise have access to, and which will enable them to build participatory processes in their communities through a better understanding of how dominating forms of power often inhibit such processes. The programme of activities includes one to one support to each participant from an academic to complete assignments which they decide are of value to their everyday community action. In addition, they will be able to articulate their own experiences in the evening sessions and residentials, and the final Celebration and Impact event will capture their 'Stories of Change' through work with Playback Theatre, experienced facilitators in creative drama and storytelling. We also expect that this process will strengthen the community groups that individual participants are part of and encourage them to widen and deepen participation in their neighbourhoods. This will contribute to overcoming the gap between people and politics and demonstrate how local participation (which many value in principle) can be meaningful in practice. The project is also an opportunity for networking across diverse community groups, fostering interactions which are often difficult in the inner city, particularly in Bradford.

The project will strengthen the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's understanding of participation in inner city and deprived communities. They have their own programme in Bradford, but they also have a national profile. Through the JRF's communication and media expertise, the project will be able to access national media and other outlets. A briefing paper will be specially written for the JRF on the outcome of the project which they will disseminate and promote. Other national voluntary sector organisations with an interest in participation and who already have connections with the ICPS/PPC will be invited to the final Celebration and Impact event, and we hope in this way to impact on their own understanding of participation and change. This includes organisations which are close to the government's communities agenda, such as the Centre for Social Justice and Locality. We hope in this way to impact on this agenda (eg Big Society).

We aim to influence local Bradford and Sheffield Council officers and members of local statutory bodies, taking on board criticisms of the Hansard Society (2012) that these need to become open to new ways of engaging communities. They will be invited to our final event, and have access to the JRF briefing paper.

Academically, this project will generate an academic article on Participation and Power in the Inner City for an academic journal, such as Urban Studies. This will analyse issues around local politics and engagement which arise in the course of a year's knowledge exchange with inner city activists. Secondly, we will aim to demonstrate a new way of developing University-Community Engagement. We will share this through the social networking space for Brighton University's Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP). Through our ongoing relationship with Salford University, we will be exploring whether the idea of a Community University could be replicated bringing innovation in University Community Engagement in deindustrialised northern towns.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This knowledge exchange project generated a wealth of insights into the challenges and potentialities of a more horizontal approach to learning for and from change. Over the course of a year, academics from Bradford University worked with local community activists in Bradford to develop a way of bringing academic and experiential knowledge together for mutual learning around acting in the community. For some, we found, this involves building a community garden and focussing on the very local or neighbourhood. For others, it is about big issues such as Palestine, inequality and power. A strong bond developed amongst participants, with genuine personal life changes. A Final Event brought community organising practitioners from all over the country and Comm-Uni-ty participants together to share experiences of new forms of neighbourhood organising and to hear the feedback from Comm-Uni-ty in a creative presention supported by the University's Theatre in the Mill.

The book on Mass Intellectuality and the Democratisation of Higher Education came out in 2017 and contained the chapter on the Bradford process. This chapter has been used to disseminate the findings from the research to other academics. For instance, two meetings have been held in Manchester , sponsored by the University of Edgehill 14P research group and organised by the PI on this project, which has brought academics together nationally to debate how we can engage with communities outside the University.
Exploitation Route There are two pathways to more impact. Academically, there is a need to influence the debate on how higher education can engage with communities in ways which support new forms of knowledge production contextually relevant to local change agendas, particularly in contexts of disadvantage. The Community University demonstrated the challenges as well as potentialities of co-producing knowledge with these communities, so that experience is complimented by systematic academic knowledge and vice versa. A group of academics interested in a range of ideas around what is called 'mass intellectuality' planning an edited book. With respect to the community, participants in the Community University have continued to meet at intervals, in a Thinkspace, organised by the Programme for a Peaceful City at the University of Bradford. This enables academic and university participants to co-reflect on issues facing the District of Bradford and to build on the relationships of trust built together during the Community University. A very detailed, analytical report has been submitted to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the partner-funder in this initiative, with the aim of generating debate within this important NGO working around issues of poverty and community. The key issue is how universities and community activists might exchange knowledges in a mutually respectful way that could enable more sustainable approaches to addressing not only poverty, but also alienation and withdrawal from political participation. This award and a previous AHRC award on Power in Community, have been the basis for my development of a collaboration with Salford City Council to build a Learning City. I also received alongside two other previous AHRC award holders, a small grant to feed our research into the idea of the Learning City. This was in 2017.

Since 2017, the Salford Learning City has become a reality, and it now has a Steering Group which has brought together key actors from across the city. This has started to meet monthly now and is planning various activities aimed at engaging community organisations in reflecting on their contribution to learning processes in the city, formal and non formal. The process is encouraging the formal institutions of education in the City to reach out to the City's communities and encourage people of Salford who do not always feel they belong in institutions of higher education to change that mindset. At the same time, the community groups are beginning to frame their activities around contributions to learning. This process has enabled connections in the City to be made which local groups, with the aim of developing a Community University for Salford.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Our Impact Adviser recorded individual impacts which have potential to lead to wider societal engagement amongst Comm-Uni-ty participants: "It's given me a lot of confidence, it's surprising and delightful to feel I do have the confidence to say what I want to say - I stood up and spoke at a national conference for the first time ever, I was incensed - it's about having the passion - you can do anything. The course said 'you can do lots of things, you can have an impact'"; "I spoke at the neighbourhood forum; a year ago I wouldn't have done it" ;'Belonging' - understanding that we are not alone, that we are not outsiders, that we can be part of something collective". At our Final Event, we engaged with many national organisations involved in community organising. Varied approaches to connecting communities and building community capacity to impact on public affairs are being explored in the UK by political parties, trade unions and organisations such as Citizens UK. We linked up with these to share the role new approaches to knowledge production might play. Through our role as learning advisers to Locality's Community Organising Programme, and through a Keynote lecture to ARVAC (Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector), we have fed through the experience of Comm-Uni-ty to the community sector, and will continue to do so. Our co-researcher from Salford (now Middlesex) continues to develop pathways to new forms of accredited learning, building on his collaboration with Comm-Uni-ty and we will work with him where possible. Thus, our main impacts on society are through the enhanced sense of confidence and protagonism amongst the participants in the Comm-Uni-ty collective, and through feeding in our experience of knowledge exchange to the emergent national approaches to community organising and change. Since funding ended for this project in April 2014, we have continued working with the community participants through the CommUnity Thinkspace. The idea of a Thinkspace had already been developed as part of the Programme for a Peaceful City (PPC), whose Programme Officer played an important role in CommUnity as community university liaison with they Bradford participants. She also played an important role in providing oversight of the process components of CommUnity, ensuring that they are in tune with the needs and aspirations of the varied participants. Since funding ended for CommUnity, the Thinkspace has been used to sustain and build momentum from the project. This was given impetus by the award of £5.000 from JRF, the co-funding civil society partner for CommUnity. The aim of this small pot was to enable CommUnity to continue to develop activities, but the use of this money was agreed by all participants of the CommUnity Thinkspace, including those who had participated previously in the Thinkspace but not CommUnity. The link between the Thinkspace and CommUnity was that they are both knowledge exchange spaces where ideas about power, change and activism are shared. There is no obvious distinction between academics/University staff and non University staff. Themes and processes are agreed collectively. The impact of the Thinkspace is how it builds horizontal connections amongst people concerned with making change, whether they be in the university of the community. We have tried to assess this through questions to participants in CommUnity Thinkspace who were also part of CommUnity. These were put to participants at a CommUnity Thinkspace meeting on 16.03.2015: Has being involved in the original Comm-UNI-ty programme had any personal impact on you and if so how? E.g. since the main funded programme ended (main programme = residential, evening discussions, creative weekend & final event). 1.Enthusiastic about local involvement - has helped me maintain an active involvement in my local community group. Also considering & learning more about national/international activism. 2.Yes. Provided me with fresh ways of thinking and presenting my ideas without as much apprehension as previously. 3.I have been more aware of what I can do and steps I can take to achieve things and to organise. Listening to other people and what they are interested in has given me ideas as to what can be achieved by a group of individuals. 4.The programme liberated me to be myself but more importantly to understand who myself is. My confidence has increased which has enabled me to take on a more active role in the various projects I am involved with. Has involvement in the main Comm-UNI-ty Programme contributed to any local projects/actions/ideas you are involved with and if so how? 1. Also in discussion (though not in place as of yet) in going on the Board of another community organisation. We have developed further projects in our immediate location around re-claiming/making good use of waste land. 2.Ideas - flashmob for feeding people suffering from food poverty in town to encourage more action on poverty. 3.It has given me more tools, ideas and information which I can further pursue my projects and created an opportunity to verify and reflect on my own actions and impact it might have on others. 4.I am chair of Bradford PSC since October and have involved myself in team building and coordinating campaign actions. I have continued with my involvement with the Bradford Congo Campaign in a facilitation, support role. The group has had a response from the current affairs editor of the Observer who is coming to Bradford to meet with them this week and is interested in all the main objectives of the group including going to Ituri and writing a series if articles. I have taken on an advocacy role with the refugee women's group and followed through with some successful actions. I do feel more able to use the skills I have and recognise in which situations I can use those skills. I no longer feel responsible for more than I can cope with. The following question was put to all CommUnity Thinkspace members (i.e. those who were part of the CommUnity project and those who have only attended the Thinkspace: What have you valued about the CommUNIty Thinkspace so far? 1.It is a welcome window in my busy work/home life to discuss important issues and ideas. It has informed me on a mixture of local, national and global issues. It has also brought a social element through meeting people at other events. 2.New ideas. New ways of thinking about things that concern me. Discussing things/talking about them with a group of interested individuals. 3.We have good conversations and lots of opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other. We have the opportunity to information share and invite people to visit the campaigns or projects we are involved with. 4.**Networking and meeting like minded people. Updates on stuff happening that are related to my line of work. Joint working and knowing who to contact when. 5.The opportunity to meet and connect with other activists in Bradford, to share ideas and reflections on power, change and activism in an informal, social way. It feels very democratic and non-hierarchical. 6.Listening to people who care about the world. Space made for dreams and confusion. 7. It is keeping me connected with people from the course who I admire and have learnt much from. Kept me informed about events. I have attended a lot more lectures at the university I continue to learn and to be enthused. I loved the zine session, the inspiring film and the last session on democracy. SALFORD LEARNING CITY This project led me to being a process of building a Learning City with Salford Council in 2016. The Learning City now has a formal steering group, and has been formally adopted by Salford City Council under their Children and Adult Services Directorate. The building of the partnership around turning Salford into a City dedicated to enhancing learning possibilities for all its citizens, and building knowledge exchange between academics and Salford communities has now entered a formal stage. It builds directly from this original grant and the ideas which infused it. In addition, the PI of that grant is now working with local organisations in Broughton and Irlam and Cadishead to develop a funding bid for a campus for a Salford Community University. While the projects emerging from this work are in the process of being built, there is an impact already in the way Salford University, Salford College, Salford CVS and the Lowry have been brought together with Salford City Council to co-construct a new approach to learning in the city, where citizens feel they can learn throughout their life and that they are capable of further study in the University and the College.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Salford's Learning City
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Connecting Communities Catalyst Fund
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 10/2017
 
Description FOSTERING COMMUNITY LED LEARNING 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This was an AHRC follow up grant under Connecting Communities. It enabled three researchers who had previously received AHRC funding under Connecting Communities to come together to exchange experiences, and to collaborate on taking the research forward.The researchers came together to develop their case studies and to discuss whether their research had common threads that could enable them to further conceptualize the challenges of generating change in low income communities that may feel excluded from decision-making processes. The authors also sought to reconcile two separate ongoing conversations with Salford Council. One is focused on reframing a civic understanding of 'creativity' and 'culture' building on insights from a recent research project in the area. The other is interested in framing Salford as a 'Learning City' to articulate a range of community cultural, educational and other processes, including the potential formation of a 'Community University'. A third strand drew insight from a research project on the Salford-Manchester borders looking at the grounded experiences of organisers and visitors to a well-respected local community centre. My contribution was to bring my AHRC funded Bradford's Community University (and previously, Power in Community) to the table and see how the collaboration would help in my efforts to bring these ideas to Salford in the form of a Learning City. I participated in the workshop, in a visit to a community project in Cheetham Hill and in the drafting of a Working Paper:Community-led learning cities:A collaborative explorationBy Luciana Lang, Jenny Pearce, Jessica Symons
Collaborator Contribution My partners from Manchester University brought their experience of working creatively with communities in Salford and Manchester to my experiences of Bradford. We were able to compare methodologies, share learning, visit a community process together and write a Working Paper which will help with my efforts to build a Learning City in Salford.
Impact The written outcome is the Working Paper:Community-led learning cities:A collaborative exploration .Luciana Lang, Jenny Pearce, Jessica Symons . This was the condition of the small AHRC grant we received. The work on building a Learning City in Salford continues and I am still in touch with both partners to support this work.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Salford's Learning City 
Organisation Salford City College (SCC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My role in this is to bring the ideas of the Community University in Bradford to Salford. I participate in regular meetings with the working group we have set up, and I also am getting to know Salford city and groups interested in the idea of 'learning' as a lifelong activity. In addition to the partners above , Salford Community and Voluntary Sector have joined the Learning City Steering Group which meets monthly.
Collaborator Contribution The 'Learning City' has been adopted as part of Salford City Council's portfolio of activities, located in the Children and Adult Services Directorate. All the partners are now developing ideas and pilot projects. The University of Salford is planning to provide student volunteers to help with the outreach work. Salford Council is allocating a website , at present there is a temporary one on the Partners in Salford page, the URL is below. I am meeting with community groups in Broughton and Irlam and Cadishead to plan a funding bid for the Campuses for the Community University. We have also involved the University of Edgehill and hosted discussions on knowledge exchange processes that will feed into the Learning City.
Impact We now have agreed shared principles as a working group. We have extended the partnership and now have regular monthly meetings. An operational working group is being formed and this will develop the website so that it becomes an active site for sharing practices linked to new forms of learning in the city amongst community groups.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salford's Learning City 
Organisation Salford City Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My role in this is to bring the ideas of the Community University in Bradford to Salford. I participate in regular meetings with the working group we have set up, and I also am getting to know Salford city and groups interested in the idea of 'learning' as a lifelong activity. In addition to the partners above , Salford Community and Voluntary Sector have joined the Learning City Steering Group which meets monthly.
Collaborator Contribution The 'Learning City' has been adopted as part of Salford City Council's portfolio of activities, located in the Children and Adult Services Directorate. All the partners are now developing ideas and pilot projects. The University of Salford is planning to provide student volunteers to help with the outreach work. Salford Council is allocating a website , at present there is a temporary one on the Partners in Salford page, the URL is below. I am meeting with community groups in Broughton and Irlam and Cadishead to plan a funding bid for the Campuses for the Community University. We have also involved the University of Edgehill and hosted discussions on knowledge exchange processes that will feed into the Learning City.
Impact We now have agreed shared principles as a working group. We have extended the partnership and now have regular monthly meetings. An operational working group is being formed and this will develop the website so that it becomes an active site for sharing practices linked to new forms of learning in the city amongst community groups.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salford's Learning City 
Organisation The Lowry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution My role in this is to bring the ideas of the Community University in Bradford to Salford. I participate in regular meetings with the working group we have set up, and I also am getting to know Salford city and groups interested in the idea of 'learning' as a lifelong activity. In addition to the partners above , Salford Community and Voluntary Sector have joined the Learning City Steering Group which meets monthly.
Collaborator Contribution The 'Learning City' has been adopted as part of Salford City Council's portfolio of activities, located in the Children and Adult Services Directorate. All the partners are now developing ideas and pilot projects. The University of Salford is planning to provide student volunteers to help with the outreach work. Salford Council is allocating a website , at present there is a temporary one on the Partners in Salford page, the URL is below. I am meeting with community groups in Broughton and Irlam and Cadishead to plan a funding bid for the Campuses for the Community University. We have also involved the University of Edgehill and hosted discussions on knowledge exchange processes that will feed into the Learning City.
Impact We now have agreed shared principles as a working group. We have extended the partnership and now have regular monthly meetings. An operational working group is being formed and this will develop the website so that it becomes an active site for sharing practices linked to new forms of learning in the city amongst community groups.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Salford's Learning City 
Organisation University of Salford
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My role in this is to bring the ideas of the Community University in Bradford to Salford. I participate in regular meetings with the working group we have set up, and I also am getting to know Salford city and groups interested in the idea of 'learning' as a lifelong activity. In addition to the partners above , Salford Community and Voluntary Sector have joined the Learning City Steering Group which meets monthly.
Collaborator Contribution The 'Learning City' has been adopted as part of Salford City Council's portfolio of activities, located in the Children and Adult Services Directorate. All the partners are now developing ideas and pilot projects. The University of Salford is planning to provide student volunteers to help with the outreach work. Salford Council is allocating a website , at present there is a temporary one on the Partners in Salford page, the URL is below. I am meeting with community groups in Broughton and Irlam and Cadishead to plan a funding bid for the Campuses for the Community University. We have also involved the University of Edgehill and hosted discussions on knowledge exchange processes that will feed into the Learning City.
Impact We now have agreed shared principles as a working group. We have extended the partnership and now have regular monthly meetings. An operational working group is being formed and this will develop the website so that it becomes an active site for sharing practices linked to new forms of learning in the city amongst community groups.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Learning City: Building a Community University in Salford 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact For the last six months, I have been working with Salford Council to develop a framework for fostering ongoing skills and learning development with communities in which the idea of the Community University would form a part. We have a Learning City/Community University Working Group, composed of Salford's Mayoral Adviser,, two Councillors and the Assistant Director of Public Health/Children Nursing who has a particular interest in new approaches to learning in the community. It is early stages, but in the course of this year we will be building broader connections with Salford University and Community Organisations, exploring the potential of a second experiment in building a Community University to the Bradford one.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017