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Working in the Community

"Community-university partnerships can be of mutual benefit to the partners that engage in them. These partnerships come about through exciting two way exchanges of knowledge, experience and skills between university staff and community partners. Whilst there are challenges to overcome, getting involved in work that is of benefit to local communities is often stimulating and rewarding. For many university staff it is a welcome complement to their day to day university focused life."

NCCPE website, April 2018

This toolkit will provide you with a starting point for working within the settings that audiences feel comfortable and safe in, helping to increase the reach and significance of those taking part in your public engagement activities. For more information, please visit the NCCPE website and download their guide.

The toolkit will cover:

"Top Tips" for working with communities

Who are the "local community"?

Who should I be talking to?

Where are the best places to work with local people?

The public engagement team are happy to talk through any ideas on how you might work more closely with local communities. We can signpost you to colleagues in the Community Engagement Team who may also be able to assist. If you would like support from the team please contact us.

Top tips for working with local communities
  • Be clear on what budget and timescales you are working to, what you expect from the public and what you will be producing - this helps to manage expectations
  • Be willing to listen to what the community wants you to do in return - the project has to benefit both parties to work successfully
  • Don't expect to get everything for free - communities have been hit hard by Government cuts and need income to keep their services running so include these costs in your grant. It also shows that you value the input from the community
  • Stay in touch - regularly maintaining contact with communities helps to build strong relationships - even if you don't have much to tell people respond to emails promptly or visit the groups for a cup of tea just to be friendly
  • Don't expect too much too soon - communities have been burnt by universities before so plan events and activities that are realistic and effective, and then look to increase public involvement - it takes time for communities to build trust
  • Maximise your efforts by "tagging on" to existing events and activities within the community - there's already a lot happening which you can have a stall or activity at which will have been organised and promoted locally on your behalf e.g. local fetes or festivals, national campaigns e.g. world book day or mental health week, regular meetings such as the WI or Cafe Scientifique etc. You can find a list of local events at Visit Coventry and Warwickshire or Warwickshire Whats On, and the PE Team/

Talk to the PE team if you’re considering getting involved in local events. It’s really helpful for us to keep an overview of the amazing things our staff are up to and it helps us match together staff with similar interests.

Who are the "local community"?

The word community is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”

Therefore, the use of the word community in public engagement can still seem as daunting as the word “Public”, as you still need to consider who you audience is.Your audience will depend on your research outcomes as well as what you hope to achieve for your own skills and confidence. Audiences can be focused around three key drivers; dissemination, consultation or collaboration.You can read more about understanding your target audience by downloading the NCCPE guide.

Examples of the local community include (and not limited to):

  • Voluntary sector organisations – charities or social enterprises
  • Less abled people – physical, mental or emotional
  • Geographical communities of residents
  • Young people – play groups, youth groups
  • Older people- Retired, semi-retired, care homes, retirement complexes
  • Support groups
  • Skills or learning – University of the 3rd Age, WI,
  • Music and theatre groups
  • Environmental groups
  • Health groups
  • Religious groups
  • Arts and crafts groups
  • Food - breakfast or lunch clubs, festivals, markets or fayres
  • Cultural or ethnic
  • Heritage
  • Families
  • Businesses
  • Educational
  • Councillors, MPs and other policy makers

Usually people join these groups for various reasons, but usually they fall in to these common groups:

  • People who have a shared interest or experience and need support, or wish to share their knowledge
  • People who want to experience or learn something new
  • People who want to reduce their social isolation or keep themselves busy
  • People who want to make a difference by “giving something back”
Public engagement is two-way, and mutually beneficial, so the reasons why people will get involved in your research need to be reflected in the deisgn of your activity, and ethical approval may be needed.

These groups are great audiences to target as they are already engaged with a particular subject and have a reason to get involved in projects. Engagement projects with co-design or production embedded will enable a greater investment from the public and will be more likely to get successful results.

Who should I be talking to?

As with all engagement activities, you want to find the right people to support your research and related public activities and events, and the best starting point is usually the creator, organiser or manager of a group or centre. Sometimes there may be a committee member who is in charge of social calendars or invitations to meetings who is the "gate-keeper" or trusted person.

Taking time to directly communicate with the group will help you to understand why the group was created, who the members are, and how you might be able to both benefit from getting involved in your activities.

Attending one or two of their meetings will help to get a feel of how the group runs and how formal it is, which will help guide your approach to disseminating and gathering information.

For example, a local community centre manager might suggest that it would work better to chat to a group of elderly people at a local coffee morning rather than organising a specific evening session and delivering a lengthy small print PowerPoint presentation.

Where are the best places to work with people?

The best public input comes from an environment where people feel safe and supported to speak freely about their views and experiences. Therefore, you may want to consider the following places where people already meet to discuss their interests, or resolve their issues.

Community Centres

These are fantastic places that are central hubs of activity. You can usually find most activities taking place at a community centre including:

  • fitness and dance
  • social groups for older people
  • disability groups
  • family support - health visitors, play and pre-school groups, baby development activities
  • arts and crafts
  • youth groups
  • illness-specific support
  • fundraisers and more.

A lot of community centres provide cafe facilities, which are great places to chat to local people, so they are a great place to start in a geographical area.


Faith Centres

People of certain faiths will use their religious buildings as a central hub, and the faith leaders are usually more than happy to welcome people in to talk to their members in a respectful way. Making links to religious or cultural centres can allow access to some of the "hard to reach" audiences that do not conventionally go to more obvious social places.

  • Churches
  • Temples
  • Mosques
  • Synagogues

Libraries have diversified over the years to offer more than just books!

Libraries are now more community focused, and have started to organise various different activities including story and rhyme time for families, cafes, venue hire, books on prescription (shelf help), music events and more!

Due to central funding cuts some libraries are now owned and run by the community, but generally the local authority website for a geographical area can still provide all the information on where libraries are, and how to contact them.

Coventry libraries

Warwickshire libraries

Some of the Warwickshire libraries also host the council's "one stop shops" where local people can go to access council services, the police, or other community based organisaitons.

Local Infrastructure Organisations (LIOs)

These are organisations which oversee the support for the local charity sector organisations, and usually have a bank of knowledge around the local groups and key contacts within an area. They may offer their services for free or at a charge, depending on their own funding circumstances. Most counties have their own LIOs, but on our doorstep we have:

Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action (WCAVA)

Voluntary Action Coventry

Healthcare Organisations

If your research is linked to improving health and wellbeing, you may want to consider holding some public engagement activities in:

  • hospitals - in- and out-patients
  • GP surgeries
  • clinics
  • care homes, or
  • hospices
  • Community based support groups or charities

These are not only places for those who are being cared for, but also places offering support for carers, family and friends who have valuable insight to health conditions and the service of care.

They are also places of work for clinicians, managers and practitioners who can get involved in your research and help shape changes to policy and practice.

Parks, Open Spaces and Gardens

"It is estimated that each year well over half the UK population – some 33 million people – make more than 2.5 billion visits to urban green spaces alone" taken from The Value of Public Space - How high quality parks and public spaces create economic, social and environmental value, CABE Space report

This large number of people use parks, open spaces and gardens for a number of different reasons, and usually stay for long periods of time, stopping at local visitor centres or cafes situated within said areas. Parks and open spaces can also host local fetes, concerts, health walks and other exercise groups, which are all fsntastic opportuniites for engaging with people who may have an interest in your research.

Coventry Parks and Open Spaces

Warwickshire Country Parks