The WMG Academy based in one of the University’s closest neighbourhoods, Canley, was an ideal venue for our third Commission Hearing – focusing on the challenges and opportunities in communities and neighbourhoods where the University of Warwick (UoW) has a major physical, student or employee footprint.
Trevor Seeley, Head of Stakeholder Relations for the UoW provided a short presentation to set the scene for the hearing. The presentation looked back at the history of the UoW from when it was founded 50 years ago with a few buildings, 450 students and a handful of staff to the institution it is today with 29 academic departments, more than 50 research centres, 23,500 students and 5,700 staff.
Trevor reflected on some of the issues that the UoW’s growth has presented to its local communities such as traffic; students living off campus and houses in multiple occupation; cycle and pedestrian safety; and parking. Some of the benefits that the UoW has brought were explored such as the employment opportunities; economic impact; support for local schools; training doctors, teachers and social workers, many of whom stay in the region; Warwick Arts Centre; the University’s sports facilities; the open campus; and the extensive work of Warwick Volunteers.
To conclude, Trevor shared some thoughts on the future and what more could be done by the UoW in a variety of areas, such as local schools; community health initiatives; community cohesion; off-campus student accommodation; research with and in the community; support for unemployed young people; different projects for Warwick Volunteers; and the University campus becoming more of a community resource.
Attendees were then invited to present evidence and opinions on priorities and challenges for their communities in the future and the roles and contributions the UoW may make. A variety of attendees shared their views and experiences including representatives from Westwood Heath, Ashow Parish Neighbourhood Plan Group, CPRE Warwickshire Branch and others. Contributions included:
- reflections on how the UoW could improve communications with local residents and carry out more early engagement and consultation in order to involve communities more in developments taking place
- the development of a UoW community forum for local residents where a range of issues and ideas for the future could be explored in a more consistent and regular way
- the impact the UoW has on local housing
- worries surrounding the safety of students especially cyclists
- acknowledgement of some of the excellent volunteering work UoW students carry out in local communities but that the UoW could be more purposeful in its approach to community engagement and activities
- a sense that the UoW and local communities could come together more as a whole to drive positive change in a number of areas impacting the locality
- how UoW should reflect on its two previous masterplans and the positive consultation programmes that were undertaken to ensure local communities are involved in future masterplanning
- the impact of the UoW on local roads and accessibility issues
- opportunities for the UoW and local communities to create neutral shared spaces that could offer common ground for people to meet and consult
Further round table discussion focused on a range of themes some echoing evidence gathered from earlier hearings, including:
- application of some of the knowledge and research developed at the UoW in local communities to address some of the local challenges
- improving communication channels between the UoW and local communities e.g. creating a digital community information hub; developing a community forum; early consultation opportunities…
- improving community access to the campus by opening up facilities more during ‘quieter’ periods e.g. discounted tickets at Warwick Art Centre, summer swimming classes for local children, a community ID card to give easy access to spaces such as the library as well as discounts in cafes and restaurants
- the UoW stepping out beyond the campus into local communities to offer services using community spaces e.g. education classes
- the UoW and local authorities working in partnership on local planning and development
- improving coordination of local outreach activities in order to raise aspirations by setting up a key account management relationship
There were two fundamental things that I took away with me from this hearing. Firstly, it was clear that there are big gaps in awareness locally of the many community initiatives and activities that the UoW leads on. These initiatives have an impact locally for example, academic bursaries for local students from less advantaged backgrounds, mentoring within schools, and community access to sports facilities and these should be communicated more widely. Secondly, there is a real appetite within local communities to work more collaboratively with the UoW to tackle local challenges and develop solutions together and in order for this to happen more structured, consistent communication channels need to be developed.
Jo Thomas, October 2015.
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