Civic Impact

Our role as a Civic University

As the only University in Derby and Derbyshire we have a vital role to play in supporting our communities and do this in many ways.

Our academics work in collaboration with community initiatives which reach out to people across both the city and county, providing opportunities to demonstrate their creativity or simply to give them a forum to discuss the issues that matter to them, and our students and staff give thousands of hours of their time to volunteer with a range of organisations, who are working with some of the most vulnerable residents.

We also have Derby Theatre, the UK's only University-owned professional producing and learning theatre, here in our city centre.

But during the 2019/20 academic year, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic highlighted just how much our expertise and resources can benefit local people and services in a time of crisis too.

icon23,560 items of PPE donated to local hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic
icon1,400 students working in schools, hospitals and with local police forces
icon14,200 hours of voluntary service given by students
iconExcellence in Arts Education Award Winner at UK Theatre Awards 2019
iconEngaging with 7,500 local young people to raise aspirations to progress to HE
icon4,000 local people engaged by the S.H.E.D. initiative

Coronavirus response

The University's response to the coronavirus pandemic was to understand how it could help those who were leading the fight in our hospitals and then draw on both the expertise and time of University staff and students to help meet that need.

Equipment donations

More than 200 of our nursing students were engaged in supporting staff in hospital wards, but the University also donated thousands of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) that were held in stock for students at the Colleges of Life and Natural Sciences and Health and Social Care.

Our teams of technicians gathered together gloves, aprons, surgical masks and many other items which were suitable for use in medical settings and delivered them to the Chesterfield Royal and the Royal Derby hospitals.

The donations were followed by the loan of scanning and x-ray equipment to the hospitals, to help ease the pressure on resources while Covid-19 patients required x-rays to monitor the impact of the virus on their respiratory system.

The University also loaned 25 iPads to patients at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital to enable them to communicate with their families, who were unable to visit due to Covid-19 restrictions on access to hospital wards.

Research and innovation

Researchers at our Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering worked with the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust to adapt designs for protective visors for nursing staff. Local businesses were also involved in the assembly and distribution of the visors.

The University actively assisted a self-testing programme led by Imperial College London, REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-2). The project looked at the ability of key workers to self-test for the virus, possibly paving the way for the wider public to be able to carry out similar testing.

NHS England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England commissioned the University to provide a free online NHS 111 Covid-19 Clinical Assessment Service course for pharmacists who were to be drafted in to assist the 111 service by advising patients who required a phone consultation from a clinician.

The impact of lockdown on the wellbeing and mental health of the UK population was a prominent issue as the weeks passed. Researchers from the University of Derby and the University of Nottingham began to collaborate on the UK's first academic study of just how acutely the effects of self-isolation and working from home were being felt.


Online learning was clearly something many people turned to during lockdown, as enrolments for Derby's range of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), free short and accessible programmes, reached 3,000 per week during the first two months of the lockdown.

Read more about our response to the pandemic.

SHED project - community engagement initiative

Social mobility and widening access

The University's commitment to social mobility and widening access to higher education is at the heart of its values.

During the 2019/20 academic year, our Widening Access and Schools and College Liaison Teams engaged more than 7,500 young people from 67 Derby and Derbyshire schools and colleges, supporting them to realise their ambitions and progress to higher education.

More than 6,200 applications for university places were made by students at the key schools and colleges our staff work with, an increase of 8.4 per cent on the previous year.

In addition, 2,830 young people participated in our Progress to Success programme, a progressive, sustained outreach programme. The University provides activities to pupils from areas of disadvantage across the city and county, ranging from experience days, mindfulness sessions and summer schools, as well as working with 'hard-to-reach groups' such as looked-after children and cohorts of learners who require additional support.

Two-thirds of that cohort were from widening participation backgrounds and almost a quarter were eligible for free school meals.

Read more information about our Widening Access work and what our Schools and Colleges Liaison Team does.

Derby Theatre

Derby Theatre is the UK's only University-owned professional producing and learning theatre. Open to the public, it is located in the city centre and stages popular productions throughout the year.

It also provides a vehicle for research and collaboration with the local community, linking artistic and cultural initiatives with social outcomes which have a positive impact on the city and beyond.

Recent research projects involving the theatre include the award-winning #ThisIsDerby project, a city-wide approach to providing sports and arts to young people in areas of deprivation and of low cultural engagement, with young people's voices at its heart.

The #ThisIsDerby project continued with the ReImagine initiative, alongside the Derby County in the Community Trust and the Derby Cultural Campus.

Its work led the theatre to be named the winner of the Excellence in Arts Education Award at the UK Theatre Awards 2019, and more recently the Guardian University Award for Social and Community Impact.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown affected the entire performing acts sector, but Derby Theatre was quick to respond, eager to continue its work with young people in care, schools and communities across the city.

Theatre staff delivered weekly food parcels and activity packs to young care leavers who were cut off from services, and provided cooking lessons.

A book club was set up to discuss a novel that the Theatre aimed to turn into a play in 2021, and work with schools, digitally and in person, continued for children of key workers and those who were eligible for free school meals.

The DT@Home service was developed, new online content - and retrospectives of previous live performances - were created for audiences, many of whom donated the price of their tickets they had paid for to watch live performances prior to the lockdown, rather than request refunds. Workshops and activities for families were also included in the Theatre's digital output during lockdown.

Contracts for artists and theatre makers were honoured, and 'Mega Zoom' events arranged for freelancers to keep them connected and informed. There were wellbeing sessions for performers and writers, and the Theatre also linked up with other cultural venues in the city, including QUAD, Deda and Sinfonia Viva to share content.

As the first lockdown period eased at the end of August 2020, the Theatre announced the Derby Rises series of performance and workshops, developed in conjunction with the Derby Creative Arts Network.

Find out more about Derby Theatre.

Community volunteering

Our students recorded almost 3,200 hours of volunteering in charities based in Derby and Derbyshire through the Futures Award.

Local charities that students spent their time volunteering with included:

Examples of roles students volunteered for in local charities included teachers, mentors, befrienders, advisors, social media monitors, museum, gallery and night bus volunteers.

Case studies

Kelly Rawson returned to education in September 2018 to study Youth Work and Community Development at the University. Passionate about improving young people's life chances, she initially volunteered with Safe and Sound after researching the charity's work to support children and young people across Derbyshire who are victims of, or at risk of, exploitation.

She was successful in securing the charity's first youth work placement and, since completing this, has continued to be a volunteer youth worker.

Reflecting on her experience, Kelly said: "I have learnt so much from my colleagues, but equally they have given me the respect, space and support to develop new activities and resources that prove the value of youth work on the work that we do by establishing voluntary working relationships built on trust."

Kelly said that the equal respect she had been shown by the Safe and Sound team and the offer of a part-time job with the charity alongside her final year at University was "testament to the value that (Safe and Sound CEO) Tracy Harrison and her team give to those who volunteer and prove their worth."

I've learnt so much from my colleagues, but equally they have given me the respect, space and support to develop new activities and resources that prove the value of youth work on the work that we do by establishing voluntary working relationships built on.

Kelly Rawson
Student Volunteer of the Year

Nigel Duffus is a Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health student at the University, who volunteered with Steps for the Future every Thursday in Derby and in the summer break.

Nigel, who won the 'Student Employability Award' at the 2019 Employability Awards Celebration, worked with other volunteers at Steps for the Future to lead a group of adults in aerobic dance routines, and supported the charity's health and wellbeing workshops.

Nigel, who also supports training and helps with the general upkeep of the city's museums, summarises volunteering as "a great way to improve your transferrable skills, contribute something of value to the community and expand your network of connections with current employers".

A great way to improve your transferrable skills, contribute something of value to the community and expand your network of connections with current employers.

Nigel Duffus
Volunteer and Student Employability Award Winner

Find out more about the volunteering opportunities we offer to our students and local organisations.

Supporting public services

Each year, as part of their training, hundreds of students embark on placements to learn what it is like to work in their chosen career.

It is part of the real-world experience we aim to offer our students, enabling them to be ready for the workplace once they graduate.

At the same time, the students are providing support in schools, hospitals and even our police forces.

During 2019/20, a total of 528 students within our Institute of Education taught local schoolchildren and supported staff in 147 schools in Derby and Derbyshire.

More than 800 students worked in 452 different hospital wards, units and other care settings across our region.

In addition, 34 policing students served as special constables in Derbyshire, amassing 11,000 hours of voluntary service to the public. A further 43 either served as special constables or took up placements with the force in neighbouring Nottinghamshire.

The team I’m with have been so welcoming. We get to attend a variety of incidents and I learn so much. They’re a fantastic support network for me and I am really grateful for their help and guidance while I study.

Abi Crouch
Professional Policing student and Special Constable

Community engagement

Community engagement is carried out in range of forms, but one of the University's highest profile engagement projects has been the S.H.E.D. initiative.

S.H.E.D. (Social Higher Education Depot) was launched in 2019 with the aim of creating a reconfigurable, pop-up space which would encourage people to be creative and to talk about issues affecting their community.

The research project has seen a real shed tour the city's local communities, visiting schools and other locations to provide a venue for a range of activities, including live music, a soup kitchen, a forum for discussion and even a Santa's grotto.

Since its launch, S.H.E.D. has engaged with more than 4,000 people, including 1,300 schoolchildren and teachers, and has been used by more than 180 independent and community artists.

It even earned a nomination for the prestigious 'Shed of the Year' competition.

The project developed from research into how spaces can be used for dialogue, and how people interact with those places and with one another.

Project leader Dr Rhiannon Jones, a post-doctoral researcher for the Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre (DMARC) at the University, explained: "The attraction of S.H.E.D has been its simplicity, its familiarity and its versatility. The communities who have used it have transformed it into a space for the activities that help them to engage in conversation, and art has been a great way of achieving that.

"It has also been a place to present opportunities for artistic activity and social engagement in hard-to-reach communities, and for engaging children and young people, and disengaged groups generally, to take part in research and consultations."

S.H.E.D.also became the University's first Community Interest Company (CIC), making it a not-for-profit organisation with a social, rather than economic, purpose.

Dr Jones added: "Becoming a CIC allows us to strengthen our partnerships with communities, individuals and organisations. It sends out a clear statement that our intention for S.H.E.D. is to have a real positive civic impact by engaging with even more people and delivering an even wider range of activities which help improve community engagement and social mobility. That is also a key strategic aim the project shares with the University of Derby."

Find out more about S.H.E.D.


Watch and find out how an academic research project using a humble wooden S.H.E.D. has proved a brilliant way of engaging local communities.

S.H.E.D video

View SHED Video video transcript