A Civic University

Truly Civic - how Derby firmly set out its Civic ambitions

The Civic role that the University of Derby plays has always been important but in 2021/22 this stepped up a gear through the launch of the Civic University Agreement (CUA).

The first part of the year was spent finalising the Agreement and securing the support of 15 signatories from across the city and county - anchor organisations that share similar goals and values, and who all have a valuable role to play within Derby and Derbyshire. Then after months of planning we were delighted to officially launch the CUA at a showcase event held in June in front of stakeholders, staff and students. 

This Agreement marks a step change in how the University approaches its Civic responsibilities and is designed to respond strategically to the challenges and opportunities that people, communities and organisations are facing. With the backing of its signatories we believe the CUA will be a gamechanger for Derby and Derbyshire, and will deliver real, long-term positive impact to many. 

Representatives from signatories of the Civic University Agreement smiling at the launch event
iconCivic University Agreement launched
icon£826,000 ACE funding secured for Make/Shift project
iconLevelling up Impact Report launched
iconHeadline sponsor of Gaia exhibition
iconSchool Kenya trip funded

Civic University Agreement

In June we were thrilled to launch our Civic University Agreement (CUA) which was created following extensive consultation with hundreds of stakeholders from across the city and county.

The CUA clearly articulates the long-term civic ambitions of the University, and how it intends to work with its 15 signatories to drive forward the local recovery and regeneration of Derby and Derbyshire, helping to channel aspirations, support local communities, share knowledge and enhance the area’s overall offer and vibrancy.

It focuses on five core goals, designed to make a positive impact on the people, communities, organisations and businesses within Derby and Derbyshire:

  1. Secure our future
  2. Drive ambition and positive change
  3. Make a positive environmental impact
  4. Support health and wellbeing
  5. Invest in culture as a driver for change

A showcase event, held at the University's Enterprise Centre, gave guests an insight into the civic related projects that are already underway and a sense of what can be achieved when organisations pool expertise, talent and resource. 

The following organisations have committed to working with the University, as signatories, to deliver on the ambition set out within the CUA - a huge thank you to them for their support.

Civic projects

As part of the CUA we are committed to supporting community-based projects, and work hard to secure additional funding to enable us to deliver even greater value and impact to local communities. 


In December 2021 we received the news that a consortium, led by the University, had been awarded a grant of up to £826,000 as part of the Arts Council England Creative People and Places National Portfolio 22-25 programme.

The Make/Shift project is a new programme of cultural activity that will be delivered within the Amber Valley area, genuinely supporting and engaging local people in shaping arts and cultural provisions and addressing themes of importance in the area. 

The project is being delivered by the University, in collaboration with regional partners including Amber Valley Community Voluntary Services, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the Derbyshire Federation of Women's Institutes and Platform Thirty1. It will reflect communities within Amber Valley, their aspirations, the past, present and future of the area, connecting people through diverse arts opportunities linked to wellbeing, nature and recovery and inspiring them to work toward a shared artistic and cultural future.

Levelling up

We welcomed the former Education Secretary Rt Hon Justine Greening to the University in May for the launch of a Levelling Up Impact Report developed in partnership with her.

The report measures the social impact of the University against a set of levelling up measures developed by Greening. The Levelling Up Goals are the UK’s first levelling up framework designed to focus efforts on driving equality of opportunity at key life stages - from early years through to education and employment.

The report highlights a number of areas of best practice where the University is leading the way in spreading opportunity. These include:

Commenting on the report, Justine Greening said:

“As anchor institutions, universities have a key role to play in levelling up and spreading opportunities. As we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and during the current cost of living crisis, there has never been a more important time for individual organisations to articulate their purpose and how they are having measurable social impact.

"The University of Derby, under the leadership of Professor Kathryn Mitchell, has shown its commitment to equality of opportunity through this report. There are some brilliant examples of the wide and varied role that a university can play - from outreach into schools through the Progress to Success project to support of local businesses through its Invest to Grow Programme. This report should be shared widely and act as a catalyst for others wanting to make a difference."

City Masterplan

In February, the vision for how the University intends to develop its city centre footprint and improve connectivity between its site was launched.

The City Masterplan, devised in conjunction with Matthew Montague Architects, focuses on the development of the area around One Friar Gate Square, Ford Street, Bridge Street, Agard Street and Nuns Street, in Derby.

It aligns with the University’s aspirations to develop further as a Civic institution with an increased city centre presence and enhanced connectivity across the University’s estate, delivered through the creation of greener and more connected routes from the city out to Markeaton Park, and the University’s sites at Markeaton Street and Kedleston Road.

The overall ambition is to create two distinct but linked areas in the city: an Academic Zone, centred around the University’s current Sir Peter Hilton Court site, and an Enterprise Zone, based around the Princess Alice Court halls of residence and Enterprise Centre area.

The Masterplan supports the University’s ongoing commitment and contribution to the inclusive and regenerative growth of Derby city and its surrounding area, encouraging enterprise and innovation collaboration with businesses and expert academics.

Protest S.H.E.D

In August, Dr Rhiannon Jones, Associate Professor (Civic) and Creative Director and company founder of Designing Dialogue CIC (S.H.E.D) collaborated with the National Justice Museum in Nottingham on Protest S.H.E.D - creating a space for young people to talk about their opinions and hopes on justice and protest, which would then shape future work at the museum. 

Commenting on the project, Dr Jones said: “Working in partnership with the National Justice Museum we have created a unique space for conversations with people about justice, the law and protest. These conversations are both urgent and necessary; for the future care of our planet and for society."

As part of the project a programme of free events were put in place for people to attend, including panel discussions and creative sessions.

The SHED logo and artwork displayed as part of Protest S.H.E.D at National Justice Museum in Nottingham

Community sponsorship

Each year the University provides financial and in-kind support to a variety of individuals and organisations and this year has been no different. We are pleased to be able to support valuable projects in this way and are delighted at the impact they make. 

Gaia exhibition

In June the University committed to being the headline sponsor for 'Gaia', a stunning artwork installation that was due to be on display at Derby Cathedral.

‘Gaia’, which in Greek mythology means the personification of the Earth, has been created by UK artist Luke Jerram whose previous artwork ‘Museum of the Moon’ came to Derby Cathedral in 2019.

‘Gaia’ has been enjoyed by millions of people across the world from the USA to Dubai as well as a series of special appearances including at last year’s COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

Measuring seven metres in diameter and created from 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface, ‘Gaia’ provides the opportunity to see the planet in its entirety as it slowly revolves above the nave in Derby Cathedral, accompanied by a surround-sound composition by BAFTA award winning composer Dan Jones.

Commenting at the time of the announcement, Professor Keith McLay, Provost – Learning and Teaching at the University, said: “We are delighted to be a headline sponsor of ‘Gaia’ at Derby Cathedral and look forward to the sensational artwork coming to our city.

“As a Civic institution, the University of Derby is pleased to further strengthen its existing partnership with the Cathedral, working together to provide the city with cultural opportunities to enjoy.

“We are excited to see the exhibition in Derby and hope members of the public make the most of the fantastic opportunity to attend and see the work for themselves.”  

School Kenya trip

During the summer we provided sponsorship to enable local teachers from Alvaston Infant and Nursery School to visit Africa to learn about different educational approaches. Our donation paid for one of three of the school’s teachers to visit Chaddy Mission School, based in the rural slums of Nakuru, Kenya, with the aim of developing their understanding of global approaches to teaching and learning, sharing their own strategies to promote learning with Kenyan staff, and educating pupils in Derby about what life is like for others living in Africa.

Commenting on the importance of the trip Dr Sarah Charles, Head of the Institute of Education at the University of Derby, said: “As a longstanding and valued partner of our Primary ITE provision, I am delighted that we were able to sponsor this important visit to Kenya.

"I believe that this visit has had reciprocal benefits for all the stakeholders involved. For both the Kenyan and British teachers, it facilitated a deeper understanding of global perspectives of education. For the children, it proved an invaluable opportunity to develop cultural awareness, helping young learners to see that difference is natural and should be celebrated – a belief which underpins our own ITE provision."

The teachers also produced and published YouTube videos showcasing their experience in Kenya.

Alvaston Infant and Nursery School teachers with kids from Africa
Alvaston Infant and Nursery school teachers Lisa Doherty, James Heesom and Molly Allen (from left to right) at the Chaddy Mission School in Kenya

Blue Plaque unveiling

A Blue Plaque was unveiled at the University’s Chesterfield campus to commemorate the building and its significance as a prominent former girl’s school in the area.

The plaque was unveiled at the Grade II listed building, St Helena, formerly Chesterfield Girls High School, by Dr Maureen Strelley, a former pupil and Bolsover GP, at an event hosted in collaboration with the Chesterfield Civic Society in March.

The building was originally designed by G.H. Widdows, one of the outstanding school architects of his day and was his first major project for the county council. Opened as a new secondary school in 1911 by the Duchess of Devonshire, the school provided transformative education for many pupils, before it closed in 1991.

In 2016, the University fully transformed the building, which is now regarded as a centre of excellence for health, providing some of the best teaching facilities in the UK for nursing courses.

Philip Riden, Chairman of Chesterfield Civic Society, said: “It is fantastic that this wonderful building, which provided life changing opportunities for so many young people, has been recognised with a Blue Plaque."