The important civic role that a University plays
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a bigger spotlight on the civic role that universities play and the importance of them acting as anchor institutions within the towns, cities and regions they are based.
A university can bring organisations together, drive forward change and make a long-lasting positive impact on local communities, organisations and businesses, and this is what has been happening at Derby.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic during 2020/21, the University’s focus has remained on delivering activity aligned to its three pillars:
- Moulding the next generation of game changers
- Being a force for positive impact
- Opening doors for everyone
A Hat Trick of Social Mobility Awards
The new academic year started on a high when the University won a prestigious national award for its commitment to social mobility.
The UK Social Mobility Awards (SOMOs) were announced via a virtual ceremony in October 2020 and Derby took the ‘University of Year’ title ahead of entries from The Open University, City University of London, Exeter, Lancaster and Worcester universities.
The SOMOs recognise and encourage action that will promote and increase social mobility within Britain’s companies and institutions. They acknowledge best practice and innovation and elevate social mobility as a cause equal to the level of other diversity issues.
Commenting on the accolade, Professor Warren Manning, Provost Innovation and Research, said: “At Derby we firmly believe in the transformational nature of education and are committed to ensuring that everyone receives the high-quality education they deserve. With the impact of coronavirus further widening the gap between the most and least advantaged, it is more important than ever that we continue to break down barriers, support achievement and create opportunities for all across our region and beyond, regardless of age, background or location.”
Recognition for the University’s commitment to social mobility didn’t end there, as shortly after scooping a SOMO, the University picked up a Guardian University Award for Social and Community Impact for its work on the #ThisIsDerby project, a partnership initiative with Derby Theatre, Derby County in the Community Trust and Derby’s Cultural Education Partnership. It was also named Higher Education Higher Education Institution of the Year at the 2020 NEON (National Education Opportunities Network) Awards.
Speaking at the time about the Guardian University award, Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL, Vice-Chancellor, said: “I am delighted that the University has won the Social and Community Impact Award at the Guardian University Awards 2020, our third award supporting our commitment to social mobility in the last two months.
“#ThisIsDerby is a flagship example of how the University’s partnership-building has galvanised the city to work together to improve the lives of thousands of children and young people from the most disadvantaged areas of the city, and it is wonderful to receive national recognition for this important work.”
This is Derby
This is Derby is a unique project delivered by Derby Theatre, owned by the University, and other cultural and sports organisations in the city, including Derby County Community Trust, Cultural Campus: Derby's Cultural Education Partnership and the City's Sports Forum.
Through this exciting collaboration and collective, the project has provided opportunities for young people to take part in high-quality arts, sports and cultural activities across the city with an overall ambition of empowering young people to improve essential life skills.
While originally funded as part of the Derby Opportunity Area programmes, This is Derby continues as a thriving collaboration between organisations who are united to co-create amazing performances and other works with young people in the city.
Gold Ministry of Defence award
The University’s commitment to supporting the Armed Forces Community was recognised by the Ministry of Defence as part of its 2021 Defence Employer Recognition Scheme.
The scheme, which encompasses bronze, silver and gold awards, encourages employers to support defence and inspire others to do the same.
Gold award holders must have signed the Armed Forces Covenant, employ people from the Armed Forces, hold a valid ERS Silver Award and proactively demonstrate their forces-friendly credentials in their recruiting and selection processes.
Commenting on the award, Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL, Vice-Chancellor, said: “I am delighted that the University of Derby has been awarded the Ministry of Defence’s highest badge of honour in recognition of our commitment to the Armed Forces community.
“At Derby, we are keen to attract service leavers as employees, and to encourage them to start new careers, education and training with us, recognising the outstanding transferable skills that veterans bring that can be built on in a second career.”
As part of its commitment to the ERS, Derby has been working to embed and demonstrate support to the Armed Forces across all levels and departments of the organisation. In 2017, the University signed the Armed Forces Covenant and reaffirmed its commitment in 2020.
The University has revised its recruitment process to ensure members of the Armed Forces are recognised when they apply for roles at the University and it supports the ‘Step into Health’ initiative with the University Hospitals of Derby & Burton NHS Foundation Trust, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust, to encourage veterans to consider careers in the NHS.
The voice of Derby’s youth heard through city exhibition
Work created by dozens of young Derby artists took centre stage during the summer as part of an innovative exhibition that took place outside the city’s cathedral.
Involving nearly 300 young people from the city, who created murals, videos and audio installations, the event addresses issues of exclusion and drew on the influence of contemporary issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, mental health, education reform, employment opportunities, bullying, barriers to opportunities and LGBTQ+ rights.
The Derby Voice installation was developed by Designing Dialogue Community Interest Company, the first spin-out company from the University’s School of Arts and part of the University’s nationally-acclaimed S.H.E.D (Social Higher Education Depot) initiative.
Dr Rhiannon Jones, Artistic Researcher at the University, and CEO and Creative Director of S.H.E.D, said: “We were thrilled to be able to stage this fascinating and thought-provoking event for the city. One of the many things that the pandemic has denied us is the chance to hear the voices of young people in our communities, particularly those for whom the isolation of lockdown has added to issues of identity and exclusion.
“This research project responds to the need for creating a space for civic dialogue and social cohesion in relation to justice and protest in the UK. The objective of Derby Voice is to provide a platform to those young people in our city, to showcase their artistic talent and for their views on the issues that matter to them to be heard loud and clear.”
Supporting the community
Immigration Family Reunion Clinic launch
In January, our Derby Law School’s Student Legal Advice Centre launched its Immigration Family Reunion Clinic. Partnering with the British Red Cross and Paragon Law, this clinic has been providing a much-needed service to the community together with valuable work experience for undergraduate and postgraduate law students.
Volunteering during the pandemic
Our Biomedical Science expertise has been pivotal to the set up and successful delivery of University Asymptomatic Testing Centres that have been in operation during the pandemic. Students from across the School of Human Sciences were trained to deliver the testing and have been part of an integral workforce in several Derby-based testing centres.
A number of staff also volunteered as Covid-19 vaccinators and actively encouraged students to do the same, further strengthening our positive contribution to the pandemic and regional recovery.
Civic University Agreement
Work has been underway to develop a Civic University Agreement, which will set out the University’s civic ambitions and how it intends to work closely with key stakeholders from across the city and county to drive forward the local recovery and regeneration of our city and county, and to secure a sustainable and prosperous future.
Working with signatories of the Agreement, we intend to help channel aspirations, support our local communities, share knowledge, enhance the area’s overall offer and vibrancy, and ensure both city and county are in the strongest possible position to capitalise on future opportunities.
The Civic University Agreement is due to be launched in the New Year.