Our Civic Commitment

The University of Derby recognises the important role it has to play in supporting the city and county’s ongoing prosperity and wellbeing. Harry Worgan writes about recent examples of how the University has supported its local communities.

University scoops top awards for social mobility

In 2020, the University scooped three major awards for its commitment to social mobility.

Derby won the Guardian University Award 2020 for Social and Community Impact for its work on the #ThisIsDerby project, an initiative which aims to brings cultural education and events to the city’s young people to develop their ‘Essential Life Skills’, including confidence, communication and teamwork.

The project, which began in 2018, is a partner initiative with Derby Theatre, Derby County in the Community Trust and Derby’s Cultural Education Partnership.

The Social and Community Impact Award is given in recognition of a programme that has engaged with communities, at a local, national or global level, and implemented changes that have had a lasting impact.

This notable achievement came after the University won both the Higher Education Institution of the Year at the NEON Awards and University of the Year at the UK Social Mobility Awards. Both of those awards recognised the University’s continued efforts to open the doors to opportunity and enable those wanting to go to university to do so, regardless of background.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “I am delighted that the University has won these accolades, three awards supporting our commitment to social mobility.

#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.”

Providing legal support for refugees

A new immigration family reunion clinic has been set up by the University's Student Legal Advice Centre to help provide advice and assistance to refugees.

The Clinic, partnering with the British Red Cross and Paragon Law, has been launched to provide refugees who want to make an application to bring their families to the UK with help and support.

The Clinic is offering free help and support to refugees in the community who may not have the funds to seek legal help and whose cases are not covered by legal aid. Students from the University have been meeting with, and taking instructions from, clients, enabling them to gain real-world learning experience. Paragon Law then assesses whether the client would benefit from specialist legal advice as well as helping them complete applications for ‘Exceptional Case Funding’.

A headshot image of Kaye Howells, Senior Lecturer in Law and Student Legal Advice Centre Lead

The operation of the Centre not only provides invaluable real-world experience for the students who volunteer, but, importantly, the service we provide aligns with the University of Derby’s civic commitment.

Kaye Howells
Senior Lecturer in Law and Centre Lead

Kaye Howells, Senior Lecturer in Law and Centre Lead at the University, said: “The Student Legal Advice Centre was opened to the public in February 2019. Initially, the Centre provided advice and assistance predominantly in respect of family law matters. More recently, we have launched the Immigration Family Reunion Clinic, partnering with the British Red Cross and Paragon Law to enable us to deliver this service to the public. 

“The operation of the Centre not only provides invaluable real-world experience for the students who volunteer, but, importantly, the service we provide aligns with the University of Derby’s civic commitment. 

“The provision of free legal advice and assistance to the community is invaluable. With the significant reduction in the availability of legal aid, it can be increasingly difficult from a financial perspective for some people to access legal advice and assistance. The Student Legal Advice Centre aims to make the service available to those who are unable to afford legal advice and assistance, and to bridge a gap towards helping people have access to justice.”

Supporting the Chesterfield community

Since 2019, the University and Derbyshire Voluntary Action have been working together on ‘Community Chesterfield’, a National Lottery-funded project to strengthen the health and social care sector in Chesterfield.

The initiative includes providing training for community organisations, providing a free venue for community sessions at the University’s St Helena Campus in Chesterfield, staff and student volunteering, as well as student placements in the community.

During the coronavirus pandemic, academics from across a range of disciplines at the University have used their expertise and provided free virtual training sessions on home working, mental health at work, and productivity tips to charities and voluntary organisations in Chesterfield.

The University has also been supporting through research activity. For example, counselling charity Relate called for research into the role that the voluntary sector plays in mental health services. From this request, academic Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology, has been working on a research paper into the topic.

Students have also been involved in completing research for organisations, working on real-life briefs. Criminology students have been carrying out research for Rethink Mental Illness and ScamWatch into the effectiveness and reach of their campaigns.

During Covid-19, Community Chesterfield has linked ‘experts by experience’ – people with lived experiences from the Chesterfield community – with students at the University, delivering virtual sessions to students to share their insights.

Claire Carter, Business Relationship Manager and Senior Lecturer at the University, said: “The University staff and students have been working with Community Chesterfield to reach out and support our community in Chesterfield. The voluntary and charity sector are assisting us by providing great opportunities for our staff and students, showing that when we come together and have conversations to address local problems it can be mutually beneficial.”

Community Chesterfield Project Manager Charlotte Repton added: “Community Chesterfield allows Derbyshire Voluntary Action to meet its charitable purpose of delivering activities which strengthen the health and wellbeing related voluntary sector in Derbyshire, not only by addressing skills and resource gaps in voluntary and charity sector organisations, but by ensuring that future healthcare professionals have an increased knowledge of the voluntary sector in their future careers.”

Men’s rugby team send letters to care home residents during the pandemic

Over the Christmas period, members of the University’s Men’s Rugby Team wrote letters to residents in local care homes to help combat loneliness during the pandemic.

Two members of the team, Josh Cant who writes emails to his nan on a weekly basis, and Scott Backler, who worked in a care home before joining the University, came up with the idea. The team, which has raised over £7,500 for various charities over the past year, decided to write letters to help ‘give back’ to the community in a different way.

President of the University of Derby's Men's Rugby Team Josh Cant holding the letters that were sent to care homes
Josh, Chairman of the Men’s Rugby Team, shows the letters ready to send to residents in local care homes.

Given the Covid-19 restrictions, care homes were unable to allow visitors over the Christmas period, which meant many residents received little contact, so the letters aimed to provide some comfort to people.  

Josh, Chairman of the Men’s Rugby Team, said: “Due to the lockdown restrictions, many of the rugby team have struggled with keeping occupied, not being able to see each other and missing that social interaction we are so used to at university.

“While acknowledging this challenging time, we also understand there are many people in worse positions than us and felt that if we could send letters to make one day brighter for these residents, then time spent writing the letters would be well worth it. While writing these letters the feedback from the team was amazing. They loved sharing their stories and found it to be a great way of doing something different that everyone enjoyed.”