April 10, 2014, by Jacqui Storey
The rewards of collaboration
Having worked at the University for 13 years in Community Partnerships and its predecessor Active Communities, I’ve had very many rewarding experiences. These have largely involved students and staff sharing their time and skills with the local community who in return have shared what they know and have to offer. There are too many highlights to recall in a short blog but only last week, in one day, all that is rich, important and just plain uplifting about such collaboration was on show when two projects reached a celebratory conclusion.
The projects are sisters conceived two years apart, born out of a fruitful union between Community Partnerships and Careers. Our first born, IT Community Consultants, and Communicating Nutrition, the baby of the family, have much in common. Firstly they involve real-life problems that are brought to us by local community/voluntary sector organisations – charities, social enterprises, organisations with no paid staff. All have a common purpose in providing services to others, some of whom might be amongst the most disadvantaged members of society.
The next ingredient is committed, motivated students who want to develop new skills that will make them stand out when they come to apply for jobs but also want to make a contribution to their community. “Getting out of the student bubble”, “giving back to the city I now call home” are all familiar reasons cited by students who join our projects. Add a large pinch of staff generously giving their time to offer advice, guidance and specialist support to students and you have a truly unique recipe for success.
This year’s IT Consultants spent eight weeks working with three organisations who were struggling with issues such as ineffective data capture, overly complex systems and outdated hardware. These were all problems that weren’t overly taxing in technical terms but were causing genuine inefficiencies. Staff from Information Services provided technical back-up if needed and offered a welcome safety net for those of us involved who are less well blessed in the technical department. For students, applying their knowledge is only part of the equation as some of the ‘softer’ skills the project develops are equally valuable. Careers provided training in presentation skills, creative problem solving and team working and meetings off-site with clients ensured professional skills were quickly acquired. You can see a video about the project here
Barriers to good nutrition
The Nutrition project supported two organisations this year. One group of students looked at the barriers to good nutrition for people visiting a food bank and uncovered the complexities of eating well on very low income. The second group worked on extending the range of healthy food and drink offerings for a social enterprise working with adults with learning disabilities. Nothing says what it means to be involved better than quoting those who were actually involved. Nigel Adams from Hope Nottingham which runs several food banks described the project as “encouraging, informative and inspiring” whilst student Erin James said it was “A great team work experience and an eye opener to poverty.”
From a personal perspective, as someone whose job is to generate interest from community organisations, I feel privileged to be able to confidently offer projects that include talented students, fantastic staff volunteers and committed and skilled colleagues in Careers.