Case studies

Russell Group universities all undertake projects with their local communities, business and charities.

The York Festival of Ideas 

The York Festival of Ideas was created by the University of York in 2011 and is now one of the largest free festivals of its kind in the UK. The York Festival of Ideas ethos is to educate, entertain and inspire diverse audiences through the delivery of a predominantly free festival.

The University’s leadership of the Festival provides a platform to showcase the diverse culture of York. In 2017, the Festival programme delivered 186 mostly free events in a variety of accessible formats including talks, exhibitions, plays, concerts, tours and workshops, across 53 venues to just over 32,000 people. Festival podcasts generated 13,000 downloads, and the Festival’s launch night, delivered in partnership with BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers’, reached 140,000 listeners over five nights and the Festival website generated nearly 200,000 unique hits.


(Copyright Ian Martindale)

The Festival worked with 96 local and national partners in 2017, making it one of the largest cultural endeavours in York. The innovative ‘programme partnership’ model enables strong collaboration between the University and the city’s cultural, social and business organisations through programming, event management, venue provision and cross marketing. The number of partnerships has grown year on year – from three in 2011 to 96 in 2017.

Partners and sponsors included BBC Radio 3, York Minster, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York Theatre Royal, the Institute of Engineering and Technology, IBM, Instiut Francais, Aviva, Virgin Trains, UPP Foundation, the Holbeck Trust, The British Academy and the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).


Durham University: CATSS Secondary project for young people

This year, two new projects have been established at the University of Durham that help to meet the need of some specific deprived groups in the local community.  CATSS Secondary is a residential camp and day trips for young people referred from Social Services and identified as being at risk, while Wheatley Hill Youth Club provides entertainment for children. CATTS Secondary aims to provide a safe and encouraging environment for young people to develop their confidence, offering a chance for respite and an opportunity to have fun. Students are involved as volunteers, taking the children on two or three day-trips and a residential week away.

Participants recognize the importance of trying to address areas of community need, working with some of the North-East region’s most vulnerable and challenging people. Durham University students give more than 14,000 hours of community support annually. The university has set a target to increase total staff and student volunteering hours to 100,000 a year by 2027.  Every year student volunteers work in local community projects through college initiatives and Student Community Action (SCA) projects.   Students volunteer on a variety of projects including aspiration raising with local schools, environmental concerns, and overseas projects. While working on the projects, students build a variety of skills including team work, project management, campaigning, administration, budgeting and delegation. 


(Courtesy of Durham University) 

Innovation Rooms at Imperial College London

The Invention Rooms, at Imperial College London, will allow members of the community to come together with staff, students, alumni and partners to test out their creative ideas, in a workshop and design studio to share in the excitement of research and innovation. Opening in late 2017, it and will feature a number of distinct ‘zones’. The Reach Out Makerspace will be a workshop and design studio for young people from the local community. The Interaction Zone will be a public events space where local people and College partners can discuss science and connect Imperial’s research through a wide-ranging programme of events and activities. 

There will be meeting rooms, as well as an informal café and outdoor terrace area where members of the community can call in and have a cup of coffee. The Advanced Hackspace is a workshop environment providing access to specialist prototyping and manufacturing. These facilities will include workshop technologies, such as robotics and 3D printing, and a bio-lab, which enables synthetic biology and molecular fabrication. The workshop provides access to specialist prototyping and manufacturing equipment for a 2,000-strong network of inventors and entrepreneurs from the college’s student and staff body. All the activities are completely free to members of the public and designed to engage the community in science.


The Science Shop at Queen’s University Belfast

The Science Shop model has been successfully running at Queen’s University Belfast for the last 30 years. The model involves working with community organisations to help them articulate their research needs as small-scale research projects, which both undergraduate and postgraduate students can do as part of their degree. The Science Shop usually completes around 65 pieces of research annually on behalf of community groups across Northern Ireland, and have over 250 students engaging in research projects each year. This has a triple benefit, building student skills for engaged research, offering small scale pieces of research to universities and enhancing the university’s reputation amongst communities. 

Beyond this it also offers students a chance to see the challenges facing communities across Northern Ireland and to contribute to helping them. The Science Shop students work on many different issues including policy and legal research, architecture and planning, business and management, information technology and environmental issues, as well as a broad range of social issues. Projects have spanned supporting tourism and heritage in Belfast, undertaking environmental conservation and supporting local people directly including young carers.