As a group of universities, we are very conscious of our role in contributing not only to the education of our students, but also to the economy, social fabric and cultural offer of the Midlands region.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets out the challenge to address the UK’s low productivity and regional disparities to create growth and improve living standards across the country.
Universities are an essential asset towards achieving this aim – not just in relation to innovation and skills but more broadly to create places that people want to live, work and play in.
We are making contributions which benefit our local communities through our research, support for business, arts and heritage projects and involvement in local educational and social initiatives.
Key projects include:
Launched in Birmingham’s Digbeth area in 2017 by Birmingham City University (BCU), STEAMhouse is a pioneering centre for innovation that encourages small companies, artists and academics, to collaborate on new projects that boost the region’s workforce and support the local economy.
The name STEAMhouse is a reference to mixing arts with the traditional STEM subjects –science, technology, engineering and maths. The project is a collaboration with local arts organisation Eastside Project and brings together traditional science disciplines with arts and innovation.
People accessing the site can make use of a range of high-quality, state-of-the-art equipment for free including 3D printers, virtual reality facilities, laser cutting machinery and printing studios to support innovation and the creation of new businesses.
STEAMhouse has strengthened the relationship between the university and the local business community. Academics and students from the university work with aspiring businesses to collaborate on ideas, produce prototypes and provide funding advice for the creation of businesses conceived in the heart of the city.
Phase two of STEAMhouse will bring about the £60 million regeneration of a historic Birmingham factory to continue the university’s contribution to regenerating the Eastside area of the city.
As well as providing opportunities for people to share skills and collaborate with others in the city, STEAMhouse also aims to create jobs in the region.
The first phase of the initiative has already supported over 200 entrepreneurs who have had the chance to work alongside academic experts to produce business prototypes and collaborate on new ideas.
Set over eight different rooms, each one equipped with its own specialist technology and dedicated technicians, STEAMhouse has also contributed to the creation of many new local businesses.
The MiFriendly Cities project aims to improve migrants’ and refugees’ sense of belonging by offering services including language classes, employment support and the chance to learn new skills across the West Midlands. All activities are aimed at benefiting migrants and the wider community alike.
Officially launched in March 2018, the project is being delivered by an innovative partnership of 11 public, private and voluntary sector organisations: Coventry University, CU Social Enterprise, Coventry City Council, Birmingham City Council, Wolverhampton City Council, Interserve, Migrant Voice, Migration Work, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Central England Law Centre, and the Refugee and Migrant Centre Birmingham and the Black Country.
The project is currently delivering on an engagement plan which includes:
- An employment initiative to engage with employers about hiring from refugee and migrant communities to address skills gaps in the region
- A pop-up furniture factory in Coventry and Wolverhampton to train people to upcycle 500 pieces of furniture and makeover 100 homes for people in need
- The establishment of social enterprises to support employment for the wider community, with a focus on migrants and refugees
- A £70,000 social enterprise fund and £80,000 fund for migrant-led, grassroots community projects
Outcomes (so far)
The project has been in contact with 152 employers with the aim of bringing together businesses in the region and migrant communities. The initiative hopes to reach 2,000 employers over the course of the three-year project.
MiFriendly Cities has trained 33 refugees and migrants in digital fabrication – a type of manufacturing process where a machine is controlled by a computer. Digital fabrication is a key skill for the West Midlands, and the project is seeking to train a total of 250 migrants.
The project has granted funding plus ongoing support to four migrant entrepreneurs to start businesses with a social mission.
The University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group, led by Professor Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness, was the first in the country to focus on people’s sense of their relationship with the natural world, and how this can influence their mental health in a positive way.
By understanding and improving people’s connection to nature, the group aims to bring about benefits in mental wellbeing and pro-conservation behaviours.
- The group has focused on new routes to improving nature connectedness which emphasise the need for a new form of relationship with nature based on its natural beauty. The National Trust adopted the group’s Pathways to Nature Connection research to help better inform their activities with their four million members and 25 million annual visitors
- Working with the RSPB, the group published research which concluded children’s disconnection with nature is a concern for many. The research sets out how to define a ‘connected’ child and establish a meaningful level of nature connectedness
- The group launched a free app across the city called Good Things Derby. The app prompted users to take notice of their surroundings and encouraged them to record the impact these locations had on their wellbeing. The published research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed a clinical significance and positive effect on wellbeing, when the study group made a daily record of the good things in green urban spaces.
The data collected from the Good Things Derby app will be used to inform town planners and developers what kind of green spaces offer the most benefit to people’s wellbeing. Miles Richardson, said the study showed promise that a smartphone-based ‘green prescription’ to connect with nature in urban areas could play a role in delivering mental health and wellbeing.
The University of Derby team and Furthermore, the company which developed the app for the study, are working with walking app Go Jauntly on a new version which could be rolled out in 2020.
The group has helped 100,000 people go wild as part of The Wildlife Trusts’ national 30 Days Wild challenge, aimed at encouraging participants to do something ‘wild’ every day for a month.
As part of the group, Professor Richardson was invited to brief Natural England’s Science Advisory Board in October 2018 on the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which includes a policy on connecting people with the natural environment.
University of Lincoln - Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology and National Centre for Food Manufacturing
The food and drink industry is vital to the Greater Lincolnshire economy with the area being home to almost a quarter of England’s Grade 1 agricultural land. The county produces an eighth of the nation’s food and processes 70% of its fish.
In order to help this sector thrive, the University of Lincoln established the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology and the National Centre for Food Manufacturing.
The Lincoln Institute of Agri-food Technology brings together the University of Lincoln’s expertise in food manufacturing, agri-robotics, agronomy and animal science.
The National Centre for Food Manufacturing in South Lincolnshire serves the UK’s largest concentration of food processing businesses to advance innovation and skills. It has recently been awarded £1m funding from Research England to provide specialist business incubation services for start-up food companies.
- The National Centre for Food Manufacturing is one of twenty University Enterprise Zones (UEZs) – initiatives designed to stimulate the development of small businesses, to encourage them to interact with universities, and to innovate
- Working closely with employers the centre provides training including apprenticeships, higher and degree apprenticeships, foundation degrees and BSc (Hons)
- The centre has attracted over £13 million of funding from industry, Research England and Innovate UK over the last two years
- It has built long-term partnerships with equipment suppliers and their employer organisations including Processing & Packaging Machinery Association and the British Automation & Robotics Association
- The Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology is one of three partners involved in the development of advanced autonomous systems to support the production of soft fruit – the largest project of its kind within the European Union
- The centre has forged strong links with major companies including Microsoft and Siemens. Ishida Europe has invested in advanced equipment at the centre, installing full-scale commercial production lines
- It has been a conduit for shared knowledge between other universities in the East Midlands, through networks such as the New Technology Institute, the Centre for Knowledge Exchange and the Food and Drink iNet
The National Centre for Food Manufacturing has enhanced the skills and qualifications of more than 16,000 people involved in food manufacturing, increasingly providing routes to higher level qualifications for learners.
As well as helping over 1,000 work-based trainers to enable businesses to develop their own training programmes, the centre has also supported the development of more than 1,000 technologists and managers through higher education qualifications.
The centre has supported more than 500 businesses and employers from across the UK with major trials, consultancy and research linked to industry-leading equipment and expertise.
Launched in 2017 by Nottingham Trent University (NTU), Nottingham Civic Exchange (NCE) is an organisation which works with the local community and stakeholders across Nottinghamshire to better understand the common challenges facing ordinary working people.
By bringing the university and the community closer together, NCE uses real-life research and feedback from residents to better inform the university’s civic policy.
Despite headline economic growth over the last decade, NCE wanted to find out why more working families on low and medium incomes have experienced increased vulnerability since the recession of 2008 and what the university can do to help.
To shape its policy and understand these factors in greater detail, NCE launched its first major public research project in 2017, Out of the Ordinary, to find out the concerns and issues facing this sector of society and understand what they need to thrive.
The research completed so far has been to identify who ordinary working families are and what support networks they need to enhance their quality of life.
Key findings from phase one:
- There is an income disparity between Nottinghamshire and Nottingham city – a lower proportion of city residents are able to access better-paid and more highly skilled jobs in the city
- Many households move between living in and just above poverty levels even if they have a member who is employed due to low income and variations in living costs
- Compared to the rest of the UK, a higher proportion of Nottingham residents work in sectors where low pay is more common, such as caring roles and the leisure industry
- Research at a local level shows the areas across Nottingham where the average household income is insufficient to support the purchase of an averagely costed home within the neighbourhood
When understanding the challenges facing ordinary people, the role of paid work is often the most common issue. Following the initial research, NCE launched the next phase last year exploring Economic Insecurity and they have now begun Good Work Nottingham, which aims to delve further into what the university can do to make Nottingham the first Good Work City in the UK and increase prosperity through more sustainable employment opportunities.
NCE will continue to engage with the likes of Cabinet Office, Nottingham City Council Policy Team, Number 10 Policy Team and Nottingham Citizens. It will also organise events across the city to bring together community representatives, public sector bodies and other agencies to further understand the challenges facing ordinary working families and how to tackle them.
As the demand for residential and commercial building increases, so does the demand for skilled construction workers. To help create a workforce fit for the 21st century, the University of Wolverhampton is investing in a brand-new campus which will specialise in architecture and the built environment.
The new supercampus, located on the site of the former Springfield brewery, is part of the University’s Our Vision, Your Opportunity programme. Due for completion in 2020, it will be largest specialist facility in Europe.
The £100 million project will act as a catalyst for economic and social regeneration and will help deliver the technical and professional experts required by the industry.
Bringing industry and education providers together – The Springfield Campus will bring construction businesses from the West Midlands and education providers closer together, to help match the needs of local businesses to the training courses on offer.
By working in partnership with schools and colleges, the campus will deliver a range of courses for people from the age of 14 to senior professionals looking to retrain or upskill.
Centre for research and innovation – The Brownfield Regeneration and Heritage Restoration Centre, which will be located on the 12-acre campus, will become a centre of research and expertise for brownfield regeneration, land remediation, building heritage, conversation and façade retention.
The centre will also share intelligence with stakeholders on a national level to identify, research, and support a demand for the release of brownfield land for house building and commercial development.
“I’m really excited about the new scheme at Springfield. It’s a great scheme, putting money into the local economy, helping us to regenerate the local economy and giving local people the skills they need to get jobs.”
– John Reynolds, Cabinet Member for City Economy, City of Wolverhampton Council
“We’re building 45,000 new houses in the region, requiring construction skills and people from an architecture and design perspective. This project ticks all the boxes.”
– Ninder Johal, Board Member, Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership