Northern Bridge and Ecologies of Knowledge

Vital North Partnership Manager Rachel Pattinson writes about a recent event at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, discussing different approaches to collaborative working

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books is a strategic partner to the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In May, I joined staff from Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University Belfast,as well as colleagues from Northern Bridge’s strategic partners, for Ecologies of Knowledge, a seminar held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast.

The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’s Dave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”

Newcastle University's Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Newcastle University’s Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.

Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.

But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.

Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.

I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation. It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.

For more information about the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Consortium, visit:

This post originally featured on Rachel’s blog, to find out more about the Vital North Partnership click here. 

Supporting innovation, facilitating engagement – VCSE fund launch

Dr Eve Forrest, ESRC IAA Officer and member of the VCSE Steering Group went along to the VCSE launch, here she tells us more about the event

Last week on a warm and sunny afternoon I popped along to the Courtyard restaurant on Newcastle campus. The room was full of new and existing external partners as well as some staff members who were there to hear more about the new University Innovation and Support programme, listen to presentations about previous and ongoing projects and to gather ideas as to how they could take part in the pilot scheme. The University wishes to strengthen links with local community groups and voluntary sector organisations and have teamed up with the folks at VONNE and Youth Focus North East to run a pilot programme over the summer. The scheme will partner up Newcastle researchers with different organisations that have identified an issue or idea they would like to explore in more detail and are looking to fund a number of projects up to the value of £3000 each. As the title suggests we hope that this will stimulate innovative ideas between external partners and the University, hopefully leading to larger collaborations in the future.

Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Internationalization opened up proceedings by welcoming attendees and highlighting the commitment from the University to supporting the scheme as part of a wide range of engagement activities. There was then a number of short presentations outlining some of the varied collaborations we have already done with VCSE organisations from academic secondments into Wallsend Action for Youth, to working with IBM on delivering the small business mentoring project CAPTURED.

Once the project presentations finished, discussions began and the room began to fill up with animated conversations. Attendees didn’t need any further encouragement to network and with huge enthusiasm shared their ideas with staff and other local organisations.

To help capture some of the discussions there were postcards on all the tables where attendees could write down any initial ideas with a view to perhaps working them up into a larger projects. These were gathered at the end for follow-up when the scheme opens. It was really inspiring to hear about the work of various small, medium and large organisations in the North-East and as a member of the VCSE Steering Group, I am looking forward to hearing about how some of these conversations will grow into concrete ideas and longer term partnerships.

The fund was launched on the 20th July 2017 and will be open until 20th September 2017. For more information on the scheme and our previous partnerships please visit the VCSE pages here.

A year after Jo Cox’s murder, Britain’s need for togetherness is stronger than ever

A year after Jo Cox’s murder, Britain’s need for togetherness is stronger than ever Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University

Hundreds of thousands of people will picnic with their neighbours across the UK to mark the first anniversary of MP Jo Cox’s murder. The Great Get Together has sparked renewed interest in togetherness, reinforced by Cox’s declaration that:

We have more in common than that which divides us.

The event, on June 17 and 18, is happening at a time when families, communities and the nation have been left deeply divided by the EU referendum, the snap general election and uncertainty over the direction of Brexit negotiations. Today, more than ever, Britain needs to foster a new sense of togetherness.

People getting together with friends and neighbours to enjoy a shared meal or street party is not a new phenomenon. Street parties inspired by the non-profit Big Lunch enterprise have attracted at least 600,000 people a year since 2009. In 2012, 8.5m people took part in the Queen’s Big Jubilee Lunch.

Diverse gatherings allow people to share food and traditions with communities from different backgrounds. As the anniversary of Cox’s death falls in the month of Ramadan, many communities plan to hold a Lunar Lunch or Iftar – the shared feast which takes place to break the fast after sunset.

But can annual get-togethers and temporary festivals stimulate enduring shifts towards more collective and co-operative ways of living?

Reconnecting people

Cox was especially driven to highlight the damaging effects of loneliness. Her plans for a cross-party conversation have been posthumously realised through the work of the Jo Cox National Commission on Loneliness.

Loneliness is often caused not by a lack of friends or family but by how disconnected people feel from others around them. Homes in the UK are conventionally designed to emphasise individual private property. This “hyper-individualised” housing makes it difficult for people to get to know their neighbours, at a time when many more people live alone for much of their life, often lonely or isolated.

Street parties and festivals foster a spirit of togetherness, however fleeting, and this matters to community well-being. Shared meals also feature in collective, cooperative living arrangements, such as co-housing. This is a way of living which brings individuals and families together in groups to share common aims and activities while also enjoying their own personal space.

Co-housing communities typically have around 20 to 30 households and may be exclusively for older people or for mixed-age residents. Each household has its own self-contained home but shares in the management of the whole site and a shared “common house”. My own research suggests how co-housing arrangements can offer a pragmatic utopian solution to severed connections between people and the places in which they live and work. There are currently 20 established co-housing projects in the UK, plus another 12 under construction or with land identified. More than 70 nascent groups, of all ages, are currently seeking to develop a variety of schemes.

Key Themes from the Collaboraive Housing ESRC Seminar Series.

Deep bonds

Other on-going research I’m doing is exploring how self-organising groups form and how these communities cultivate deep and enduring relationships.

Jo Cox would have recognised the shared sense of purpose and mutual support among those putting on and attending the Great Get Togethers. She and her family chose to live in a co-housing-inspired cooperative community of residential and recreational historic boats on the Thames, Hermitage Community Moorings (HCM). From the outset, the group’s intention was to create a close-knit community. The practical and emotional benefits of this are evident in the many ways that Cox’s grieving family have been supported by HCM over the past year.

In this way, socially connected communities can provide more effective neighbourly support than conventional streets of houses. They offer social benefits for members and society at large, such as increased well-being, shared know-how, and mutual care.

Sharing and togetherness are popular buzzwords, and care must be taken to weed out superficial cases of sharing in “counterfeit communities” – where yearning for connection can be manipulated for commercial gain. This is evident in commercial blocks of student bed-sits where “togetherness” is sold by access to a cinema, gym and high-speed wi-fi – rather than by shared responsibility for supporting each other.

If they are to thrive for the inclusive benefit of all members, self-organising communities need to nurture skills of mutual understanding that are neglected in competitive “do-it-yourself” societies. Yet, in the run-up to a weekend of community events, we are witnessing promising green shoots of “do-it-together” conviviality.

The best way to honour the hopeful ideals that Jo Cox and her family have come to represent must surely be to build a lasting legacy from The Great Get Together of more socially connected communities.

Helen Jarvis, Reader in Social Geography, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.