The event was held at Sheffield’s Event Central, a venue that is itself an example of university-led place-making in action. The building, which was once an abandoned retail unit in the heart of Sheffield city centre, is being converted into a multi-purpose cultural venue for the community, following a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield City Council.
Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, chaired the event. In his opening remarks, he said,
“To recognise the contribution of arts and humanities, not simply for themselves and the value that they provide, but for the practical role that they can offer in our communities is really important.
“The arts and humanities are uniquely placed to meet the challenges of placemaking in the UK, because researchers have the knowledge and skillset to engage with communities and to work with them in celebrating their heritage and culture.”
The event featured presentations from a range of research initiatives with a place-based focus.
These included Roots and Futures, a Sheffield-based heritage project that is consulting with underserved communities in the city and embedding their voices into local heritage policies and practice. Saltaire: people, heritage & place is using digital technologies and outreach programmes to engage communities and young people from across Bradford in Saltaire World Heritage Site. Haunt Manchester, a trail-blazing public-facing project from Manchester Metropolitan University, is invigorating tourism and cultural activity in the city by promoting the city’s gothic heritage. Finally, Cross-pollination, an Open University-led initiative, is providing the tools and mechanisms to empower people to collaborate on local cross-community projects.
The event provided an important insight into the role that the arts and humanities are playing in developing local economies, building community connections and creating opportunities for local people.
In February, SAS and the AHRC hosted another event at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff that brought together researchers, community leaders and policymakers interested in research that benefits communities.
Researchers from across Wales, and beyond, spoke about the community impacts of their research, from heritage to language learning.
Researchers from the University of Wales Trinity St David revealed the decades of work that have revitalised the historic site of Strata Florida, and, in the process, created training opportunities for young people and income for local businesses.
Similarly, research at the University of Swansea into the city’s copper-producing past has transformed Swansea’s relationship with its history. Local business owners have incorporated copper heritage into their branding, and copper heritage is even at the heart of a new 100 million pound regeneration package for a new district in Swansea called Copr Bay.
The event also highlighted the impact of research initiatives on language learning. For example, the MFL Mentoring programme at Cardiff University, which places student mentors in schools to discuss the benefits of learning languages, has doubled the uptake of foreign languages at participant schools. Meanwhile, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Mother Tongue, Other Tongue project has used poetry to celebrate cultural diversity and the many languages spoken in schools in the UK, increasing intercultural exchange and social cohesion.
With the numbers of students choosing to study foreign languages at GCSE and A-Level declining across the country, these projects have made important steps in celebrating and advocating for the value of languages.
The events in Sheffield and Cardiff were the first in a series of planned showcases around the country that will explore the impact of the arts and humanities across a broad range of sectors. The programme reflects SAS’ commitment to promoting and advocating for the value of arts and humanities research from across the UK.
Professor Jo Fox, Dean of the School of Advanced Study, said
“The School of Advanced Study is a national centre for the humanities and we are passionate about what arts and humanities can achieve.
“These events have provided just a snapshot of the impact that researchers are having in communities and places across the country. What we need now is sustained investment in the Arts and Humanities so that the projects featured in these events, and all those like them, can flourish in the future.”