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Two AHRC projects win NCCPE Engage Competition 2014

Date: 11/06/2014

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement have announced eight Engage Awards for 2014. These award winning projects remind us that far from being disengaged from society, researchers are engaging with the public in a host of innovative and effective ways. From inspiring young people with new advances in knowledge, to encouraging members of the public to contribute to research, university public engagement is thriving. Two of these projects are funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The CAER Heritage Project has been award with the History and Heritage Award and The Prison Reading Groups has won the Art, Design and Culture award.

The CAER Heritage Project was also selected as the overall winner; this is collaborative research project between Cardiff University, Ely and Caerau Communities First, local schools and local residents. The project centres on one of Cardiff's most important, but little-known, archaeological sites, Caerau Iron Age hillfort. Caerau hillfort is one of the largest and best preserved in South Wales. Recent excavations by the CAER Heritage Project team including more than 120 local volunteers showed that occupation started around 500BC and continued until at least the third century AD, well into the Roman period.

The suburbs of Caerau and Ely are two of Cardiff's most deprived areas, facing significant social and economic problems. The CAER Heritage Project's objective is to help the people of Caerau and Ely to connect with this site's fascinating the past and make it relevant to the present. From the outset the project's key objectives have been to put local people at the heart of cutting-edge archaeological research, to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and unfounded stereotypes ascribed to this part of Cardiff.

To find out more about the project see the AHRC film; One fine day in Cardiff: the CAER Heritage Project.

The Prison Reading Groups started 12 years ago in the research Professor Jenny Hartley and Sarah Turvey from the university's Department of English and Creative Writing conducted into reading groups in the UK, which led to the publication of The Reading Groups Book. The research focused on questions such as who joins groups and why, what they read together, and what they enjoy about it. Research highlighted the benefits of belonging to a reading community, including the commitment to exploring the power of books through discussion and debate, a safe space for sharing personal responses, and a sense of connectedness to a wider culture.

In the course of the research it became clear that reading groups could be especially beneficial for prisoners. Professor Hartley mentioned reading groups to a prison chaplain and from this small conversation the project was born as she and Sarah Turvey began running reading groups in prisons. Successful in a bid for an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship, the University teamed up with the Prisoners' Education Trust which carries out formal distance learning such as Open University courses. Prison reading groups are informal learning with no qualifications to work for nor targets to reach - just a commitment to read a book and turn up for meetings. But the groups can be a bridge into education and training courses leading to formal qualifications.

To find out more about the project see our feature article 'Prison reading groups grow thanks to AHRC funding'.

Winning an NCCPE award is a remarkable achievement given that over 230 entries were received. Applications uncovered a broad range of high quality activity inspiring and involving public audiences, and covered a diversity of subjects- from exploring the universe to understanding the atomic world; from representations of childhood to supporting innovation in early years learning; from community organisations working alongside university researchers to using drama or comedy to animate research.

Speaking at the Engage Awards 2014, John Womersley, Public Engagement Champion for Research Councils UK, said: It is great to see so many examples of the valued contributions that UK researchers make to society. When people think of public engagement, what usually comes to mind is the need for researchers to share their findings. Of course that's hugely important, but the entries to this competition show a much richer range of two-way engagement that can bring much deeper benefits both to research and society.

The winners were announced at the national Engage Competition Awards ceremony on 11th June 2014, at the Natural History Museum (NHM). The competition forms part of Universities Week, a week-long celebration of public engagement with research that is taking place across the UK from the 9th June.

National media enquiries contact: Paul Manners on paul.manners@uwe.ac.uk or Sophie Duncan on sophie.duncan@uwe.ac.uk or call 0117 328 7190 or 07795 288133.

For further press information from the AHRC, please contact Danielle Moore-Chick on 01793 41 6021 or d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk.

Notes for Editors

The other category winners were:

  • Working with Young People award was won by What if...?, where researchers at the University of Durham encouraged young people to explore their own questions, and develop an interactive show that asks the audience to explore their own curiosity.
  • The Health and Wellbeing Award was won by SUGAR, Service User and carer Group Advising on Research, an exceptional partnership project that saw patients involved in all aspects of the research cycle, from coming up with relevant questions, to sharing the findings.
  • The Established Project Award was taken by danceroom Spectroscopy, a science and art collaborative project between University of West of England and University of Bristol and others to create a fully immersive experience of the microscopic world.
  • The Science Technology Engineering and Maths Award went to Deadinburgh, where participants had to respond to a deadly pathogen that raged through Edinburgh, and work with University of Edinburgh scientists to work out how to stem the zombie hordes.
  • The Individual- led project award went to Laurie Stras, a musicologist from the University of Southampton, whose amateur choir of nuns has animated her research into music that has not been heard for centuries.
  • The Collaboration Award went to UCL for Focus on the Positive which encourages members of the public to decide how researchers could tackle some of the big challenges in society.

About the NCCPE

Set up in 2008 as part of a national initiative to inspire a culture shift in how universities engage with the public, the NCCPE is funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust. The centre is hosted by the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England and works with universities to support them to engage the public with their work. Critical to this are a range of things, including reward and recognition of those involved in public engagement. Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.

You can find out more about the NCCPE and the competition finalists on the NCPPE website.

About Universities Week

Universities Week 2014 will be launched on Monday 9th June at the Natural History Museum in London, where a week-long public event will showcase some of the best of UK university research. The event will feature 45 universities, including research stations, pop-up performances, debates and live research demonstrations, all covering a range of research themes.

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk


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