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The Community Brain (a Community Interest Company) has worked with Kingston University since 2015 on a wide range of projects and ideas. It works with local communities in the borough of Kingston upon Thames and beyond. Projects range from regeneration to culture, aiming to 'liberate' the potential of people and communities. The Community Brain approached Kingston University for support in a variety of activities that would enhance this ambition by bringing different perspectives and knowledge to its work.
The Community Brain has collaborated with nearly 20 different academic teams across two faculties at Kingston University, to resolve a range of problems and address different needs. Each team, usually involving a mix of academics and students, has offered its unique expertise, knowledge and approaches.
A valuable and mutually beneficial 'active learning partnership' between the University and The Community Brain has resulted and continues to flourish.
One of the most significant projects The Community Brain approached the University with was 'SHEDx – Growing Ideas in Tolworth'. This was a community-led regeneration initiative. Kingston University researchers helped The Community Brain understand the local area and its demographics and worked together to design ideas and activities that would engage local communities in Tolworth and beyond. This work laid strong foundations for future collaborative activities.
Other projects have included:
The University and The Community Brain have also worked closely together on activities such as mapping green spaces and community assets in Tolworth and Surbiton, collecting data on perceptions of community resilience, and capturing the organisation's methods for generating social impact and studying their transferability to other parts of the Borough and beyond.
Ongoing evaluation of activities and projects has supported a critical process of self-reflection and helped the organisation to develop further.
The partnership with Kingston University has benefitted The Community Brain by enabling access to specialist expertise across multiple disciplines. These disciplines include publishing, sustainable design, graphic design, archaeology, museum studies and urban regeneration. The partnership has also offered access to creative and talented students, with students taking on commissions in the form of live briefs, as part of their learning. Commissioned research, in areas such as local demographics, effective methods of outreach, and local histories, has helped The Community Brain to be effective and targeted in designing and developing the right activities to achieve its purpose.
Kingston University also benefits from this partnership in several ways. Students gain experience and expertise in their areas of study – they can develop their networks that can lead to employability opportunities. For example, one of the current members of The Community Brain is a graduate in MA Sustainable Design. Academic staff have opportunities to develop new research or expand and apply their existing research. The partnership also demonstrates the University's commitment to civic engagement and bringing value to its surrounding local communities.
Communities in Tolworth, Surbiton and beyond, including residents, businesses, schools and other organisations, have benefitted from numerous community projects and regeneration initiatives that have had a positive impact.
The partnership is currently being mapped so that there is a good overview of all the activities involved and any crossovers. This will also enable documentation of the various collaborations and help to develop better understanding of the benefit this partnership brings to local and regional communities and maximise impact for the future.
We are delighted with the relationship we have developed with Kingston University across many courses and disciplines. The knowledge and input from staff, alongside the energy, enthusiasm and ideas from students, has been a constant source of stimulus and benefit. It has enabled us to be more ambitious in our work and develop a greater understanding of it. It is a real and true partnership – this is demonstrated by the number of students who continue their relationship with us long after their course involvement has finished. We believe it has altered a lot of other partners' impressions of universities by demonstrating their very real value and contribution locally."
Robin Hutchinson, Director, The Community Brain