Wednesday 25 September 2013

Networking, Community Partnerships and Public Engagement

Community Partner Summit in Bristol
I have been to a conference in Bristol. It was called the Community Partner Summit and aimed to continue to build a Community Partner Network - a network between universities and those working in the community. I thought it would be useful so I elected to go. All expenses were paid, so I had nothing to lose but my time.

When I got there I wondered whether I had made the right decision as nothing appeared familiar and there were a lot of important and influential people there who seemed to know each other. I felt like a small fish in a big pond. It is ten years since I have been to a residential conference and all the old prejudices were coming to the fore. I am not a natural networker, so why am I here? Hope I don’t fall asleep. I expect they will play a lot of silly games.

I sat to one side of the room and when the conference started I found it very difficult to hear what was going on so that made me even more frustrated. Apparently the keynote speaker was brilliant and inspirational but that passed me by because I didn't catch a lot of what she was saying and by then her lovely Harlem accent was making me sleepy and I was drifting off…. She appeared to be talking about problems she was having relating to academia. What was the problem? We don’t have any have any trouble with our partners at the University of Hertfordshire (UH). I couldn't relate to it at all. Was I missing something?

After a tea break, it did get a lot better as we were told to make contact with other delegates and share our stories. I discovered there were other HLF All Our Stories grantees with very interesting projects and who felt a bit lost too and some other delegates were voicing my concerns too. I was not alone! I always find that the best bit about any conference is talking to other delegates and this was no exception.

The following day was much better and I began to sift through the jargon to understand what the conference was about: building a better working relationship between those working on community projects with academics in universities. In a nutshell, persuading academics in universities to share their research with those working for and with the community on the ground, and vice versa. Both sides would benefit working in a partnership. Apparently this is a big issue nationally and internationally.

Even when the penny dropped, I found it difficult to relate to this and then I became suspicious and began to question our relationship with UH. Sopwell Memories is in partnership with UH. We are a therefore a community partner. Was there something they haven’t told us? Should we be asking more of them? Are they being really nice to us just because we helped them get their research grant? At the end of their grant money, will they drop us like a hot potato? Are they feeding off our passion? You see, I am re-learning the jargon!

Sopwell Memories workshop at UH
I still believe we have a good working relationship with Sarah, Julie and Paul at UH. Talking of which, we had a meeting of the team at UH last week where we held an overview workshop to discuss progress. It was really good and left me feeling re-energised and full of enthusiasm. Sarah Lloyd from UH had us outlining our Sopwell Memories highlights and challenges and it was amazing what came out. She also identified gaps which could be filled. The outcome is that there is to be another workshop where we all get round the table to decide which extracts to use on the website. There is a lot of work to do.

Was the conference worthwhile? I think so. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me question my role in the higher scheme of things. Will I attend another conference? I think I need to get a hearing aid first!

Sandy Norman

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