This is the third blog post by a group of University staff on the Sheffield Leader 3 programme who are researching what the University of Sheffield might learn from Sheffield people who feel disconnected or remote from it. Their first post is here, and here is their second post.
We’ve all been very busy since the last post, and have made many new links via our networks to external groups.
Several of our group visited another school, this time Silkstone Primary School near Barnsley, and were introduced to Year 5 and 6 children. Many thanks to Deputy Head Gemma Ellis, and teachers Louise Glisson and Alex Simon for arranging this. We asked the children to imagine what they thought a University was, and they came up with many interesting ideas. We were struck by how much insight they had about University, science, education and adult life. We had a wonderful afternoon, and the children were rewarded for helping us by having a great session delivered by Prof Charles Stirling where they (and us) learned many things including how nylon is made, and how chemicals in the body stop us being poisoned by the air we breathe! Their enthusiasm and energy was inspiring.
Other members of our group have been talking to adults in Broomhall, thanks to introductions made by Broomhall Community leaders and the Sheffield Jesus centre. Chris and the others at the Jesus centre gave us a very warm welcome when we approached them with our project. They were happy for us to attend two of their regular events, the Drop-In Centre and the Art Group. On first arriving at the Jesus Centre we were quite surprised, because we realised that the Centre was a conversion of an old church. We still remembered the church being there, even though it had actually closed, been refurbished and opened as the Jesus Centre. It was a reminder at how we can look at things regularly and see what we expect to see, rather than looking afresh each time and seeing what is really there. It is something we need to be aware of, not just when dealing with buildings, but with people too.
The Drop-In Centre is held to offer a hot cuppa and a bite to eat for those in need of sustenance or a little extra company. Those we spoke to were happy to help, though somewhat bemused by our request. From this group there was a feeling that the University had passed them by, with a lack of awareness of sessions which were open to the public. Instead there was a focus on increasing house prices due to landlords buying houses for student accommodation and the effect this had on local people. They did add that they appreciated student volunteers and that occasionally students would come to the café (which is very nice) or the services held at the centre and they seemed very nice. We were very grateful to hear different perspectives and to see the enthusiasm with which the topic was treated and the friendliness which we were shown.
The Arts Group were exceedingly welcoming, especially considering that we had asked them to produce a picture of their view of the University. They enthusiastically talked us through them, pointing out the good and bad of their vision of the University. What was interesting here was how the time taken to paint the picture had meant they had considered things at a greater depth. So they mentioned points which had never come out when just talking. They highlighted the usual negatives of rowdy students, rubbish and house prices, but then moved onto student sports bringing life into the community, the two universities helping to keep the UK relevant and competitive, even the joy spread to the wider family when a daughter or son graduates. These deeper points slipped from thought during lighter and initial chats, but it was nice to know that they still permeate into the wider community. With this deeper knowledge comes the view that although there are niggles, the positives of the University vastly outweigh the negatives and give a sense of pride that Sheffield has two universities.
A reflection – not only should we keep looking afresh at things, but also remember that the things on the top of people’s minds might mask the deeper thinking and consideration of their true views.
It’s been a very interesting few months and our next step is the presentation on 5th November, 1.15pm, Tapestry Room, Firth Hall, Western Bank. If you would like to find out more about what we did and what we learned, both for ourselves and the University or would like to attend our presentation, please feel free to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.