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University’s community volunteer partnership goes from strength to strength

The community sector in Cheshire West and Chester is enjoying many benefits from a growing partnership between the University of Chester and Cheshire West Voluntary Action (CWVA).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the community sector – made up of charities, local groups, social enterprises, faith groups and other charitable organisations – has led the way in the community response, adapting services to make sure people are supported in the best possible way.

And the University has played a key role in supporting CWVA in facilitating this response, by hosting lectures and conferences and teaming students and staff with some of the region’s most active citizen-supporting organisations.

Before the first lockdown in February 2020, CWVA held its Annual Conference at the University’s Queen’s Park site to begin this partnership, with more than 100 people from across the sector attending a range of workshops, listening to guest speakers and forming new relationships.

The partnership has continued to prosper and a Citizen Academic project has helped match University academics and professional services staff with CWVA’s members, so they can support their community as trustees.

While people working in the community sector have held guest lectures at the University, CWVA’s members have also benefitted from the skills and expertise of University staff, with training sessions taking place on topics such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

CWVA also recently launched a Green Pledges campaign, providing an opportunity for individuals and organisations to take actions to help tackle the climate emergency, and the University’s sustainability experts are providing useful insight.

Clare Harrison, Deputy Chief Executive of CWVA, said: “The University of Chester is such a well-known and respected organisation locally so it’s fantastic to see our partnership flourishing.

“The University and its staff have so much knowledge to offer and this partnership means our sector has been able to benefit from it, but this is very much a two-way partnership so the University has also been able to use the knowledge our sector has on the ground to inform its own work.

“The pandemic certainly hasn’t halted the momentum of this partnership in any way and it’s very exciting to see what we’ll be able to deliver together in the future.”

Dr Holly White, Deputy Head of Department and Lecturer in Social and Political Science, is a member of the CWVA Board and has been a key link in the partnership.

She said: “Cheshire West Voluntary Action is highly respected for being a champion and highly informed critical friend of the local community sector.

“This partnership enables staff and students of the University to further benefit from the experience, knowledge and skills of the local community sector, as well as opportunities for staff and students to share their expertise to support social justice and community action in the University’s local community.

“I look forward to bringing into being the many exciting plans for further collaboration between CWVA and the University of Chester.”

As part of her role at the University, Holly has published a report that evaluates the work of local charities on a pilot of a community food initiative and collaborated with colleagues in the Clinical Sciences and Nutrition and Sustainability departments to create a specialist research group named Food Security Sustainability and Justice.

The findings of this research will inform the work of The Welcome Network project and CWVA’s new specialist infrastructure work on food strategy. 

The University has also recently launched a new BA (Hons) Social Justice and Community Action course for September 2022 entry, analysing social injustices, examining public service engagement with communities and considering opportunities for better social wellbeing.

Dr White added: “The programme explores highly relevant questions for now and the future. What does social (in)justice mean? How can inequality and exclusion be challenged? What opportunities and challenges may communities face? Students will be equipped with skills and knowledge to support positive change in their communities.”

This programme aligns with CWVA and the wider community sector’s vision and values. CWVA and the University of Chester will be working together to support and enable students to develop positive change for individuals and communities.

Pictured - Dr Holly White, left, with supporters at the CWVA Annual Conference. (Please note, this image was taken pre-COVID-19.)

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