At the NEON Summer Symposium Student Hubs shared their session, ‘Student Hubs, Branch Up and a Widening Participation Collaborative Partnership: A Case Study’. We want to reflect on three key points from our session and what the sector could embed into their own practice.
The Power of Collaboration
Student Hubs are a national charity, working in partnership with 5 UK universities, including the University of Southampton and Kingston University in London. We work collaboratively with university departments in Careers, Widening Participation and Student Unions to reach students that may face barriers to engagement who may identify as commuters, mature, LGBT+, or first generation.
Our practical volunteering and skilled placement programmes are designed to have a dual impact, with all of our programmes designed around embedding community groups, participants and tackling social issues at the core of the opportunity for student volunteers, as well as in our in-curricular work through Service Learning.
Our partnership with the University of Southampton through our branch Southampton Hub is a truly collaborative effort: the programmes we deliver for Widening Participation and Social Mobility are tutoring and mentoring programmes, adding capacity to the existing delivery of their school-focused work and providing termly opportunities for students to engage with small cohorts of pupils. We work predominantly in primary schools with pupils from age 7, expanding the reach of the Outreach team locally. We also have delivered workshops for the Outreach team as part of their on-campus delivery for school groups, and have supported their student ambassador cohorts with training.
We recognised that we could do more together than apart, and that our expertise in engaging the community could add value to the outreach offer and experience of pupils across Southampton.
The Power of Branching Up
Our programme Branch Up has been running since 2014 in Southampton, providing free Saturday activities for 7-11 year olds. Young people are directly referred to the programme by schools, local children’s services and foster carers. This ensures the young people that most need this provision are receiving it. The programme is free of charge, providing food, transport and activities to remove barriers from families who may be facing a variety of issues in the city including poverty, mental and physical health issues. Young people participate in Branch Up across multiple years and often will take part with their siblings. Because of this we build close relationships with parents, carers and school staff.
One key part of our offer is that we pick children up from their school or home and take them directly to the activity day, or a coach pick up point. This provides security for the children and families, as we are not assuming that they have access to transport, and as our student volunteers accompany the young people on their journey to the activity day, both they and the young people get to see parts of the city they may never have seen before.
For the students and young people participating, the programme is powerful. For our 32 Branch Up participants in 2019-20:
- 100% of Branch Up partners agreed that:
- They saw an increase in self-belief or self esteem
- They saw a positive improvement in social skills or relationships with adults
- Young people had access to opportunities they would not otherwise have had
- 95% of the young people participating were confidently able to identify something that they were good at
For our Branch Up student volunteers in 2019-20:
- 100% of volunteers agreed that involvement in Branch Up enhanced their university experience
- 89% of volunteers agreed that involvement in Branch Up had enhanced their wellbeing
- 94% of volunteers agreed that participating in Branch Up increased their confidence in approaching challenges
The Power of Community Engagement
Our work mainly takes place in community spaces. We send student volunteers into schools, libraries, community and cultural centres, local sports and leisure venues, where our participants feel comfortable.
However, for Branch Up, there is an advantage to 50% of sessions taking place on campus: it introduces 7-11 year olds to the campus in a fun, accessible way, and allows young people to see themselves inhabiting that space from a young age. It also means we can show the participants that university is not only about academic achievement: we bring in student societies to deliver sessions on sports and circus skills; we use university leisure spaces like the bouldering wall or the parks.
We are part of a community in Southampton and we collaborate with other organisations wherever possible, such as in our partnership with Youth Options. It is vital that both our student volunteers and community participants see us engaging in that community space. It’s more accessible for children and families, it makes university seem less scary or closed as a space, and it opens a vital dialogue between outreach practitioners and the community.
Key Takeaways for Outreach Practitioners
Our top tips include:
- Work in partnership, especially with those who are directly in the community: charities, social enterprises and other community organisations may have expertise, relationships and capacity which can add value to your current offer and prevent you duplicating work locally.
- Meet your participants where they are at: where possible, go into your community and inhabit those spaces (with permission!). If you aim to diversify the groups you work with and the spaces you work in, this can help in breaking down barriers to access and making university appear less threatening to families who may not be aware of the fantastic services their local university could offer in supporting their children.
- Build in listening activities: ensure you are listening consistently to your participants. Reflect on how they can meaningfully feed into your work, how you can co-create activities with them, and how you can understand the long-term impact your work is having.
If you would like to find out more about our approach at Student Hubs and our work at Southampton Hub, get in touch with Fiona Walsh, Partnerships and Development Director at email@example.com.