October 29, 2012 by Amy Ryall
Mat McCann blogs about the recent celebration event for the widening participation project We Are Here. He is a second-year PhD student in the School of English. His research applies ideas from cultural geography, tourism studies and neuroscience to Western literature of the nuclear age in order to examine how representations of travel articulate civilians’ tensions with the demands of the State.
Coinciding with Black History Month, on 22nd October the Showroom hosted a screening of the documentary We Are Here. This 15-minute film has come out of an Faculty of Art and Humanities widening participation project of the same name set up by Janine Bradbury, Dr David Forrest, Dr Ingrid Hanson and Ruksana Majid from the School of English, in collaboration with Fir Vale School and King Edward VII School’s Black Pupils’ Achievement Group.
Over the last year, the project has aimed to provide a space in which black and ethnic-minority pupils in Sheffield can explore issues surrounding identity and think about their aspirations through self-expression and by developing skills useful for their future education and employment. The film documents the King Edward group’s interaction with staff and students at the university, their discussions about its relationship with the community and about how going to university is a life-changing experience. Among their interviews they talked to black and ethnic minority members of the university, such as the Student Union President and the Personal Assistant to one of the University’s Pro-Vice Chancellors, as well as a visiting student from the United States about her views on university life.
Janine Bradbury hosted the evening and gave an overview of the project, while Ingrid Hanson talked about her work alongside Ruksana Majid to help the Fir Vale group develop an online creative-writing magazine. This can be found here and there’s an article about it here.
Brendan Stone, from the School of English, who has been involved in the project and who is interviewed in the film, also spoke before the screening to talk about his thoughts on the value of interaction between academia and the wider community. In this way, the event conveyed not only how the pupils have benefitted from the opportunity to construct informed opinions about the role of higher education, but also how much the members of the faculty have learned from engaging with this constituency who wouldn’t otherwise interact with the university.
A question-and-answer session followed the screening, during which the King Edward pupils reflected on the project and Janine announced that the project has recently been awarded funding to continue for another year 🙂
As a public engagement event, I think the evening was a real success. All in all, I’d say there were about forty people there. There was a good level of buzz, with the evident excitement of the pupils who had made the film rubbing off on those who had come along to learn about the project. This good atmosphere was given space to develop during the first forty-five minutes when people were free to mingle and try to make a dent in the vast spread of food, and then continued throughout the evening. Holding the event at the Showroom café was an important factor in how the evening went, given that it allowed us lots of space, food and bar facilities, while being in town rather than at the university. This had been made available for the screening through a personal contact of Janine’s who works at the Showroom.
In terms of things to take away from the experience, two things come to mind. Firstly, while the buffet was great, comprising veg and non-veg burgers, chips and salad, it was unfortunate that the vegetarian option was relatively minimal, and all the more so given that the meat option was pork. As it was, there was plenty of food to go around so there wasn’t a problem. All the same, it made me think that, while it’s great to have a buffet laid on, you’ve still got to anticipate any potential problems with things like catering when running such an event.
Secondly, from what I could gather, everyone who attended had heard about the event through word-of-mouth – that is, if they were not directly involved in the project themselves, they knew people who were. The evening was advertised in the Showroom’s programme and on its website, but at the same time something of this nature was sadly going to be a fairly niche interest on a wet Monday evening. With this in mind it’s clear that, while advertising reaches places you wouldn’t otherwise get to, it’s crucial to personally engage with the public about your forthcoming public engagement events.