It builds on the legacy of the university settlement movement which was active in late Victorian society and saw social reformer Arnold Toynbee establish university hubs in some of the most deprived areas of the country, including Glasgow.

Academics and students were sent to the settlements to help deprived urban neighbourhoods with issues like poverty, education and ill health.

Now GCU is taking the idea further and developing it for the 21st century by creating an innovative Common Good Lab in the new £800,000 community centre that is to be built in Milton.

The lab will be a concrete manifestation of the university’s mission to work for the Common Good and help local communities, according to Professor Stephen Webb, GCU assistant vice-principal for community and public engagement.

“It will give people valuable resources they have not had before as this a community that is suffering from extreme forms of deprivation,” he said.

“It will be an open space for students, researchers, service users and practitioners to use and to develop specialist community programmes to benefit the area directly.”

Staff and students have been involved in outreach work in Milton and other parts of Scotland for years but Professor Webb said the lab would give an opportunity to engage with the community in a more sustainable and meaningful way.

“This is an opportunity for us to leverage up our skill base and put in additional resources,” he said.

The cost of setting the lab up is included in the funding for the new centre from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund (RCGF) but Professor Webb is aiming to augment this by applying for match funding from funders such as the Welcome Trust and other bodies.

The Common Good Lab will provide the chance for students from various fields such as community nursing, podiatry, occupational therapy, law and social work to have first-hand experience of the problems that affect people living in deprived areas and will also give researchers greater opportunities to expand “place-based” projects. “It’s about moving out and embedding the university in the community so we can better understand the community and they can better understand how we can work with them – I call it an urban living partnership,” said Professor Webb.

“It is also crucially about researchers getting involved in place-based research so they can understand some of the issues around crime, gangs, youth crime, domestic violence, parenting issues and a whole range of inter-connected social issues and health problems.

“Normally research takes a long time to get funded and implemented but this allows us to respond in a proactive, positive way to issues that arise. It is about communication, trust and network building and we need to be on the ground to be able to do that.

“What we are hoping is to embed researchers and students into this newly developed space, not only to do student learning but also to look at the issues and consider how to develop research projects around them. It’s very exciting and a concrete example of mobilising the university as a civic anchor to help us move into the community and embed ourselves.”

Professor Webb will be working with GCU’s head of social work Dr Sharon Jackson, lecturer Lynn Sheridan and community and public engagement co-ordinator Susan Grant to establish the hub.

The development has been welcomed by Jill Mackay, CEO of North United Communities (NUC), the third sector organisation working in Milton which is also moving into the new building.

“It will make a university education more visual and that will impact on the young people here and maybe their aspirations,” she said.

“If you have a university office in the community and people can liaise with academics, further education becomes more attainable.”

GCU’s principal and vice-chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies CBE, FRSE said: “We are delighted to establish the Common Good Lab, as it is one very practical example of the way we deliver our mission as a University for the Common Good.

“We always strive to make a positive difference to all the communities we serve locally and throughout the world, and aim to contribute to society in a manner that embraces, yet goes beyond, the traditional role of a university. Our civic commitment is really brought to life in this innovative initiative.”


Source: The National