Public and Community Engagement

Summary of approach

The University of Northampton is the UK’s first internationally accredited Changemaker Campus in recognition of our approach in engaging communities and stakeholder in making a positive social impact. This places public and community engagement at the heart of our strategic approach to be a force for good in the county; using our unique position to improve the lives and prosperity of the communities we serve. Providing leadership where appropriate, supporting others in achieving their goals, and leveraging resources and influence to challenge barriers to success. Embodied in our Changemaker Commitments, this commitment focusses our efforts on improving the lives and educational opportunities for everyone, enhancing health and wellbeing, providing access to the counties cultural and heritage assists and promoting entrepreneurship.


  • The University’s community engagement strategy is embedded within the institutional strategic plan, Transforming Lives + Inspiring Change, with key performance indicators (KPI) which are reviewed by the Governors twice yearly. The University’s strategic commitment is to make a positive social impact and our approach is through the creation of social value and Changemaking. The University was designated an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus in 2013; one of only 50 higher education institutions globally with this designation including Ivy League institutions from the United States.

    Consultation on the University strategy involves internal and external stakeholders through a series of staff roadshows, Board of Governors away days, the University Court and Senate. Engaging exisiting networks ensures strategic alignment and a continual process of informal consultation. Evidence is gathered through local stakeholders and our analysis of Northamptonshire’s Hidden Needs, the Health and Wellbeing Board, Northamptonshire and the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), the County’s Cultural Forum, Local Authorities and Statutory Bodies.

    The strategic priorities are articulated in our Changemaker Commitments. Faculties are organised to align to these Commitments to encourage cross-disciplinary approaches to public and community engagement. Public engagement is the responsibility of all staff members with accountability through the governance structure of the University up to and including the governing body where institutional KPIs are monitored and reported. Accountability is built into the staff appraisal process, staff and student recruitment and career development opportunities including the Associate Professorship Scheme. Public engagement is business as usual and we do not make a specific budget available but work with partners to obtain additional funding to enhance our activities.

    Waterside Campus was developed to be accessible as a community facility for the benefit of the community. Our COVID-19 pandemic response highlights how our facilities and resources are used to meet community needs including how our staff and students contribute through volunteering and community involvement. Staff take the University out into communities through public lectures, social enterprise initiatives, events such as the Big Bang and Car Crash to demonstrate how our research and teaching is applied in real world events and as school and college governors. Enquiries from the public can be received through any part of the University and are managed through our Client Management System with interactions and activities recorded in the research management system, PURE.

  • The University supports the public in many ways.

    • Big Bonanza, Changemaker Commitments fund, Big Ideas, residents’ committees, High Sherriff Lectures,  Changing Futures Week, Fashion Show, Public art exhibitions, public lectures, Armed Forces Covenant signatory, fund careers support in schools,  the creation of stakeholder led social enterprises such as Connected Together CIC, Societal, First for Wellbeing, social enterprise town status, social echo, investment in Goodwill solutions, social enterprise
    • Changemaker Fellowship, developing leadership capabilities in staff undertaking public and community engagement. Staff are also entitled to community leave to undertake community engagement work.
    • Stakeholder forums and service user groups are involved in course development and validation processes and the provision of work related learning opportunities.
    • Our community radio station run by community volunteers alongside our students and lecturers in developing content, producing programming, and journalism.
    • We work across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter to engage with a broad audience, tagging in local community organisations, and celebrating achievements and news stories regarding collaborations and raising their profile. We aim to amplify the work of the University communications office when celebrating student work that is having an impact and involves the local community. The Board of Governors and a University Court are constituted of individuals from the community with requisite skills to ensure the good governance and impact of the institution. They have responsibility to advocate for the University and leverage  personal and professional assets to enhance public engagement. This commitment forms part of the recruitment process with the Governors accountable ‘to the University community and the wider public for decisions and actions’; and that ‘Their actions should promote and protect the good reputation of the University and the trust and confidence of those with whom it deals’.
    • Staff and students present research, details of initiatives, their experience at the University utilising community as partners to shape new initiatives. Faculties engage the public on advisory groups setting the vision for portfolio development and research.
    • Our annual Changemaker awards celebrate excellence in creating social value by individual staff, student, and community collaborations and activities.
  • All activities contribute are evaluated by their contribution to one of Northampton’s Changemaker Commitments which are:

    • To make Northamptonshire the best place for young people to flourish and learn
    • To make Northamptonshire the best place for health and well being
    • To build upon Northamptonshire’s culture and heritage
    • To make Northamptonshire the best place to start and grow a business

    Examples are:

    Our major initiative was the construction of our Waterside campus, which involved bringing a contaminated brown field site back into use and locate the University at the heart of the community. The campus is designed to be open to the public, providing public footpaths between communities and the town and offering access to our library, catering, and other university facilities. The impact of the development has been captured through our social and economic impact reports. The positive impact on the environment of bringing the site back into use has also been captured through the Nenescape project. The renovation of the award winning Engine Shed brought an important part of the town’s heritage back into use and provides facilities that are open to the public to enjoy and a permanent home for the Students’ Union. The University saw an opportunity to boost its sustainability credentials by providing students heating and hot water generated by a CO2-saving onsite energy biomass centre reducing CO2 emissions by 2,200 tonnes p.a.

    NLive community radio offers a platform for University students to gain experience in journalism, media and other creative sector professions including arts and popular music. The station provides community programming giving voice to the issues that are important to Northampton residents.

    Working with Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire (VIN) the University created Connected Together bringing together expertise and experience of both partners to deliver community engagement programmes including workshops, research, surveys, and training to enhance the health and wellbeing of the population. Initiatives such as Unitydem and the University’s dementia friendly award programme enhance the provision for active aging in the county. The University Podiatry Clinic integrates the University’s teaching provision into a practice based environment, providing podiatry students with hands-on clinical education. Students, supervised by our team of highly experienced lecturers (all Health and Care Professions Council registered podiatrists) provide patients with a full professional assessment and explanation of treatment options.

    Goodwill Solution is a joint venture providing a work opportunities and support to disadvantaged people across Northamptonshire in a variety of and a path to a more positive future, generating over £15m in social return since the venture was created. In 2020 Goodwill Solutions was awarded the Queens Award for Enterprise.

    We engage young people in University life providing an annual programme of subject specific public lectures aimed at Year 12 and 13 pupils, Roots to empathy supported the development of young people by recognising attachment between infants and their parents and public lectures on the leather heritage of Northamptonshire raising the profile of this important industry. Northamptonshire Surprise! showcasing the diverse nature of the culture and heritage available.

    We evaluate whether activities meet public need through localised evaluations, for larger projects we undertake impact assessments and social impact reports produced, we build evaluation into the activities at a local level, and through our Economic, social, and perceptions reporting. We also capture attendance at events and activities, and feedback forms which are used to assess effectiveness and improve our engagement methods.

  • The University of Northampton has KPIs related to public engagement embedded in its operational plan, monitored by the University Management team and Board of Governors, including:

    • The percentage of students engaged in community engagement through the Changemaker Commitments. This includes volunteering, placements, work experience and Internships in community and social enterprise organisations, as well as community activism and activities that involve communities in engaging with the University, (32% 2018/19) number of partners engaged in supporting the Changemaker Commitments (1259 2018/19).
    • Enterprise income generation (£3.9m 2019/20)
    • To provide all students with the opportunity to undertake a work based or work-related learning opportunity as part of their studies (73% 2018/19).

    KPIs are reviewed to ensure contribution to strategic aims and achievements and are publicly available.

    The University’s achievements in public engagement are reported in the annual report and consolidated financial statement. Which is independently audited, and links to resources and further information that demonstrated our engagement achievements. The University produces social impact reports, including the COVID-19 pandemic response. Reports provide a mix of output and outcome reporting alongside narratives that provide the context of the work of the University. A comprehensive impact report for the construction of the Waterside Campus, with the learning available in How to do ‘good stuff’ when buying things – A Handbook for Higher Education Institutions.

    We undertake a perceptions survey bi-annually, which is independently undertaken on our behalf. The 2019 report highlighted that Northampton is ‘regarded as a good partner to work with and a good place at which to study’ and that the [Waterside] campus is a defining positive feature that has improved the University’s image and is seen to have increased and improved its engagement with the wider community. It was also identified that the University is more open and engaging, and in closer touch with the local community, than in the past. Participants described their current relationship with the University as ‘Inclusive’, ‘Friendly’, ‘Accessible’ and ‘Approachable’.

    Public engagement is embedded in the staff appraisal process and identifies the breadth and depth of the work staff undertake, recognise excellence, and support staff through staff development and leadership support to maximise the impact they have.

  • The University makes reports and information available publicly through social media, news media and through the University’s website. The University publishes Social Impact Reports on its engagement activities. University Court provide a forum for communities and individuals to meet and discuss our community engagement priorities and receive updates on achievements and challenges. Over 150 public lectures and presentations and engagement events have been undertaken annually with community feedback used to continuously improve the reach we have. In line with good governance, all minutes from Governors meetings are made publicly available through the website.

    The NCCPE EDGE tool highlighted that leadership, learning and supporting Staff to participate in community engagement are embedded within the institution. The University also has a strong commitment to public engagement across the Mission, Communication, Support structures, formal recognition of success, Student engagement and Public consultation require to further embedding. 88% of staff stated in the 2019 staff survey that “they support the University’s strategy Transforming Lives +Inspiring Change”.

    The last perceptions report identified that the University of Northampton is generally viewed very positively by key stakeholders. Crucially, it is seen to be an improving and forward-looking institution. Overall respondents associated the University with building relationships with local communities. Participants also identified the University’s efforts to be more ‘Progressive’ in its attempts to improve inclusivity of different communities.

    The evaluation of activities under-pin continuous improvement implemented through the Dean of Research, Impact and Innovation and the Director of Enterprise and Employability.

    Results of community engagement work is shared through internal roadshows, consultations undertaken through research institutes, economic development and community resilience groups, SEMLEP skills forum, Industry liaison, stakeholder engagement in faculty forums, resilience forum, SE Mark HEI group, Social Enterprise UK HEI group, SE Town, BID, Northampton Forward, VIN, Court, PSR and quality processes.

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