Public (or community) engagement stimulates a wider understanding of academic research by enthusing the public about current issues, the creative process and the aspirations and outcomes of our research projects. It is becoming increasingly important within academia that we connect and share our research with the public. Further, effective public engagement is mutually beneficial, everyone learns from each other through sharing of knowledge, expertise, skills and experiences.
The University of Glasgow has hundreds of public engagement activities every year as we seek to share our world leading research and promote dialogue around our work. As engagement becomes an ever more integral part of working in a publically funded institute, Glasgow is committed to offering the help and support needed to ensure Glasgow stays at the forefront of engaging with the wider community. Support for public engagement at the University of Glasgow is embedded within our Knowledge Exchange strategy. It is important that we recognise that academic journals have a relatively narrow, specific audience and readership and it is important that we look for ways to take research out of academic institutions and into communities to share our research and have discussions with people who may interested and/or benefit from the research.
Figure 1: University of Glasgow poster advertising sheltered housing initiative
When I first heard about the opportunity to talk about research at a local sheltered housing complex I thought it was an excellent opportunity and really well suited to (Re)Imagining Youth. I was really keen to share our research with a group of older people who could share their thoughts about the research and also reflect back and share stories from their teenage years. Having also recently started a Knowledge Exchange and Community Engagement post with Glasgow University and Glasgow Centre for Population Health I believe events like these are extremely valuable and something which academics should be embedding in the research process.
I attended a short information session at the University, which was a great chance to find out more about Bield and the residents there from Isa, a volunteer with Bield. Isa explained that every Tuesday evening residents come together to take part in some social activities. They had recently expressed an interest to hear from guest speakers and have some educational/informative evenings which was how the opportunity to link with the University had first come about. It was agreed that I would be the first researcher to go along and share our research with the residents on the 14th July.
Taking part in activities like this encourage me to think about how I present research to various different audiences, so far in this project I have been involved in explaining the research to local people of all ages and academic colleagues at conferences. This was the first time I would present to a audience of elderly people. I prepared a short presentation but tried to make this as visual as possible, including lots of photos from Time of One’s Own, (Re)Imagining Youth and also David Peat’s collection of photos from Glasgow in the 1960s which are in the National Galleries Scotland. I was also keen to find out more about Bield Housing.
Figures 2 & 3: Bield Housing community engagement event
Bield Housing have been providing quality housing and services for older people in Scotland for over 40 years. Bield have grown from humble beginnings, starting out with one housing development in Bo’ness. We now provide a wide range of housing and services for around 15,000 people across 22 local authority areas. I arrived at Castlebank Gardens in Anniesland on the evening of the 14th, I was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect but excited to meet the residents and really keen to find out what they thought of our research.
I gave the presentation in their dining room, a bright comfortable room, and it was great to see a really good turnout of around of 12 residents who were all in good spirits. I gave a short talk for 15 minutes using the power point slides and then we all moved into another room for a comfy seat and some coffee and cakes.
Figures 4 & 5: Bield Housing community engagement event
Everyone seemed really interested in the research and we chatted for another hour. A couple of the residents had been to Hong Kong, one man had travelled there when he was in the Merchant Navy, they asked if I had been to Hong Kong and when I said I had been lucky enough to visit they were keen to know more about what it is like now and how it has changed.
When I asked what they thought of Jephcott’s findings in Time of Own’s Own that young people in the 1960s spent a lot of time going to the cinema, the dancing and cafes they thought she was “spot on” and they could all remember doing these things when they were younger. They shared stories about going to the Saturday matinee films, and “going oot for a lumber as long as your shoes were polished”. One of my favourite quotes from the evening came from Jim who talked about going out to the dancing and his parents telling him that he had to “come home the same day he went out” meaning before midnight. I wondered about how different things are today with many young people and students not going out until close to midnight sometimes.
We talked a lot about the changes that have occurred since they were young, particularly the privatization of space. The men in the group talked about playing football in the streets and on Glasgow Green when they were teenagers. One man told us that he used to try to get sent off in the last 10 minutes of the game so he would be the first one in the communal bath.
Perhaps one of the most striking stories of the evening was shared by a lady called Irene who described being a young child of 5 or 6 on a family farm in Eaglesham when Rudolf Hess, Hilter’s right hand man landed on their farm land. He had injured his ankle and was invited into the farm house for a cup of tea, Irene can remember peeking out from behind the door of the room she had been sent into with her sister to see what was going on. She remembers the Home Guard coming to collect Hess and the way he saluted when they arrived. This story isn’t directly relevant to our project focusing on youth leisure but it demonstrates the power of research to evoke memories. Irene had never shared this story with the other residents before and everyone was so interested to hear it.
I had a really great evening with the residents at Bield, it was great to hear their thoughts about our research and their own personal experiences. I hope I have provided a good start for other colleague to go and share their research with this lovely, engaging group of people. I would recommend events like these to all academics and encourage them to think about engaging with the wider community and thinking about the different ways we can talk about what we are doing so it can be of interest and be understood by different audiences. With special thanks to residents at Bield Housing, Castlebank Gardens, Anniesland, Isa Rao, Volunteer at Bield Housing and Jamie Gallagher, Public Engagement Officer, University of Glasgow
We are nearing the end of (Re)Imagining Youth and we have a few more public engagement events planned. We are holding two exhibitions about the project, the first at Hong Kong University in August and the second in Glasgow in November – more details to follow! Susan and Lisa will also be taking part in the Explorathon event at Glasgow Science Centre on 1st and 2nd August.