Community events and projects form a vibrant part of Oxford city life. To support these, the University sets aside £50,000 annually for its community grants scheme. The criteria are: celebrating the city’s heritage; offering valuable experiences to its community; and supporting educational achievement.
A beneficiary again this year was the Story Museum’s ‘Alice’s Day’, held annually to celebrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice’s Day 2016 was on the theme of Animals in Wonderland, and a community grant helped provide a special workshop for local schoolchildren.
To mark the centenary of the First World War, volunteers researched the history of the 66 men from the Oxford parish of Grandpont who were killed in the conflict. Assisted by a community grant and other funding, participants shared their research in the form of a website, film and exhibition. They also set out a local trail marking the house where each man had lived; it communicated the impact of the loss of these men on their community more directly than names on a war memorial.
Sustainability and social impact
In 2016 the University’s first annual Sustainability Showcase celebrated members from across the collegiate University for their positive impact on society and the environment. Green Impact Awards, a Student Switch Off Award and a Carbon Innovation Award were among more than 50 presented.
Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards, organised through the student-run Oxford Hub, were also presented to four students who had shown exceptional commitment to creating positive social change. Their work included LinkAges, a befriending scheme which aimed to reduce loneliness among the elderly; One-Eighty, a charity applying psychology-focused behaviour support to vulnerable youngsters and their families; ProjectTogether, a volunteer-run coaching service for young people, encouraging them to start new social projects and engage in civil society; and Project SOUP, a micro-funding initiative using food waste to raise money for local projects.
New for 2016 were the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research. Winners were recognised for their contributions to high-quality public engagement with the research work of the University.
Dr David Griffiths from the Department of Continuing Education won an award for collaboration for Archaeox, a five-year archaeological and historical research project on the landscape and historic environment of east Oxford. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and involving more than 650 volunteer members of the public, the project included excavations of prehistoric and medieval sites in east Oxford, among which were civil war defences and a medieval leper hospital. Archaeox particularly engaged with charities whose focus was working with those with social and behavioural difficulties. A sense of shared ownership of the project was central, and volunteers were able to influence the direction of the research. They learned about excavation techniques and how to use specialist equipment.
Award winners had to be able to demonstrate clear evidence of benefit both to the researchers and the engaged public, and the legacy or sustainability of their project. The academics involved in Archeox finished with a very positive view of the potential for public participation in archaeology and heritage research, while volunteers gained access to other study opportunities and professional accreditation.
Oxford students and the collegiate University are between them operating a three-stranded approach to helping displaced academics who would have been at risk if they had stayed in their home countries. The University and colleges are providing funding and board and accommodation to refugee students – this year, for example, the University has awarded a research internship to a Syrian student who could not safely remain in Syria. Her research focuses on public health in the refugee community.
The Oxford Students Refugee Campaign (OXSRC) is raising money through students donating £1 each per month into a scholarship fund for refugees, for which the University is providing the administrative framework. OXSRC hopes that successful running of the scheme over an initial two-year period will then attract support from other donors. At the University Language Centre, Oxford University Student Affairs is coordinating structured English language classes at beginner and intermediate level, working closely with local community groups, the council and other charities. A ‘language exchange’ has also been set up between Arabic-speaking at-risk people and students from Oriental Studies who speak or are learning Arabic, so that each can benefit from the others’ native language skills.