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SHAPE Sustainability Impact Projects, led by SOS-UK and the British Academy, concludes after its third successful year!

Kedijah Eaves-O'Connor

The SHAPE Sustainability Impact Project is a collaborative project between the British Academy and SOS-UK which uses a "living laboratory" model to demonstrate the importance of arts, humanities and social sciences in tackling sustainability challenges. The project adopts the British Academy's use of the term SHAPE to describe Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for the People and the Economy/Environment.

This is the third successful year of the project. This year (2022-23), four universities were selected to take part after expressing their interest: Queen Mary University of London, University of Wolverhampton, Nottingham Trent University and University of Strathclyde. Each university recruited a cohort of students from arts, humanities and social science disciplines, who became SHAPE project leaders at their university. At the virtual project launch in November 2022, staff from each university pitched a sustainability challenge, with students forming interdisciplinary teams to design a project which tackles their assigned challenge.

The four challenges cover a wide range of environmental, economic and social sustainability issues including conversation volunteering, mental health and wellbeing, sustainable festivals and community partnership models.

Since the project's launch, workshops and support were facilitated by SOS-UK and staff at each of the four universities to prepare students to plan and develop their projects, supporting them to apply their specialist knowledge to find solutions for sustainability challenges, and enabling an understanding of the relevance and impact of their disciplines in tackling these challenges through applied learning.

After seven months, over 16 students presented their projects, including their recommendations, to SOS-UK and early career researchers from the British Academy at the final conference, which was held on Friday 9th June at Nottingham Trent Students' Union (The Loft).

The day kicked off with keynote speeches from Dan Bedwell, President of NTSU’s Sustainability Society and Professor Andy Jordan, Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Environmental Sciences at University of East Anglia.

A presentation was delivered by The British Academy which outlined their new research, looking at how engaging with people in the places where they live leads to better and more effective and efficient policymaking in practice, reflecting the diversity of communities and local environments.

Alex Paz from The British Academy delivering a presentation on the importance of sustainability and public policy.

We then had presentations from previous participants in SHAPE from the 2021-22 cohort, who outlined the growth of their project since last year and the impact their project has had. Phil Jones from Aberystwyth discussed their project on biodiversity decline and Autumn Sharkey, Cherelle Angeline and Matthew Cragoe presented their project on how young people can engage with Lewisham's parks.

Towards the end of the day, we had the presentations from the current SHAPE students.

Nottingham Trent University went first. Their project was delivered in partnership with Miner2Major Landscape to identify and overcome barriers to engagement for young people in conservation activities. They aimed to develop effective strategies for attracting and retaining younger volunteers in the sector, one of which included a platform for advertising and promoting academic and remote volunteering opportunities at Sherwood Forest. The students who developed this project: Kellie Everton, Jigna Viram Odedra, Jiangli Ren, Ziyan Wang and Olivia Hoare.

We then had the University of Strathclyde whose community partnership project was twofold. The first involved an exhibition in Townhead Village hall to display historical research with creative writing that immersed visitors in the culture of the area. The main aim of this project was to have a lasting legacy of accessibility and inclusion. The second involved a homework club at Townhead Village hall, which aimed to provide the foundations for the community to restart a homework support club for local youth. This was developed by applying for funding and partnering with St Roch's Secondary school and Strathclyde Students' Union Volunteering. The students who developed this project: Yuting Zhang, Andrew Pettigrew, Philippa Mellor and Marc Opara.

Next was the University of Wolverhampton. Their project was titled 'Project Future Focus - Mental Health and Wellbeing in Wolverhampton' which aimed to provide support for young people in Wolverhampton by collaborating with Base25, find out what young people want to know or want with support through extensive research and create resource for providing ongoing, wide reaching sustainable support informed by research data. The main resource they developed was a website which includes support for things young people identified they would need support with such as mental health, money and forms, social skills, cooking and housekeeping and hobbies. The students who developed this project: Kyla-Shanice Barnes-Yates, Dan Dobson, Connor Hortin, Emma King, Megan Roberts and Berlind Zaheri.

Megan Roberts, Dan Dobson, Kyla-Shanice Barnes-Yates and Emma King presenting Project Future Focus.

Last but certainly not least, was Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Their project focused on reducing the environmental impact of the Festival of Communities which takes place each year at Stepney Green Park and QMUL. They aimed to build upon already existing sustainable initiatives, reduce general waste, raise awareness amongst the local community regarding sustainability and highlight sustainability throughout the festival to encourage long term behaviour change. Case studies of festivals already implementing sustainability were used by the students to highlight the importance of making a change, and to show that it can be done successfully. The students who developed this project: Likhwa Maphosa, Lily Throssell and Oana-Luiza Velicu.

Delicious 100% vegan lunch provided by a local social enterprise in Nottingham, Crocus Café.

Students were asked about what the best thing has been about participating in SHAPE this year. Here are some quotes:

"I have really enjoyed participating, my team where amazing, the research was fascinating and overall it was a really good experience that I will remember for the rest of my life."
"How supportive the staff is and how I can really make an impact."

Quote from a member of staff:

"[The successes of the project are that it] helped to develop a new partnership for the university which I hope will continue in future. The students have learned a lot about themselves and about the challenges that voluntary organisations face, and have developed a range of skills that will benefit them in future. Staff involved have also learned lessons about managing projects with voluntary organisations which will inform future similar projects."

We would like to thank all the students, institutional leads, previous participants, guest speakers and Nottingham Trent Students' Union who made the SHAPE project and final conference a success. We'd also like to extend a special thank you to our partners, The British Academy, for their invaluable support with such an incredible project and opportunity for students and institutions.

If SHAPE Sustainability Impact Projects sounds like something you'd like your institution to get involved in, please email Kedijah.EavesOConnor@sos-uk.org for further information or keep an eye out on our social media and website during the autumn term.