Finding Solutions: a networking conference

In partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield and Voluntary Action Rotherham, we hosted a community networking conference with the focus on establishing and strengthening links within the voluntary sector and with the university. This event took place in June 2018.

We held five workshops addressing the common issues and problems we face. These were co-hosted by both a member of university staff and a community leader. The outcomes of these workshops are listed below.

Volunteering (Paul Harvey, VAS Volunteering Centre & Brendan Stone, TUoS)

Volunteering can be mutually beneficial. Looking at what is preventing people from volunteering and the key factors that would enable them to volunteer.

Barriers identified:

  • Students - Younger students have a tendency to need “babysitting” so induction is costly. PhD students can be more interested in getting a paper than meeting Charity needs
  • University lacks an entry point – need a brokering service like CUPP at Brighton
Communication / Media (Chris Farrell, Cavendish Cancer Care & Amy Huxtable, TUoS)

Many organisations highlighted their need for help with the following:

  • Getting their stories out to a wider audience
  • How to advertise through social media and what they should be posting
  • How to get in touch with the local media and how to showcase what they do through those channels
  • For a lot of charities that deal with vulnerable people they were also unsure whether they would be able to share case studies and wanted some help around this.
Research: Common interests and issues (Graham Duncan, St Mary’s Church & Janet Harris, TUoS)

Several points were highlighted

  • The importance of developing an evidence base around innovation in community services
  • Demonstrating effective partnerships
  • Collaboration and co-design particularly important and valid – evidence shows this kind of work results in higher recruitment to research studies, lower dropout rates and greater participation
  • Importance of equal partnership between academia and CVS

Some discussion from this final point in the room:

  • VS participants felt an understanding of research process essential
  • Understanding this might entail a cost in terms of time/monetary for voluntary sector but this would enable clarity, understanding and help to equalise partnership
  • Suggestion that Universities could make free places available on RTP modules for VS staff, to provide the training and understanding that would go some way to enabling a more equal partnership

Attendees were asked to think about what they saw as important and what did they want to talk about during the course of the workshops.

Understanding Impact (Janet Wheatley, VAR & Elizabeth Goyder, TUoS)

Discussions around:

  • Data collection – paper-based, problematic
  • VCS – Lack of resources to measure impact and also expertise
  • Organisations face challenges - inability to skill up workers, time constraints limiting the extent to which they can showcase their impact
  • Lack of a shared language – Uni and VCS
  • Smaller organisations - they are not evaluation/monitoring focussed as they are more interested with getting on with the ‘doing’
  • Need for brokerage between the university and community for research with the aim of providing stronger and tangible links that are easy to manage
Effective Student Placements (Steve Slack, SAYiT & Joanne Thompson Medical School,TUoS)

Participants were asked three questions to answer in pairs. These were:

  • How to create a mutually beneficial ethos?
  • What do students positively offer an organisation?
  • How to prepare for a placement to be successful? (emphasis on sharing best practice)

Representatives from different organisations shared aspects of their placements that worked well and in some cases needs further development.

Workshop full summaries

Click to download each summary as a PDF:


Following the conference, we sent out a questionnaire to participants asking how they felt it went. The results were largely positive with over 80% of participants saying they would like to attend a follow-up event later in the year. We also asked for feedback on the individual workshops held and found that the workshops were best when they were providing practical advice and help on how to solve the various issues faced by both the university and the voluntary sector.

What next?

As previously mentioned there are talks on hosting a follow-up event later in the year potentially focussing on the largest of the two workshops held; Research and Impact. This will aim to further the discussion started by this conference as well as focussing on practical ideas on research and impact to take forward.

As well as the follow-up event another outcome from this conference is the potential of a brokerage scheme designed to help strengthen the links between the universities and the community.

Community-based research workshops - Janet Harris, ScHARR

These workshops can be offered to community groups as well as to individuals. If there are specific academics or university departments that you want to involve, please let us know. Workshop numbers are limited to 12 for each workshop.

To register your interest for these workshops please click on this link:

Community-based research is research that strives to be:

  • Community-driven - begins with a research topic of practical relevance to the community and promotes community self-determination
  • Participatory - community members and researchers equitably share control of the research agenda through active and reciprocal involvement in the research design, implementation and dissemination
  • Action-oriented - the process and results are useful to community members in making positive social change and to promote social equity

In this workshop we will provide support in doing community-based research which helps you to:

  • develop a research topic that is relevant for your community
  • identify methods for doing the research
  • consider what resources you need
  • plan how to engage local people and academics
  • evaluate the impact of the project - from start to finish

At the end of the workshop, you should have a plan for doing your research and specific ideas about where to start and who to involve.

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