Jun 072011

Are universities a force for good in our communities or are they there to serve themselves? This was the question posed today by Professor Dominic Shellard at the launch of the De Montfort University Square Mile project. Bringing together academic teams at De Montfort University, the project aims to share academic and professional expertise with residents and community groups in the Newfound Pool, Fosse Road and Westcotes areas of Leicester.

By working in partnership with community and residents groups, De Montfort University hopes to contribute to regeneration and community enrichment in these hard-pressed areas. While committing significant resources in time and staff expertise to the project, Professor Shellard believes that De Montfort Universities reputation as an innovative leader in the life of the city can be improved, and that a true partnership between the Mile2 communities and De Montfort University will help to foster a confidence as they face up to social change and transition.

Working with the new Leicester City Mayor, De Montfort University has identified the Fosse, Abbey and Western Park wards as areas that are in great flux, and that have largely been forgotten when it came to investment in community infrastructure. Described as an area that has ‘fallen in the middle,’ these are communities that are clearly suffering from the blight of abandoned buildings. With the closure of community facilities, and low levels of expectation by the people who live in these areas, the academic teams at De Montfort have been asked if they can provide support and help that might help fix some of the problems associated with these areas.

According to Dr Jason Wood, research director for the project, residents often describe the areas where they live as as unfriendly and unwelcoming. High on residents wishes is to improve the community feel of the area, and to minimise disruption caused by anti-social behaviour and crime. Among the many projects being fostered are. Expert teams in energy and sustainability offering advice on how to make homes more energy efficient. Expert teams working in health will offer training advice about how to stay fit and well. Expert historians want to build up a database of local community histories. Fuzzy logic and robotics experts will be sharing their skills in robot building, and DemonFM will be reporting each day on the events and activities that are taking part in the square mile with a community media reporting club.

Clair Baines, De Montfort University’s CEO said “Quality and distinctiveness are at the heart of De Montfort University, but we can’t be seen speaking a purely academic language to ourselves. Instead we should expose our expertise across society.” According to Jason Wood, the project research director, “the objective for the university is to learn how communities can be creatively engaged and utilised, while measuring the returns the university will get for it’s intellectual investment.”

The project will be launched fully in September after the selected teams have developed a business plan. Each project will then be monitored on a monthly basis with a central team supporting the work of the departmental teams. Jason Wood added that “Lots of people want to get involved, and think its great that a university is putting something back into the local communities that it shares it’s life in the city with.”

For further information contact squaremiledirector@dmu.ac.uk or follow the project on Twitter @dmusquaremile

DMU Square Mile Project – DemonFM 002 170511

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