Volunteer to be neighbourly

November 12, 2004

Animosity between "town and gown" is a perennial problem, but in Leeds it came to a head in the 1990s when the "studentisation" of areas of the city led to serious criticism of the students, who were stereotyped as noisy, scruffy drunks.

Leeds University decided to do something about it. In 2000, it became the first university to develop a community strategy and to employ a dedicated community liaison officer. Since then, it has introduced a housing strategy, which includes a neighbourhood helpline for reporting problems caused by students.

"It's about a long-term strategic commitment to the community, demonstrating that community relations are high on the university's agenda," says Ceri Nursaw, head of the university's City, Regional and Widening Participation Office.

The city council and the local community are kept informed of key times in the academic year around which an annual programme of activities is coordinated, such as recycling projects.

The Leeds University Community Initiative also offers grants for projects that will benefit deprived local communities.

This summer, Wali Rahman was appointed community liaison coordinator for Bath University and Bath Spa University College and the local authority.

Bath has enjoyed good relations between students and the community, he says, which is why projects are aimed at prevention rather than cure.

Students receive information at the beginning of term on how to be a good neighbour, and landlords must also ensure that gardens and properties are maintained.

Volunteering is the main way universities can interact with the community.

An established scheme is Sheffield's Hallam Volunteers. This year's 26 projects will attract 400-500 students. Jayne Evans, the manager of the scheme, says volunteering "breaks down the perception of students and helps students to break down their own stereotypes".

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