X Close

UCL Public Engagement Unit Blog



“If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?”

By Briony Fleming, on 28 November 2018

 This blog has been written by Josie Mills: a student engager currently undertaking a PhD in Archaeology.

What is a Student Engager? There are 17 of us in total, who you might meet and chat to in any of the three museums around campus: UCL Art Museum, the Grant Museum or the Petrie Museum. We are PhD students at UCL and work as Engagers to communicate aspects of our research – and information about the museum collections – to visitors.

I’m an archaeologist studying stone tools made by Neanderthals, using different scientific techniques to work out where the rock came from. The information from these lithics (stone tools) can be used to explore aspects of prehistoric life, particularly movement and subsistence in changing landscapes. Student Engagers work in all three UCL museums, making connections between our PhD research and the collections. We also chat about what we do and objects from the museums on the Research Engager Blog.

When I first started working I adapted well to the Petrie Museum, whose oldest artefacts are stone tools, and the Grant Museum where several hominin casts are on display. UCL Art Museum on the other hand was a bit of a challenge. However, part of working as a Student Engager is adapting themes of our research to different situations. Last year UCL Art Museum held an exhibition of work by Slade School of Art students, including art by Cyrus Hung, who collected debris from the Slade studios and collated it in sketchbooks. These discarded items, including food wrappers and doodles, provided an insight into the human process of creating art, without showing the outcome. The work resonated with me because archaeology is very similar: we use items that have been left behind and removed from their systemic context, to reconstruct past behaviour.

Paleolithic Artefacts in the Petrie Museum

These are the oldest artefacts in the Petrie Museum they were made around half a million years ago.

As PhD students we specialise to an unusual degree, spending a lot of time alone in a lab or writing at a desk. Working as a Student Engager is very different, it throws our research – and us – open to a wide and diverse audience. We are asked, why is our niche subject relevant? Why is it interesting? In relation to the museums, we’re asked, why can’t we read hieroglyphs? Why don’t we know the Latin name of this bivalve?

It took time for all of us to realise which parts of our work are interesting to others and will support a meaningful discussion. A lot of what I do is tied up in our human prehistory, particularly discussing Neanderthals and their behaviour. I am a staunch defender of Homo neanderthalensis and love to tell visitors that most of them are 2-4% Neanderthal. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, ‘How did the Neanderthals become extinct?’ A traditional academic answer to this would be, there are many contributing factors like climatic fluctuation, low genetic diversity, and potential competition with humans. But as we have inherited Neanderthal DNA, maybe ‘extinct’ is not the right word and ‘assimilated’ is a better term. This answer is not always well-received. Someone once said to me, ‘If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?’ and that’s a valid question. Even though I might not use the term ‘extinct’, a representation of the archetypal Neanderthal doesn’t walk among us today.

Skull of Neanderthal Man

La Chapelle-Aux-Saints Neanderthal cast held at the Grant Museum – notice the pronounced brow ridge over the eye sockets.

On a lighter note, everyone (yes, even adults) is a little obsessed with toilet humour. In archaeology we talk a lot about preservation; the ability of artefacts to preserve is key to us finding them. This is particularly difficult in deeper prehistory as lots of factors, such as water and microbes, lead to decomposition. Preservation is fantastic in Egypt because the climate is arid and even organic material endures. This is something I like to talk about with visitors and I often begin with the bias that results from poor organic preservation then segue into a conversation about stone tools. Recently I was asked, ‘Well, what did the Egyptians do about the toilet, then?’ Initially stumped, I realised this visitor envisioned a catastrophic situation where all Ancient Egyptian poo was preserved, creating mountains of desiccated effluence for archaeologists to discover. When I talk about preservation I think of artefacts, but this person worried instead about a very basic human aspect of preservation.

This is what has influenced my PhD work most: the importance of human-ness and relatability, using imagery and bringing to life initially mundane things. I am continually surprised by how much people want to know about evolution, and this has forced me to keep up to date with paleoanthropological work, making me a better researcher. New findings and insights can change the narrative of our evolution in the blink of an eye. These key aspects of archaeological and anthropological research interest people and mustn’t be lost in a swathe of rocks, pollen, dirt and bone. Talking to visitors influences how we present our PhD projects whilst at the same time enriching their museum experience, providing expert knowledge disseminated in an accessible way. The idea of focused research presented in a framework of its wider relevance is crucial to the Student Engager role and it’s what we do every week across UCL’s museums.

Training, Networking, and Co-production: a reading week marathon.

By Briony Fleming, on 21 November 2018

Today we’re looking back at reading week, and some of the activity the UCL Engagement Team delivered. We were all hands on deck with a week of events and training to support researchers and staff improve and develop their skills and understanding of Public Engagement.

Public Engagement: Skills and Practice.
On Wednesday 7th November, we ran our full-day training course for the second time. Public Engagement: Skills & Practice is designed to be a practical and immersive one-day introduction to public engagement for staff and post-graduates students at UCL. The morning plenary offered an introduction to the Engagement Team and our role as well as hearing from a range of speakers and their own experiences of Public Engagement.

Esfand Burman spoke of his work through UCL IEDE and the Engineering Exchange supporting local residents to push for better standards in their housing and dealing with overheating. He talked of having to find way of explaining complex and technical details in a way that meant residents understood the options for heating and ventilation in their housing and were therefore better placed to lobby for more effective solutions to their issues with their local council.
Anne Laybourne followed on and spoke about her ‘first click’ on the Public Engagement Network newsletter, how this led to her becoming involved in one of our flagships programmes the Evaluation  Exchange, and this experience influencing her decision to move in a completely different direction and ultimately to a career change. She emphasised having to work hard to carve out the time to undertake public engagement in her role as a fixed term researcher and called for this space to be made more readily available.
Finally we heard from Tse-Hui Teh who talked animatedly about when it all goes wrong. She led us through a journey of her trials and tribulations in a range of public engagement projects, from partnership breakdowns, to unreasonable budgets, and taking on too much work. Importantly she spoke about what she learnt from each of these instances, and how each piece of public engagement she undertook was informed by the last. Despite the rocky road she felt that her public engagement activity was essential to her research, and that the good far outweighed the bad.

Anne Laybourne presenting at PESP

After Lunch, delegates broke into a series of workshops. Each designed to target a different public engagement skill, participants chose which workshop they felt most suited their public engagement journey and development needs. The sessions included:

  • Get Funded. How to plan, write, and critique your public engagement application for funding.
  • Creative Ideas Generation. How to generate ideas and be creative with your public engagement.
  • Evaluation What? How? Why? How to plan, design and deliver high quality evaluation of your Public Engagement Activity
  • Making Public Engagement Projects Happen. How to deliver high-quality project management of your Public Engagement from planning to delivery.

For more information, or to have the slides and resources from the day, please send us an email

Centre for Co-Production: co-creation of training and resources.

Following on from PESP, we were back to it, with team member Niccola Hutchison Pascal, and the UCL centre for Co-production in Health Research delivering a session looking at how we co-create training and resources for the centre.

Post-it notes and snacks on a table

The session brought together a wide range of voices and a number of those running Centre for Co-Production Pilot projects to think about what useful resources look like, and how training should be co-created to be useful and responsive.Discussion centred around topics around how to make training inclusive, intersting and accessible. Suggestions for multi-media approaches, diverse training leads, and producing resources that could be adapted to lots of situations were all highlighted as important factors.  The conversation throughout the morning was fruitful, and varied and we look forward with anticipation to see what is produced. Watch this space for more information and updates!

Read more about the centre and the pilot projects on our blog

Creating Connections East.

Last but not least we delivered the latest in our regular networking event, Creating Connections. The event brought together representatives from UCL, UEL (University of East London), and east London’s Voluntary Community Sector Organisations (VCSOs) to talk around a number of themes. This was the sixth Creating Connections that we have run in east London and was delivered with UCL Public Engagement, Students’ Union UCL Volunteering Service , UEL , and London Borough of Newham Community Neighbourhood Team. Discussions were had around 5 themes of: Youth Safety and Youth Opportunity, Technology for Good, Literacy and English as a Second Language, Women in Leadership and Heritage and East London. Participants joined two groups each for 25 minutes after which was a quickfire feedback (1.5 minutes per table) followed by a more informal networking session. We were joined by almost 60 participants  covering a wide range of disciplines and interests.

The best bit for me was definitely the conversations and group introductions. It was wonderful to see all the positive work taking place

Table discussion at Creating Connections East

If you are interested in finding about about any of our future events, workshops or training, follow us on twitter or sign up to our monthly  newsletter.

Who cares if bleeding gums worsen diabetes and heart disease?

By Niccola K Hutchinson Pascal, on 12 November 2018

This blog has been written by UCL Centre for Co-Production in Health Research Pilot Team Members – Heather, Ian, Brian and Francesco

Cartoon image of gums bleeding (Image credit: geelongmedicalgroup.com.au)

Everyone’s gums bleed, right?

So what’s the deal? Well, for most people bleeding means gum problems and in around half could affect smiling and chewing by damaging the bone around the teeth and causing the gum line to shrink up. You can prevent it with coaching in self-care from your dental team. Once it has taken hold it is very treatable in the early stages.

Your mouth is connected to your body and the connection works both ways, particularly in diabetes

It is now clear that gum disease can worsen diabetes health and increase the risk of complications including heart disease. In the opposite direction, diabetes can worsen gum disease. New research has just been published in The Lancet, from University College London, Eastman Dental Institute led by Francesco D’Aiuto. The results show that intensive treatment of gum health can improve blood sugar levels in diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease. Remarkably, the effect is similar to diabetes medicines. It seems to work by reducing the inflammation in the body that is caused by the bacteria in severe gum disease.

Lead researcher, Francesco D’Aiuto said:

‘Around 4 million people are living with diabetes in the UK the number is rising rapidly. Half of the population have some form of a gum condition which could affect their diabetes. Making it easier for people to have better control of their diabetes health is powerful and could also save our NHS millions of pounds. We are excited by the research results and now need to test how well it works in the community’.

We need to work together to design better research: Co-pro

People holding a sign that says – Co-production on it (Image credit: franohara.com)

The next stage of research will test how well the treatment works when given in the same way as could be rolled out across the country. However, it is extremely difficult to get the design of the research right and health professionals will have very different opinions from people living diabetes. So, we have set things up differently, as a co-production. This means that our planning team includes patients, members of the community, diabetes and cardiovascular health professionals, gum health professionals and clinical trial statisticians. Co-production means that we make decisions together.

Brain Potter commented:

‘As a member of the public and part of this team, it is important to me that health researchers look at the effect of the teeth and gums on peoples’ health. They must affect each other in some way. I hope this research will get people thinking about how they can work together across different health areas’.

This is a new approach to research design and we are also learning how best to do it. What is extremely helpful is the support from the University College London, Centre for Co-Production in Health Research and it’s fair to say that we are all learning together.

Heather Johnson a councillor with Camden, one of the team said:

‘As someone with diabetes, I think this is an exciting project to work with. Local community members like me have an important part in bringing in the views of the community and especially those with diabetes’.

Come and join us on 19 November

The Living Centre logo

Please join us for some food and an informal meeting to discuss the research at The Living Centre, 2 Ossulston Street, London NW1 1DF near Kings Cross station, 19 November, 3.00-5.00pm (we are happy refund your travel expenses). We would welcome a broad range of ideas to help with the project including from people living with diabetes, GPs, diabetes nurses, pharmacists, dentists, hygienists and health and social support workers. To get you started, these are just some of the issues that we have identified as particularly important. You may have further ideas:

1. How can we recruit people with gum disease to the study from diabetes clinics and GP practices?
2. What would encourage people with diabetes to seek gum treatment in the study?
3. What would help people in the study to keep up their daily gum care and to come back for follow-up visits over the two years of the project?
4. What type of care should we compare the people receiving the gum treatment with? What is routine or community care for gum health?
If you are thinking of coming please let our project coordinator know if you would like to take part: l.hakobyan@ucl.ac.uk.

We look forward to seeing you on 19 November!

Heather Johnson, Camden Council
Ian Needleman, University College London, Eastman Dental Institute
Brian Potter, Islington Leaseholders Association
Francesco D’Aiuto, University College London, Eastman Dental Institute

Creativity and Impact: Public Engagement Network Meeting

By Briony Fleming, on 29 October 2018

This post has been written by Helen Craig: Public Engagement Manager (SLMS)

Does evaluation for impact always have to mean a questionnaire? The latest Public Engagement Network meeting was all about Creative Methods for Evaluating Impact, so that’s the question 20 UCL researchers came together to explore on Wednesday October 10 2018. Dr. Gemma Moore and Lizzie Cain from the Evaluation team in UCL Culture teamed up to give an overview of their work and introduce us to the “so what” test: an effective method for getting to the difference you hope to make with your activities. They emphasised that public engagement can be a pathway to any type of impact – from health and wellbeing, to economic and commercial – and that evaluation is only useful as long as it’s useful to you. We then heard from two guests who had experience in creatively evaluating their events.

Dr. Helen Stark, Research Impact Manager at UCL, gave a peek behind the curtain for how she evaluated an evening event looking into people’s emotional experiences with objects. The evaluation was run through the event like a watermark with each stall featuring a chance to leave feedback, often in the form of participatory art, and a final evaluation stand that was designed like a huge game of mousetrap.
Anne Crisp spoke next, sharing her personal experiences with creatively evaluating events and a checklist of over 30 possible methods of doing so. Anne works in Community Development at Aston-Mansfield, a Charity based in the London Borough of Newham which delivers a range of services for children, young people and families in east London. Over her career Anne has arranged everything from walk and talk sessions with young adults, to gathering feedback on paper tablecloths from family groups.  Attendees then had the chance to put what they’d learnt into practice with small group sessions facilitated by the engagement team, creating sample evaluation plans and discussing past projects.

If you were unable to attend you can  still download the resources:
Public Engagement Network Meeting slides
Example Evaluation Worksheet
Aston-Mansfield Creative Evaluation

The engagement team have produced a number of resources to help with evaluation which can be found on our website. See below our top tips for evaluation.

10 top tips for evaluating your engagement project

  • Don’t leave evaluation to the end of a project or activity, build evaluation in at the start. We believe evaluation is an on-going, iterative process that takes places throughout the life of a project or activity.
  • Evaluation should link to the aims and objectives of your project. Take time to define what these are, and think carefully about what changes you think your project may have.
  • Think about what to measure before how to measure! Assess and measure what is important rather than what is easy to measure.
  • Another questionnaire??? There are lots of evaluation methods, both quantitative and qualitative methods, think about what method is appropriate.
  • Evaluation should not (just be) about showcasing successes. The unexpected, unpredicted, and experiences of failure and confusion are all part of the evaluation process.
  • Evaluation can enable a range of people’s voices to be heard; a diversity of stakeholders and perspectives should be involved in the evaluation process.
  • Evaluation should lead to action – use your evaluations to make decisions, plan activities, develop resources and advise others.
  • Consult and collaborate with colleagues and communities to ensure you’re your evaluation approach constantly evolves.
  • Don’t produce a report that sits on a shelf: share the learning from your evaluation in a number of ways (toolkits, advice, case studies, presentations and reports).
  • Ask for help!

If this PEN meeting has gotten your creative juices flowing then sign-up for our Public Engagement Skills and Practice Training Day on November 7 .
If you’d like to work with community organisations like Aston-Mansfield, sign-up for our Creating Connections East event on November 8 .
And if any ideas are sparked by those events, you can also apply for our Beacon Bursary funding to help get things started: deadline midnight November 18th.

We love to hear your opinions on what would help and so if you have any ideas please drop us a line: publicengagement@ucl.ac.uk. Read the rest of this entry »

CO-llaboration is key! The journey continues for UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research

By Niccola K Hutchinson Pascal, on 13 September 2018

This blog is written by a few of the Centre collaborators to date – Elaine, Sarifa, Dave & Niccola – we’ve each written part of this update. Find out more about each of us at the end of this blog.

The key elements important for collaboration (Photo credit: LindaShell.com)

Whether it is co-production, co-creation, or co-design, what is important to the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research is the CO-llaboration! No faux-production here!

I don’t know about you (it’s Niccola speaking by the way) but I’d never heard that term before someone mentioned it to me (thank you Beth!) but then when you look into it, it rings oh so many bells! It’s that pretend co-production where what happens is at its best glorified consultation. This fake collaboration is something that the Centre wants to battle against. We want to champion genuine co-production of health research, services and policy development and build a case to support this way of working where there is genuine sharing of power and decision-making. The Centre is very much open to all who want to be involved!

For those of you that haven’t come across us before please feel free to have a read of our last blog about setting up the Co-pro Pilots. The idea is that these pilots will help us, an ever-evolving group of collaborators, work out how we go about bringing this Centre to life.

So what’s the latest?? Well, we’ve had a crazy busy summer. Great news though, things are progressing well with developing the plans that we co-created.

In fact… we have a whole load of announcements to share…

1. The Co-pro Pilots are live!

Well, they are just about live… just a few more logistical things to be sorted out in order to get them live by the end of Sept.

This is Sarifa speaking now… I was part of the Pilots Review Team (a mixed group of Centre collaborators including patients, carers, local residents, researchers, and healthcare professionals). I was looking out for several important things, that l personally campaign for and represent. The biggest priority being diversity and ideas for reaching out to more people whose voices are seldom heard. As a Review Team, we all worked so hard to ensure that we were choosing projects to fund who had found creative ways of reaching these groups.

We (the Centre) are committed to addressing all barriers our community face. People are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers people more independence, choice and control. We are aiming to be very inclusive in all areas of our work. Nothing about us without us!

The Review Team members read and scored the applications (we had 10 in total) and then met up as a group at the St Pancras & Somers Town Living Centre to discuss each application in depth. Ultimately, we came to a collective decision as to which ones scored most highly against the criteria outlined as important in the application form and supporting documentation. There was A LOT of lively discussion!

The Pilots funded range from qualitative research into the experience of being diagnosed with an uncommon cancer, to co-production of the next steps for a Somers Town schools-based programme that uses boxing as a medium to help students that are experiencing challenges in engagement with learning, behaviour, and emotional issues. The Pilots all have one thing in common though – their UNRELENTING ambition to embrace authentic co-creation in the work that the collaborators are planning to conduct.

You can read more about the Pilots in this summary document – as a PDF.

In addition, we have been hard at work to secure providers to help us deliver the aims and objectives of the Centre.

2. Development of an evaluation strategy is underway!

We plan to co-create an evaluation strategy and framework for the Centre during the Pilots. We operated an open application process, and similar to the Co-pro Pilots, reviewed all applications as a group of collaborators against a set of criteria. We came to a collective decision as to who we felt would be the most suitable candidate. The review team are pleased to announce that we chose…

Just Ideas logo

Just Ideas Sustainable Solutions Ltd is a company set up to support organisations working towards positive social, organisational and systems change and environmental justice. They are dedicated to co-creation of development and action and passionate about ensuring that people are at the heart of what they do and how they work.

This is Dave, I was part of the Evaluation Tender Review Team. My previous experience has been as a member of evaluation teams – working on bids for evaluation work and actually conducting evaluations. It was a novel experience to be on the other side of the table when it came to reviewing providers. I came to the review meeting with some trepidation about what I could really contribute to the review process and a collection of scribbled down thoughts. There was a clear commitment to the principle of co-production present from the very beginning of the meeting. LOTS of discussion in a structured way, but without any restrictive hierarchy allowed equal consideration of all thoughts and opinions making for a surprisingly enjoyable meeting. I left with an understanding of how people can work together rather than just be consulted by an evaluation team giving their needs lip service while the evaluation proceeds with a pre-fabricated evaluation strategy. But… most of all, I left with a clear understanding of the benefits of co-creation and the confidence that it would be a real part of these evaluations!

As a Centre we won’t get everything right first time but we are trying to be open, transparent and to learn as we go – this evaluation work is a key part of this learning and development. All feedback is good feedback (no need to “be nice”) so please get in touch if there is anything you’d like to share. In addition, it will be vital that the Pilots and providers learn from each other as they go along, they each have unique strengths that they can share with each other.

3. Training & resource development is in progress

Search for a training provider is following a similar process – we will share an update soon. As with the evaluation development, the plan is that training and resources to support the Centre are co-created during the Pilots.

This is Elaine speaking now, I was involved in a Centre co-creation session in March, the importance of training and how we might develop something useful and relevant for the Centre was a key part of this discussion. It was indeed lively and sparked debate. It was a collection of thoughts and ideas which I felt got results. A real move towards fresh thinking and not being bogged down with the outdated tick boxing. It generates more ideas. Generic tick boxing in my view produces a second hand movement with no personal notes. It is tokenistic and impersonal. I felt that a BSL signer and pictorial opportunities to enable those who may find it hard to express themselves would have added to the session, this is learning that was put into action in the next co-creation session where Debbie’s artwork was created. Definitely have an in-depth look if you haven’t already!

Part of graphic illustration of the work and discussions to date about the visualising the Centre (Photo and design credit: Debbie Roberts, Engage Visually)

I felt an air of expectancy and vibrancy in the session I was part of which was so very positive in the room. Grassroots thinking is vital to encourage innovation. There was a strong ethos of inclusivity…. not us and them. No line was drawn between researches and everyone else. This really matters. The integrated groups were diverse which encompassed differing viewpoints. We are all in it as equals. Now we need to take action! That’s what it’s all about… trail blazing and seeing positive outcomes. Sharing is a brilliant word!

4. A key date for the diary

Please let Niccola know if you are keen to join the Team for the following session. Everyone is welcome!

  • The first evaluation co-creation session – Wednesday 17 October 2018, 13.00 – 16.30, near Kings Cross

So… where to next?

Well, there is masses to do! Lots of learning to be absorbed from the Pilots and the challenges they face, what works well and what doesn’t in fostering great, authentic co-production. Then, the other key thing is to explore is whether we feel we require a ‘brand’ name, a logo and website for the Centre.

Exciting times! We’d better stop rattling on and get cracking! If you would like to join the team and get involved in any of the development work please do get in touch with Niccola! Bye for now!

Niccola, Sarifa, Dave, & Elaine

Meet the bloggers!

Sarifa Patel – I’m disabled Asian women, an activist promoting and campaigning for equality for all at local and national level.

Dave Harrison – I’m new to co-creation, despite being a philosopher I am interested in finding ways to make evaluation practical and useful.

Niccola H-Pascal – I’m coffee obsessed and a lover of all things co-production/co-creation determined to take action and make things happen! I want to help enable more and more co-production to take place around the country.

Elaine Manna – I’m a massive supporter of collaborative research. The importance of valuing and saving people’s lives and improving health, overrides everything else. I’ll fight like a warrior together with all the other warriors for this. Grass roots…. to survive!


A very engaging summer: public engagement in east London

By Briony Fleming, on 31 July 2018

We have had a hugely busy summer in east London.

£100m secured for UCL East as part of East Bank

On the 5th June the Mayor of London, Saddiq Khan, hosted an event to launch of East Bank (formally the Cultural Education District) where we received final confirmation of the commitment of £100m capital funding towards our new east London campus. Speaking at the event Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, said: “As one of the world’s leading universities, we address many of the most pressing global challenges of our time. UCL East will take this one step further…Our new campus will bring together seven UCL faculties to generate radical and innovative research and teaching programmes. These will range from robotics, artificial intelligence and media, to innovative finance, global health leadership, advanced propulsion and sustainable cities.”  You can read more about the launch on the UCL East website.

Great Get Together

On the 24th June, under the blazing sun in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a dazzling array of kaleidoscopes were about to be made. This all came about as part of our work with UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, where we have been thinking about ways in which we can open up the word leading research in the department to people outside of the university, creating a culture of two-way engagement between researchers and the public.

First on our agenda was thinking about how we can create opportunities for researchers to try out engagement and have meaningful conversations about their work with different public audiences. The Great Get Together presented the perfect opportunity.  We joined forces with artist Emilie Giles to come up with a making activity which researchers from the department could use to start conversations about their research (much of which has a link to light). After consultations with the Public Engagement Unit and researchers from Electronic and Electrical Engineering, a kaleidoscope making activity was finalised, and our team of amazing researchers (Dan, Sherif and Zahra), along with the East Engagement team, headed to the Olympic Park where hundreds of families and young people were congregating. Local families made and decorated kaleidoscopes, using coloured beads and material to diffract the light, while having conversations around research within Electronic and Electrical Engineering. The activity proved extremely popular, and an estimated 450 kids and parents alike participated over the course of the day. So, it was a really busy afternoon, expertly delivered by Dan, Sherif, Zahra and our East Engagement team. Well done to all!


Visual Notetaking

Humans Make Plastic

Ahead of Open Doors: Vote 100 (a partnership showcase event between East Bank organisations) UCL’s Engagement Team, together with Bow Arts Trust, brought together UCL researchers, local artists and zero waste activists in an event to discuss plastics,

sustainability and women-led activism. The 20th June event, later named Humans Make Plastics by participants, was led and designed by London artist Camilla Brendon. It used plastic pollution (much of it sourced from the River Lea with the support of the Canal and River Trust) to design and build a collaborative sculpture which acted as a tool to talk about the research being undertaken into plastics at UCL. Catherine Conway of Unpackaged also gave a talk about her role in trying to remove plastic from the food and retail supply chain. The final sculpture from the workshop, will also be shown at the Bloomsbury Festival in October.


Open Doors: Vote 100

Open Doors: Vote 100 was the first time all East Bank partners (Sadler’s Wells, Smithsonian Institute, London College of Fashion, UCL and V&A) came together to deliver a collaborative event. The event, on the 22nd July, included dance, music and poetry, displays, debates, workshops and screenings, and was suitable for all ages. Highlights included excerpts from Suffraggedon, an in-production hip-hop feminist musical written by Guilty Feminist contributors, an exhibition showing the works of 20 artists inspired by an image embroidered by incarcerated suffragettes in 1912, and dance performances & workshops from Company Wayne Macgregor and Myself UK Company.

In addition to re-delivering both its Textile 100 and Humans Make Plastics workshops, UCL was also represented by a number of academics who took part in an item called the long conversation. This format brought together artists, film makers, scientists and activist to discuss the question ‘What makes you optimistic about the future’. The conversation acted as a relay with each person being first interviewed and then becoming the interviewer. You can read the full programme on the Olympic Park website.

It has been a great summer so far and we are looking ahead to our autumn term activities. First up is Harvest Stomp, an event on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with live music, dancing, food stalls, arts and craft stalls as well as a programme of workshops, demonstrations and entertainment. We will be hosting a stall in partnership with Biochemical Engineering and their micro-brewery (yes, UCL has a micro brewery!). If you are interested in taking part in this event or finding out what more UCL is doing in east London please send us an email at: engagement-east@ucl.ac.uk 

2018 Funded Projects

By Tadhg Caffrey, on 27 July 2018

Congratulations to all of our funded projects for our recent Beacon Bursaries and Train and Engage rounds. We had some fantastic applications, and both panels were forced to make some tough decisions in deciding where our limited funding could go. We are delighted to be working with colleagues from every school at UCL on these upcoming projects, and can’t wait to see the important, impactful work that is sure to emerge as the projects develop.

Project participants in The Gambia, from Laura Kichskel’s 2017/18 Train and Engage project

We’re delighted to celebrate the success of our current funded projects, which you can read about here:

Train and Engage funded projects

Beacon Bursary funded projects

The funding panels for both schemes were struck by the quality of applications this year, and sensed a notable change in the depth and importance being placed on Public Engagement, and leading on projects that create dialogue with public, patient and community groups.

For more information on our funding schemes, and for case studies on previously funded projects, visit our funding hub.


Muted – The Power Of Symbolism Through Textile

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 17 July 2018

This blog is written by Sharon Brooks, Event Manager at UCL Culture. Sharon led on the Textile 100 Event at the Olympic Park Stratford in 2018.

photographs and equipment for the textiles 100 event

The handkerchief was a powerful symbol of camaraderie and identity in the past. Women sought social change through the language of textiles. Inmates’ signatures and the struggle were inscribed, embroidery was a form of disobedience and femininity that marked a pivotal time in history, where women were seen and not heard.

100 years ago crafts became a significant outlet for the incarcerated suffrage community. Political statements were made through the use of textiles by forming intricate embroidery on handkerchiefs, a popular outlet behind the walls of London’s Holloway prison during the hunger strikes.

Textile 100 was established by the East Bank partners UCL, London College of Fashion and the V&A in March 2018 as a new collaborative initiative combining the use of art, culture, research and community. It was born out of celebrating the centenary of women and winning the right to vote.

handkerchief embroidered by suffragette prisoners

The original handkerchief, embroidered by suffragette prisoners, used as inspiration for the event

The workshop took place in Timber Lodge on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, just across the Lea River from Victoria Park which was a regular space for mass rallies in 1845 and an established hub of activism. The local community were encouraged to explore their creativity and produce designs on handkerchiefs that captured the essence of the 19th century. For many the textile tasks took them back to their childhood days of arts, crafts and sharing ideas in a fun and engaging environment with their peers. They were inspired by historical and contemporary issues that were presented and highlighted throughout the day through embroidery, talks and poetry.

The fight for justice could take another 100 years and there is still monumental strides to be made in attitudes towards women’s rights and equality. The current pay gap barrier and the #MeToo campaign have become a worldwide cultural phenomenon led by powerful women. Today’s protests are peaceful, loud without the violent chaos.

Women have now found their voice and cemented their rightful place in society to be fearless and free to express their opinions. They are recognised as some of the greatest beacons in society – winning in all areas of life.

In the 1880s this was just a vision embroidered on a handkerchief to emphasise the need to incorporate women in many aspects of public life. As lawyers, scientists and politicians – the achievements and evolution of the women must be celebrated. As Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics sang “Sisters are doing it for themselves / Now this is a song to celebrate / the conscious liberation of the female state!“

Rewind back 100 years ago to 1918 women were enslaved by society and lived a disenfranchised life, deprived of any physical political acknowledgement in a patriarchal society. Women were devalued; they had no choice and no voice. Many women were imprisoned for their militant actions. They just wanted to be heard in a male dominated society.

Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the original Suffragettes is the epitome of an extraordinary, phenomenal and strong women. She became the voice of the people by campaigning for adequate housing, equal pay and voting rights. In 1903 she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union which was known as a radical party and often used extreme methods in order to get their message heard. Sometimes violent, they were the first women to be labelled as Suffragettes. Pankhurst’s political activism paved the way for today’s modern women.


hands and embroidery


During the twentieth century textiles became an accepted form of expression through political struggles. A sacred form of communication filled the prisons and stories were told through textiles, protests were created by intricate painful embroidery, personal experience of resistance and resentment translated through muted voices, an unspoken political rule – textiles formed a barrier against the system.

Textile 100 has proven to be a solid platform to connect London with the local community while fusing a rich tradition of textile heritage and combing that with the centenary celebrations. The transaction of ideas along with the exchange of knowledge of research and creativity highlights the importance of collaborative projects whilst working towards achieving something even bigger through the power of togetherness and public engagement.

Textile 100 was a collaboration between UCL, V&A and London College of Fashion. Sharon has previously run Bright Club for UCL, and you can read about that event in her previous blog post.

The Textile 100 event is being repeated on Sunday 22nd July 2018 at Open Doors: Vote 100

Public engagement at UCL: Stepping stones to the future

By Tadhg Caffrey, on 6 July 2018

Where have we been and where are we going? An amazing graphic recording of the discussions in the meeting by Caroline Chapple (chapplecartoons.co.uk)

At the 10th Anniversary Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, the Provost launched a formal call to the UCL community to join a conversation about where we want to take public engagement at UCL by 2028. He has invited Laura Cream, Head of Public Engagement, to meet him in Spring 2019 to share the Top Ten Targets for Public Engagement at UCL, and the stepping stones for reaching them. So on Wednesday 20 June 2018, our network meeting brought together a variety of UCL staff and students to begin the conversation and open the platform to others at UCL to lead it.

The session was opened by Laura Cream who highlighted that while UCL should be rightly proud of its leading role in the sector,  there is still a lot more to do. She underlined that this can only happen with a strong coalition of allies inside and outside the institution. Laura’s challenge to the group, and to her team, is to turn the aspirational rhetoric of institutional strategies and plans into tangible change at UCL and concrete actions which build enduring links to communities in our neighbourhoods. She particularly wanted to encourage us to think about creating clearly signposted ‘doorways into UCL’ for communities outside, cross-institutional platforms which help people shortcut the process of relationship building and delivering on commitments to improving the lives of those who live and work in our neighbourhoods in terms of access to our procurement contracts, employment opportunities and facilities. Finally, she called for a greater focus on public engagement within the curriculum. Laura sets out further her vision for Public Engagement in the next 10 years.

The meeting was then run by leaders in engagement from across the institution. First up

was Professor Sarah Bell, of the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources, and director of the Engineering Exchange. Sarah pulled no punches and, via an analysis of the relative staffing and governance levels of Public Engagement and Innovation and Enterprise at UCL, argued that universities have become unbalanced in terms of the interests that they serve. Sarah argued that while these two areas have much in common – their focus on the importance of upstream engagement, a special interest in London and the value of co-production and co-design) – what sets them apart is their access to both power and money. Sarah argued that UCL Public Engagement has consistently punched above its weight given its scale and resource-level (citing the inclusion of public engagement in both the draft UCL Research Strategy and UCL Academic Careers Promotion framework as two examples) but asked how much more they could achieve if similarities between these areas could be exploited to further create opportunities to work with public groups in meaningful ways.

Next up, Andi Skilton (Senior Research Associate Lead at NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) stimulated discussion around Patient and Public Involvement work at UCL. Andi outlined the PPI agenda as set out by the National Institute for Health Research and INVOLVE, again pointing out that there were many crossovers between this and the broader public engagement agenda which and  could be further exploited in the next ten years. The section closed with a discussion between those working in PPI and those working public engagement, creating an opportunity to share expertise and offer solutions to problems that may not occur to you when you’re working within a single, rigid policy area.


Dr Michael Edwards of the Bartlett, and founder member of the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) and of the Planners Network UK (PNUK), gave us insight into his celebrated public engagement achievements. He highlighted his delight to see that public engagement was no longer seen as a barrier to promotion, and in fact can now enhance those prospects. Michael spoke passionately about working with students to engender a sense of engagement as a necessary part of both learning and researching, and that UCL’s work should be guided by the needs of the whole of society, rather than select elements of it. Michael convened a group discussion on how public engagement could work better with the Connected Curriculum, and how we could be more responsive to community need.


Finally, John Braime, Manager of the Volunteering Service, took us through the evolution he had observed over the past 10 years and then focused on many of the barriers left to be navigated to achieve our collective ambition of engaging community and public groups in a meaningful fashion. John gave us summaries of Creating Connections, the Evaluation Exchange and the Science Shop, a few examples of mechanisms that we have used to link groups together and to initiate projects beginning with local, community needs. John challenged the group to think about how we will create more opportunities for external partners to initiate and lead projects, supported by expertise at UCL.



The session ended with Georgia Pitts, Public Engagement Manager for BEAMS, and Lizzy Baddeley, Project Manager for EPSRC Community Engagement, leading a discussion on what our collective destinations for the next ten years might be, and the stepping stones to get there. I bounced around a few tables and eavesdropped on conversations which ranged from sign-posting opportunities for communities, creating Public Engagement champions across UCL departments, establishing more matchmaking mechanisms for projects and a host of other ideas.

Just a snapshot of some of the suggested ‘Destinations’ and ‘Stepping Stones’ for Public Engagement at UCL

The session was lively and has given us much food for thought, but we still want to hear your ideas. We’ll be updating you all soon on our next steps and further chances for discussion in September. In the meantime, share your ideas by emailing the UCL Public Engagement Unit at publicengagement@ucl.ac.uk or connect on Twitter by tagging @UCLEngage with the hashtag #PublicEngagementFutures


The Co-pro Pilots are here! Funding available from the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research

By Niccola K Hutchinson Pascal, on 2 July 2018

Today we (you, me and everyone else who wants to be involved!), are launching the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research Pilots. Exciting times!

Doubly exciting because today is the start of National Co-production Week ‘Nothing about us without us’ brought to you by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).

Graphic illustration of the work and discussions to date about the Centre (Photo and design credit: Debbie Roberts, Engage Visually)

As you may already have heard, we are not your average research Centre. We are aiming to do things DIFFERENTLY! The Centre is currently being developed with funding from the Wellcome Trust. Once launched, it will support genuine collaboration between communities, researchers and healthcare professionals. Together we will look to address the questions important to us all and develop innovations, products and/or treatments to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Please read on to find out how you can get involved in the Pilots. You do not need to be a researcher or from a university to get involved.

We started work back in October 2017 with a series of Expert Advice & Ideas sessions, check out Laura’s blog: The adventure begins! (which is about one of these sessions). Rather than launching the Centre based on UCL aims and objectives, we are working to co-produce the development as a project team. The team is made up of an ever-evolving group of collaborators (aka Co-producers) – people from the local community, patients, carers, researchers and healthcare professionals. Everyone brings their own skills and experience to the table, we share power and together make a dynamite team!

The word impossible with a rubber rubbing out the ‘im’ to leave possible (Photo credit: Instants Presents)

We aim to focus on quality of life and people’s views of the best way to maximise it rather than statistics or morbidity. We want to challenge the traditional funding model that asks researchers (whether from the community or a university model) to make decisions about research design, expected outcomes and results before starting to work with patients, public and the community. We appreciate this is a departure from the status quo, which is why we are all here to support each other; it is a learning experience for everyone involved!

As a team we’ve been busy since October. Debbie from Engage Visually has done an amazing graphic illustration (included as a image above or downloadable below) that really brings the work since then to life, please feel free to have a nosey! If you would like me to talk you through the artwork this is no problem just give me (Niccola) a call.

So… what are the Pilots all about?

Well, we’ve reached a stage in the Centre’s development where we’re looking to identify Pilot projects to test and refine our approach. We are looking for collaborators (organisations or individuals), to join us and be at the cutting edge of this way of approaching health and social care research.

These Pilots (see the Pilot Information documents below for details) will help us to:

  • Identify how the Centre will strengthen and improve health research design and delivery
  • Bring the Centre to life by starting to build resources, toolkits and a visual identity
  • Decide upon future ways of working in terms of both the processes which underpin our operations and the training in co-production we offer all involved

    Traffic cone with an ‘under construction’ sign and hard hat hanging on it (Photo credit: The SPL Group)

Interested in getting involved?

Great! Please have a look at the Pilot Information documents below and get in touch with Niccola by midnight on 12 August 2018 to be involved in the Pilots (or by midnight on 22 July 2018*, with an email expressing interest, for the Prep for Pilots work). That really isn’t very far away so please get onto it quick!

And… don’t forget to promote this opportunity with anyone that you think would be interested and who shares the values and vision of the Centre (you can find out more about this in the FAQs document listed below).

Thank you! Looking forward to chatting soon!

Pilot information documents

Debbie’s graphic illustration of the Centre development work to date – as a PDF

In addition, we are looking for a consultants, organisations or collaborations of individuals/organisations to support the Centre in delivering Pilots 3, 4 and evaluation set-up. Please have a read and respond to the following Invitation to Tender documents if you would like to be considered.

  • Evaluation strategy & framework development – as a PDF
  • Training programme & Resource development – as a PDF

Not interested in working on a Pilot project but still want to help or just be kept up to date?

This is no problem at all! Please contact me (Niccola) – we would love to involve you or your organisation in whatever way works for you!


*Blog and documentation updated 04/07/18 as this deadline for Prep for Pilots work only was missing previously – if this change causes you any problems please get in touch with Niccola.