The Celebration of Communities, taking place in May 2017, brought people together from across Tower Hamlets to meet others, share ideas and learn more about work that connects communities in our borough and beyond. Taking place to launch the Festival of Communities the event welcomed local community organisations, charities and residents alongside Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) staff and students.
The event took place in the newly refurbished foyer of the Queens' Building, the original site of the People's Palace, a philanthropic victorian centre for the people of East London. The celebration hosted the first Community Awards, honoring the proud tradition of the People's Palace by recognising the people and projects at QMUL that work with the community to mutual benefit.
The awards were introduced by Professor Simon Gaskell, QMUL President and Principal, who reaffirmed the commitment of the university to working with and for its east London community before passing over to co-hosts Sotez Chowhury, an active figure in the Tower Hamlets community, and Professor Peter McOwan, Vice Principal Public Engagement and Student Enterprise at QMUL.
Seven awards were then presented to eight projects that have connected communities across Tower Hamlets, the United Kingdom and internationally. For a full description of the winners see below:
Community Collaboration Award for Research
Connected Seeds and Sensors
Sara Heitlinger, Science and Engineering
Mhairi Weir, Manager at Spitalfields City Farm
Nick Bryan-Kinns, Hamed Haddadi, Nanda Khaorapapong, QMUL, Women's Environmental Network and Garden Organic
Connected Seeds and Sensors was an eighteen month research project with local urban agricultural communities to co-design a community-based, digitally-enhanced seed library that tells the stories of locally grown seeds and the people who grew them.
The Connected Seeds Library aims to capture, share, and celebrate the diversity of urban food-growing and seed-saving practices with the wider public, to increase skill and knowledge of growing “exotic” crops (i.e. not typically grown in the UK), which are in particular demand in this part of the country due to large scale immigration and ethnic diversity.
The wider aim is to empower local communities by connecting them to their heritage through stories around food, seeds, and crop cultivation. It will decrease their reliance on consuming shop-bought produce thereby saving them money, as well as contribute to a healthy diet of freshly grown local vegetables.
Community Collaboration Award for Teaching
The Practice of Law in a Clinical Environment
The Legal Advice Centre
This undergraduate module provides the opportunity for undergraduate law students to advise clients from the local community on specific legal problems under the supervision of volunteer barristers and solicitors.
Students address a range of local legal problems from family and immigration disputes to company law and intellectual property law advice for artists and start-up companies.
Before taking cases students complete over ten hours of training in various skills and subject specific knowledge. They then lead in running each case, including liaising with the lawyer and client, and keeping the case file up to date.
Community Collaboration Award for Professional Services
QMUL Sustainability (Green Mary)
Sara Aziz (on behalf of the Sustainability Team)
Rowanne Eeles, Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and Bespoke Study Research Associate, Barts Health NHS Trust
Salvation Army, British Heart Foundation, Recycle your Cycle, Veolia Tower Hamlets Clean and Green, Bow Foodbank, QMUL nursery, Bikeworks, MET police (safer transport teams at Tower Hamlets and Islington), Bywaters
The Sustainability team work under the Green Mary brand to deliver numerous engagement programmes in collaboration with local community organisations, working to enhance and promote sustainability at QMUL and beyond.
The annual Green Mary Week invites community partners to engage with students and staff, encourages donations for local organisations and works with QMSU to promote community volunteering opportunities for students.
The Green Mary Garden is available year round for students, staff and the local community to enjoy, with allotment plots given to the Widening Participation team and nursery to engage with local schools.
The team offer sustainable transport events in collaboration with Bikeworks, a local bicycle workshop and the MET police for the respective boroughs to try and keep students and staff safe whilst cycling.
Community Collaboration Award for Students
Chisom Nwosu (Fair Share)
Nominated by Fair Share:
"Chisom is a volunteer warehouse assistant for FareShare London where she helps us redistribute surplus food to local charities.
Chisom is a highly valued and very dependable volunteer...She comes in to help pick orders, sort food and load our vans to go out on their deliveries – and does so week in, week out, with a smile on her face. It’s not always easy work and even harder still to fit around studies, but with 241 charities across London depending on this food, Chisom’s commitment is invaluable.
Chisom is a very positive influence, and a great asset to the team. Moreover, she has gone out of her way to help our Marketing Team to promote the FareShare cause and to recruit more volunteers. One volunteer manager described Chisom as “Good as gold” and it couldn’t be more true."
Inspiring London Communities Award for Outreach
SPITE for Schools
The Legal Advice Centre
Local secondary schools; School 21, Burnside Secondary, Ayesha Community School, Central Foundation, Plashet School, Eastlea Secondary School, Woodford County High School, CATS College, St Bonaventures School, Woodbridge High School, Woodbridge High School 2, Elm Green Academy.
SPITE for Schools (S4S) involves teams of undergraduate law students visiting local secondary schools and running bespoke workshops on the issues of sharing intimate images which is also known as revenge porn.
This year 12 undergraduate students were trained on the law and practical issues surrounding the sharing of intimate images. They then made contact with local schools to develop and deliver interactive workshops on a bespoke basis to the requirements of the school and parents.
In the academic year 2016-17, nine local schools have received workshops so far and over 700 school students have participated. Evaluation is an important part of the S4S and the project has managed a 100% request rate for repeat workshops next year.
Engaging International Communities Award
Season of Bangla Drama
Ali Campbell, Senior Lecturer, School of English and Drama
Kazi Ruksana Begum, Arts Officer; Tower Hamlets Season of Bangla Drama
A Season of Bangla Drama draws on the large Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets to present contemporary Bangladeshi performance, supporting UK based Bangla artists and facilitating cultural exchange between Bangladesh and the UK.
Last year’s Festival brought almost 200 artists into collaboration with QM students across six East London venues, who were involved at all levels of devising, production and performance.
For five years Ali Campbell has collaborated with Kazi Ruksana Begum (Director) to co-ordinate Dramaturgical, logistical and research support. This includes developing the Festival as a unique research platform, in dialogue between Bangladesh and London, including practice-based research, evaluation and recording.
The Turtle Project
Leno dos Passos, Turtle Project Coordinator, Foundation Maio Biodiversity
The Turtle Project Team
Following critical levels of turtle poaching by local people in Cape Verde local services set up repressive methiods of enforcing bans on these behaviours. The Turtle Project was set up to transition these methods to education-led conservation, involving local communities in scientific data collection.
After 7 years, this has not only changed the behaviours of local communities towards turtles and led to a drastic decrease in poaching but also engaged communities with research, contributing to data collection and conservation efforts that stretches across 9 different islands.
The increased amount of data able to be collected is then shared to partner NGOs and local communities. The positive competition it creates about the number of saved turtles and the quality of data obtained has an emulating effects across communities, continually increasing the engagement and changing attitudes towards turtle poaching.
Individual Award for Excellence in Community Engagement
Nominated by Mile End Community Project:
"Much of our work creates opportunities for young people to put on their own events, since our first interaction with Dr Amit Rai in 2013, MCP has seen multiple new doors open for both the organisation and our membership. These have included delivery of a festival, collaborative research, lectures, events, international visits and QMUL fellowships for MCP's directors.
The impact this has had on the participants has been inspirational. Participants have gone onto find paid employment at other festivals, work with arts and creative organisations and young people gained confidence to pursue their dreams to work in the film and media industry!
MCP now sees itself playing a bigger role in the community, developing more substantial, longer term projects, engaging more people for longer periods of time and therefore having more impact. (MCP is now revisiting its business plan to expand areas of activity and future goals.) We are exploring options to develop more work with QMUL that will play a big role in understanding local heritage, south Asian history and mother tongue languages.
We have a long term relationship with Dr Rai, where we advise each other and we ask for specialist advice. Additionally, he advocates for us, developing new contacts and networks. We have also been invited to contribute towards the arts and cultural strategy that will have an impact locally if successful. We are now more confident that the work we deliver has scope for specialist support and creates opportunities for students to be involved."