Ross Renton, pro vice chancellor at the University of Worcester, told delegates at the Social Value Leaders Summit that by expanding its campus in the city the university has been able to provide social value not only for students but also the wider community.
When the university planned to expand, Renton said instead of choosing to build a bespoke campus on a site outside of the city centre, it took the opportunity to regenerate derelict sites in the city, despite challenges.
In a major regeneration project costing £41m, the derelict site of Worcester’s Royal Infirmary was developed by the university to become its City Campus, opening to students and the general public in 2010.
As well as teaching spaces and facilities for its students, Renton said it was important to the university that the community also had use and access to the historical site.
Renton said: “Our principle is that every single building, every single facility we have is open to the public and it's part of the community. There's no walls, there's no gates, there's no key card entry.”
On another previously derelict site in the city now stands the Hive, a £60m joint library project developed by the university in partnership with Worcester County Council, one of the first projects of its kind in the UK, which opened in 2012.
As well as being a university library for students, Renton said the library is home to a large children's library and is available to community members to receive business support and advice as well as legal advice.
He said: “It's in here you'll find PhD students rubbing shoulders with five-year olds. Our staff are also there to support businesses, community organisations and social enterprises.”
The University of Worcester Arena
Previously the site of a derelict fruit and vegetable market, the university built a state-of-the-art sports arena, seating 2,000 people.
The arena was purpose designed to make it inclusive for wheelchair athletes and hosted the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships in 2015.
Renton said: “It is one of the most inclusive sports facility you will find in a university. It's designed for the wheelchair athletes at its heart and most importantly for me, the community use the arena on a daily basis.”
One of the latest redevelopment projects completed by the university was the former Austin Motors car showroom. Originally built in 1939, the building reopened in October 2018 as an art house and gallery.
The building serves as a home for fine arts and illustration students at the university but also contributes to the city as a public exhibition space and is used as a centre for children’s creative camps in school holidays.
In January, the government awarded £3m in funding to refurbish eight of the arches to transform the area and provide a hub for business and creative skills development.
Renton said: “[The Art House] is open to creative industries and we've be able to launch as an institution a campaign which will see the railway arches in the city centre [transformed] for social enterprises and for creative industry because of that investment into the city.”
According to Renton, universities should ensure that they are part of the community and that they are supporting social enterprises and social care in the area and providing leadership in communities.
He said: “I think for there to be leadership, there needs to be tenacity, there needs to be collaboration and there needs to be inspiration.”
Also discussing the role of leadership in social value was Wilfred Petrie, chief executive of Engie UK, who highlighted the importance of large companies working with social enterprises to ensure they can develop together to provide social value.
Jean Jarvis, managing director of Fuse, a social enterprise development company, said it was important to remember that not everybody has an understanding of what social value means or how social enterprises can be incorporated into business.
She said: “I've spent a long time showcasing different social enterprises so that people fully understand how social enterprises run and how we can better interact with them. It helps to get people inspired and enthused.”
A CIPS spokesperson said: “Procurement departments are under constant pressure to achieve more for less, increase efficiencies, and manage costs without the additional responsibility of measuring their impact on local and regional economies. But the lines between profit and social conscience are no longer so easily separated. News travels fast and bad news travels at lightning speed, so being a responsible business is too important to ignore.
“But social value is actually about smart procurement. The sell-in for social value isn’t just about protecting an organisation’s reputation, significant business value can be unlocked as well as having a phenomenal impact on people’s lives, with long-term results and benefits for suppliers, customers and the business itself.”
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