Beacon lights way for public engagement
(9 November 2007)
Durham University is part of a new £1.2million project connecting local people with the expertise on their doorstep.
The North East Beacon project, iKnow, is a joint partnership initiative with Newcastle University and the Centre for Life. The scheme - which also involves mobile phone network Three, acclaimed artist Antony Gormley and community groups – will enable local people to inform key research issues such as ageing, the environment and social justice. Professor Mike Pennington, Director of Outreach at Durham University, said the iKnow project was a two-way process that would benefit academics and communities. “Durham University has an important role to play in the North East and many of our students and staff are already working with local schools and community groups, businesses and other regional organisations,” he added. “iKnow allows us and our colleagues at Newcastle and the Centre for Life to further develop our outreach work by interacting with more people on issues affecting their lives such as health, the environment and social inclusion. “By engaging with our communities we can impact on areas of huge significance for them while our research will benefit from the vast experience which exists among the people of the region.” The iKnow project will hand out 100 hand sets, each with free airtime, so young people can build a virtual social network with academics via photo-messages and video-clips. Hewlett Packard and Intel are also working with academics to adapt IT products so people can record their local environment using mobile phones with built in global positioning systems. “Our project targets the iPod generation, with the aim of re-igniting an interest in science among young people, but it also expands much further than this,” said Beacon Director Designate, Dr Tom Wakeford, of Newcastle University. “iKnow will be an excellent opportunity for academics to communicate with a wide range of people, including those who often expect little or no contact with Universities.” Linda Conlon, the Centre for Life's chief executive, said: “Engaging with the public is what we do on a daily basis so we're really looking forward to working with Newcastle and Durham universities on the Beacon project. “I believe the Beacon has the potential to strengthen relationships with local people, better understand their needs and concerns and demonstrate the relevance of universities in the 21st century.” The North East Beacon is part of a national £9.2m initiative called Beacons for Public Engagement. Funded by the UK higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK (RCUK), and supported by the Wellcome Trust, it is the biggest initiative ever launched to support public engagement throughout the UK. The North East Beacon is one of six across the country, including Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Manchester and Norwich. There will also be a UK-wide co-ordinating centre based in Bristol.