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The Ideas Fund announces £291,286 of funding

17.03.23 By Beth-Louise Sturdee

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The Ideas Fund has awarded £291,286 to organisations in Hull, North West Northern Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to run pilot projects that will seek to address the systemic challenges that community groups and researchers can face in working together.

This will help build on the learning from the individual community projects we have already funded and seek to take a more strategic approach in creating systems which support community/researcher collaboration more effectively.

Barriers to community-researcher partnerships

We know that by prioritising the interests of communities and diversifying the voices involved in researcher partnerships, there are significant and multifaceted benefits to both communities and researchers, as evident from The Ideas Fund projects we have funded to date.

However, the current systems supporting this type of work often prioritise the research, researcher or university’s needs over that of the community. Some examples of this include lengthy contracts and ethics processes which community groups can find challenging. We also know from community partners that some didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t previously considered collaborating with researchers but were surprised by the wide range of benefits it has brought them.

Over recent months, The Ideas Fund has been working with Collaborate CIC, a social consultancy with expertise in systems thinking, to explore how funded partnership work could support collective action for ‘healthier’ systems; specifically, the systems that impact on collaboration between communities and researchers. Collaborate have written two blogs on their journey so far with us, exploring these questions on what a healthy system could look like - Beyond project funding: how can funders nurture healthy systems and Putting learning and collaboration at the heart of local systems

Our approach to addressing systemic challenges

During the development of the Fund, it became clear that a targeted, place-based approach would be the most efficient way of achieving this goal by working in just four areas to test our approach, learn from it and improve it. Since its launch in 2021, The Fund has awarded £3.28 million in grants to over 70 community projects across four geographical areas of the UK: Hull, the Scottish Highlands and Islands, North West Northern Ireland and Oldham.

The Fund began working in these four locations in early 2021 and wants to continue to explore how its approach can grow in these places, building on what has been learned and achieved to date. Our latest approach will focus on supporting projects to improve the infrastructure within and between the community sector and academia, building on the opportunities presented by the Fund being place-based and the relationships that have been built between community groups and researchers over the last two years.

This approach also aligns with the British Science Association’s (BSA) strategic objectives, which include a focus on understanding and addressing structural inequalities in science engagement to build a future where society shapes science.

Introducing the new pilot projects

We have awarded new grants to partnerships in Hull, the Scottish Highlands and Islands and North West Northern Ireland to collaborate with regional partners that look at ways of making change within their local systems to enable more equitable researcher-community relationships. We are currently in conversations with partners in Oldham to explore the opportunity for this type of infrastucture funding there.


Timebank Hull and East Riding received £100,000 in funding to run their pilot from March 2023–August 2024. The proposal envisages a local research ecosystem where community groups and researchers share power and collaborate effectively. They hope their project will lead to a commitment from both sides to shift or challenge traditional hierarchies around knowledge and research, build a culture of reciprocal curiosity and knowledge exchange, and through developing better partnership projects ultimately enhance mental wellbeing. The initiatives involved include Y-PERN, #thehullwewant, CtrlShift and others. They will also build on several already planned and proposed developments such as the creation of the Participatory Engagement Hub at the University of Hull and a showcase of The Ideas Fund projects in the city.

Kate McDonald at Timebank Hull and East Riding said “The infrastructure funding will enable us to showcase all the amazing elements that have been developed in the projects, the added value that has been built through the groups collaborating across projects and where additional researchers have joined to enhance the outcomes for people who are engaged with the projects. It also gives us the opportunity to engage more communities and academics within the city and across the university through a mapping exercise with the vision of achieving greater systemic perspective on activity, and to shine a light on additional opportunities for collaboration.”

Matt Wright, Head of Community Development at Hull CVS said“This funding supports Hull in ensuring that community groups of all sizes can work in partnership with researchers to create a legacy of learning and expertise. The greater collaboration between these two traditionally separate cohorts will allow the city to maximise what we know, expand on best practice and ensure we use this as a catalyst to bring further investment to the area.”

Highlands and Islands

A pilot project to support researcher-community collaboration infrastructure in the Highlands and Islands was awarded £100,000 to run from March 2023–August 2024. The proposal focuses primarily on different routes to developing connectivity and community-researcher partnerships, and ensuring that co-production and planning are central to the overall changes they make across the sector. They propose four broad strands of work including network building; co-agenda setting, specifically with communities who are still underrepresented in research; and wider capacity and evidence building. This would include some themed work (for example around ethics), the development and delivery of training, as well as resource creation and compiling. The final strand involves work that will be embedded across the other areas of the network, involving policy and strategy change. This will culminate in an in-person summit where findings and resources will be shared. The different partners involved in this bid are well connected to several other networks and initiatives including Evaluation Support Scotland, Scotland Policy Research Exchange, Scottish Recovery Network and ScotPEN.

Lewis Hou, Director at Science Ceilidh said “We are really excited to be developing a new network and programme to support and further connect the brilliant community and research activity that happens across the Highlands and Islands around mental wellbeing. We know from our work supporting The Ideas Fund the power of community and researcher partnerships which are truly locally driven, more equitable and where all expertise are valued. We’re looking forward to working with colleagues including from the University of Highlands and Islands, Scottish Community Development Centre, Public Health Scotland and Scottish Policy and Research Exchange to enable this to happen more with grassroots communities, and welcome further stakeholders to get in touch and collaborate with us.”

Professor Sarah-Anne Munoz, Professor of Rural Health at the University of the Highlands and Islands said “One of our key aims as the University of the Highlands and Islands, and as the Division of Rural Health and Wellbeing, is to undertake research and knowledge exchange of benefit to the communities we serve. I’m delighted to be part of this new wider infrastructure programme along with UHI’s Knowledge Exchange Officer, Anna Paaso, and I hope we’ll be able to connect with more communities and help build capacity within the UHI region for community-led research.”

North West Northern Ireland

North West Community Network (NWCN) and Developing Healthy Communities (DHC) currently jointly provide the local Development Coordinator role for The Ideas Fund, bringing knowledge and connection to the community groups in the area. NWCN will take a lead role in this partnership which received £91,286 in infrastructure funding to run from January 2023–August 2024. A core part of the work of NWCN is to build the capacity of community groups and the sector and to provide necessary infrastructure supported by their work with both the community and Ulster University. The other partners involved in the bid include Derry City & Strabane District Council, Northern Ireland Public Health Research Network, UK Research and Innovation and CHOICE Community Advisory Board

Malachy Ó Néill, Director of Regional Development at Ulster University said “We are delighted to secure this funding from the British Science Association, with partners, Northwest Community Network and Derry Healthy Cities, to develop a formal community and university research consortium. Together we are committed to co-creating and collaborating on new research opportunities, to share existing university and community-based research, to strengthen and establish new connections with community partners and to develop an innovative approach to collaborative research that has real impact in and for our local communities.”

Edel O’Doherty, Chief Executive of Developing Healthy Communities said “This investment provides an exciting opportunity for community-based organisations to access valuable expertise from researchers in Ulster University. The unique approach adopted by the Ideas Fund offers multiple benefits to the partners involved, including building genuine relationships across the sectors, creating new perspectives as well as transferring knowledge and skills.”