Blue spark shape

About this funding

Yellow spark shape

During the first two years of The Ideas Fund we focused on supporting community groups to collaborate with researchers, on specific projects around mental wellbeing, led by those communities.

We’ve since spent time listening to these community groups, researchers and other partners involved to learn more about the benefits and challenges of taking this community-led approach, and to help us think about what might enable these collaborations to take place more often, and more easily.

This work has demonstrated that there are deeper, structural issues and barriers that often prevent these partnerships from being developed, including how funding is awarded, contracting and other processes within universities, and a lack of recognition for this type of approach. Communities, researchers and partners involved with The Ideas Fund have told us that they want to see these barriers and challenges addressed, to contribute to change and the enablement of an improved system.

How we are supporting embedding these types of changes that communities and researchers want to see in order for them to collaborate more easily

We knew this would require a different approach from supporting individual projects and partnerships. It meant focusing on the ‘system’ that can support or inhibit the work, then building on the connections, ideas and relationships that have been developed in the four areas that The Ideas Fund supports.

The funding process

In February 2022 we began to work with Collaborate CIC to develop this framework looking at the ‘indicators’ of a healthier system that could sit around these partnerships.

Taking advantage of our place-based approach and recognising the opportunity to support a more systems-focussed intervention, each area was supported through a series of collaborative workshops with stakeholders from both community focussed and academic institutions. These workshops looked at the learning coming out of the individual Ideas Fund projects and began developing local partnership proposals that would explore opportunities for sustainable change, whilst also generating significant learning for others in this space. Collaborate authored two blogs about this work, which can be found here and here.

This work, and the spirit of collaboration that was fostered throughout the proposal development, led to partnership proposals from three of the four areas being submitted in December 2022, with grants awarded and projects beginning from April 2023.

These three regional partnerships focus on supporting and embedding more equitable practice between the local community-based and academic institutions and are taking an approach that has been co-designed by stakeholders in the region. More information on each area’s approach can be found below:


The work in Hull is being delivered as a partnership between Timebank Hull and East Riding and the University of Hull. It is looking to build on plans for a Participatory Engagement Hub at the University, and a showcase event of The Ideas Fund projects in the city. This activity will continue to shift and challenge traditional hierarchies around research, build a culture of knowledge exchange, and connect partners with existing initiatives and wider stakeholders. They are currently hosting facilitated workshops to explore ethics processes within Knowledge Exchange at the University.

Highlands & Islands

The work in the Highlands & Islands focuses on strengthening networks across the region, and developing peer leadership between community, researcher and decision makers through communities of practice. It is intended that this work will seek to level the power imbalance and build co-produced capacity for a relational approach, with training, policy engagement and resource development being undertaken, all guided by co-priority setting work with community groups that continues to prioritise those who have been marginalised. The first working group includes members from the University of the Highlands and Islands, Youthlink Scotland, Third Sector Research Forum, Scottish Community Development Centre, Public Health Scotland, Scottish Policy and Research Exchange and the Scottish Public Engagement Network. It is facilitated by Science Ceilidh.

Northern Ireland

Finally, the project in Northern Ireland consists of a partnership between North West Community Network, Developing Health Communities and Ulster University, that looks to strengthen already existing relationships between community organisations and the University in order to develop an environment where equitable partnerships will thrive. The proposal looks to broaden engagement, and increase participation from community groups and researchers who are new to this type of partnership working, whilst also exploring and adapting the processes within Ulster University to enable better working with communities. One of the main long-term outcomes from this work is intended to take the form of a collaborative community/researcher forum.

The learning and what’s to come…

With an increased interest in supporting more equitable practice across the sector, and a recognition of the need to take a more systemic approach to doing so, as evidenced by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) Community Research Network programme , we have funded these projects in the expectation that they will generate significant learning over the coming period, both in terms of specific changes to processes and practice, and broader insights into the conditions that are required in order for these partnerships to thrive. With support from Collaborate CIC we are now working with the projects to define local and shared learning questions for the work, and will document these findings. We would welcome anyone interested in hearing more, and/or contributing to this work to please get in touch at