15 April 2013

People and Place: Exploring Public Engagement in the North East

What is 'public engagement'? What importance might public engagement projects have for the local community or the region? How can we create research with partners outside academia? How can we ensure that the knowledge generated is genuinely meaningful to the public we seek to reach out to? What can we do to ensure public engagement initiates two-way conversations that enhance our research as well as deepening public understanding and interest? This AHRC-funded project seeks to address these questions and more through offering an innovative combination of workshop-based training and practical, hands-on experience.

'People and Place' is concerned with how a sense of place informs and is informed by academic research within local, regional and communal settings. We want to explore the relationships between the higher education sector, culture and heritage organisations, and their surrounding communities here in the North East, in order to ask how public engagement projects might nurture and benefit from those relationships. However, we also want to address the practical side of public engagement: how do you assess the need for a particular project? What sorts of projects work in what contexts? Who do you approach, and how do you approach them? Where can you find support for your project? What collaborations have been successful in the North East, and why?

This project comprises two strands which address both these theoretical and practical elements: a public engagement workshop series, open to all, and featuring representatives from culture and heritage and higher education institutions from across the region, and a public exhibition exploring local industrialist Lord Armstrong's role as a philanthropist and civic figure in the Victorian North East. The exhibition will be researched and curated by a small group of selected postgraduate participants working with local culture and heritage institutions, and will provide an opportunity to put the skills and ideas gained at the workshop into practice and use Lord Armstrong's civic activities as a case study to interrogate the role of cultural institutions in the construction of local identity.

'People and Place' is a collaborative project run by PhD students Nicole Bush (Durham), Kate Katigbak (Durham), and Beatrice Turner (Newcastle), and is supported by an AHRC Collaborative Skills Award. We are grateful to Durham University for additional support.