The three counties

Who constitutes ‘the community’ and how should universities work with them? There are no definitive answers. Each university must negotiate – and re-negotiate - the meaning, value and purpose of engagement with their communities if they are to ensure successful and sustainable partnerships in the long term.
The South East Coastal Communities programme explored three different ways in which participating universities chose to define their approach and work with their ‘community’: by theme; by place; by common interest or identity.


Communities defined by the university’s expertise or interest (“theme”)

The universities in Hampshire took a thematic approach, exploring how social enterprises that benefit their local communities could be estab­lished, expanded and/or made financially sustainable. Social enterprises, like ordinary commercial enterprises, are trading organisations operating in competitive markets, but they explicitly seek to balance making profits with making a positive impact on the people they employ and/or serve, and often the local community in which they operate. The Hampshire universities had a good track record in enterprise and entrepreneurship and it was felt that using social enterprise as a vehicle to engage with local communities would build on existing strengths.

Kent & Medway

Communities defined by geographical boundary (“place”)

The universities in Kent decided to focus their activities in the Swale region and particularly on the Isle of Sheppey. What is unusual about this choice is that neither of the three universities had significant relationships with this area; it was not a notable source of undergraduates; nor was it a major source of employers for graduates. The benefits were that Swale offered a neutral ground to universities embarking on strategic engagement, where communities had little experience of engaging with higher education. Focusing on such a tightly defined geographical area also allowed the university to have a demonstrable impact.



Communities defined by their interest, experience or identity (“communi­ties of interest”)

The universities in Sussex chose to define their community partners through forming or working with pre-existing ‘communities of interest’ and/or ‘communities of practice’. A community of practice (CoP) is a group of individuals who participate in a particular activity or who share a common experience. The members of the CoP come together to share and develop their knowledge about that activity. Communities of interest (CoI) are used in the SECC context to underline the participants’ identity or experience as the main unifying theme. The Sussex universities for instance worked with older people, young people with special needs, the Deaf community and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community (LGBT).