Community engagement

A new Community Engagement Strategy has continued efforts to strengthen the University’s relationships between the city and local communities.

Public outreach

Community engagement [1,890 SRS event attendees, 5,218 volunteering hours undertaken by students, 950 student volunteers]

A recent survey showed that 90% of local citizens believe the University is an asset to Edinburgh and 77% believe the University serves the city as a whole, not only staff and students.  However, 66% do not understand what the University does, and 65% have never used the University’s services or facilities.  It is clear that there is a significant scope to enhance our outreach and engagement with citizens and communities. The new strategy will explore opportunities through the academic curriculum, schools outreach, social enterprises and volunteering.

Edinburgh festivals

The University's involvement in Edinburgh’s festivals throughout the year is a reflection of our commitment to expanding and communicating knowledge. The University partnered with the Edinburgh International Festival to open the August festivals in spectacular style through the Harmonium Project, a major sound and light event, which showcased exciting aspects of the University’s work in design informatics.

University at the festivals


Volunteering and charitable efforts were encouraged through the University’s Big Leap initiative in 2016, which encouraged staff to participate in a variety of activities to raise money for a range of research centres, counselling services and community facing projects such as the free legal advice centre. In February 2016, students and staff at the University passed the Guinness World Record for the most cakes sold in eight hours for charity. More than £9,000 was raised for the University’s Big Leap campaign.

Supporting re-use through community engagement

Increasing volumes of waste are being reused through a variety of activities, student-led initiatives and external partnerships. Warp-it, the online re-use platform, used to distribute unwanted items to staff has achieved financial savings of more than £100,000 and diverted over 13 tonnes of waste from landfill in under three years of use. The student-led Swap and Reuse Hub Cooperative was awarded funding of £89, 858 from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund to continue its efforts to promote reuse in the student community. The University supported the opening of the Edinburgh Remakery in 2016, a unique re-use and repair store. As a project partner, the University donates computers to the social enterprise which are sold to the community at a low cost, making them highly affordable.

Digital Ambassadors Programme

A Student Digital Ambassadors Project was successfully piloted in spring and early summer 2016.  As part of the programme, students were trained to support older people to use computers and touchscreens when they encountered them in their daily lives, such as at GP surgeries and supermarket checkouts. The students then put their training into practice by working at the Charteris Community Centre (based at Kirk O’Field on the Pleasance), to support eight participants (aged between 70 and 87) to develop basic digital skills.  The evaluation of the pilot found that self-efficacy increased across all basic digital skills for all participants, with users feeling most confident using Google, email and online tutorials/MOOCs.

This project was instituted and led by the Professor Lesley McAra (Assistant Principal Community Relations) and Amy Woodgate (MOOC Project Manager), and managed by Dr Ben Fletcher-Watson (Student Community Engagement Development Officer). It was undertaken with the advice of a steering group  (membership included: Eugenia Twomey - Student Engagement Officer; Michelle Brown - Head of Social Responsibility and Sustainability Programmes;  and Professor Siân Bayne -  Chair of Digital Education). It was run in collaboration with the University’s WEEE Recycling programme (via WarpIT Equipment Exchange, who provided i-pads no longer in use at the University), and in discussion with Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations whose Scotland-wide Digital Participation programme ran in parallel.