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Solent’s Widening Participation team were the recipients of this year’s Engaging Communities Award at the Unity 101 16th Annual Anniversary Awards and Achievement ceremony.

11th January 2022

As a civic university, Solent is committed to working with the local community and has a history of working in partnership with local radio station, Unity 101. Students and staff work closely with the team at the station to deliver a range of projects and initiatives, including public engagement activities, that benefit local communities, the radio station and University.

These contributions and efforts are recognised through the annual Unity 101 Awards and Achievement ceremony with Solent’s Engaging Communities Award recognising a staff or student member who has made a positive difference. This year the award was presented to Geeta Uppal and Simone Simmons from our Widening Participation Team. We caught up with Geeta and Simone to find out more about their work and what winning the award means to them.

Congratulations on your award! Tell us a bit more about the widening participation team

Our team is made up of two widening participation officers and an access and widening participation manager. Together we deliver attainment and aspiration-raising activities in schools, colleges and community groups across the city and further afield.

Geeta Uppal at the Unity 101 Awards with the Widening Participation Team's trophies

Can you tell us more about some of the projects you are involved with?

We have a wide range of activities and projects which serve to provide an insight into the opportunities that higher education can bring. Our activities have been developed to be fun, engaging and age appropriate, with a focus on providing timely information at key milestones in a young person’s educational journey. For example, one of our community-based attainment raising projects is our More Maths programme which enables learners in years 9, 10 and 11 the opportunity to receive free in person maths tuition. This has been invaluable in response to disruption faced by many learners due to the pandemic.

How does your work make a difference to local communities?

The work of the Widening Participation Team aims to engage the hard to reach groups which have been found to be most prevalent in our local communities. Often engaging with us is the first time many young people have been exposed to the concept of university and our work provides a window into this world. The work we do helps to bridge the gap and break down barriers between Solent University and their learners of the future.

How has Covid impacted your activity?

Prior to the pandemic we were able to regularly welcome learners on to campus and deliver our outreach activities in school, college and community settings. The pandemic, the resulting restrictions, and the general cautious attitudes meant we had to quickly adapt and explore ways in which we could still provide our robust programme remotely. With assemblies and workshops being delivered via Zoom, we made a point to ensure our activities remained interactive, informative and fun.

We also recognised the effect the pandemic has, and continues to have, on our local learners. To address this, we developed a complete health and wellbeing online programme which was open to all and delivered a full series of mental health workshops for professionals, parents and students. This programme was complemented by a mental health specific community hour on Unity 101.

What have you got coming up this year and how can communities get involved?

This year we are taking a hybrid approach to our delivery – taking the elements that were successful from last year and marrying it with some of our more traditional programmes. Look at our events pages for community specific activities or contact the team via stepintosuccess@solent.ac.uk.

What does it mean to you to win this award?

Receiving this award has given recognition to the importance of access and widening participation and the work we do at Solent University. It highlights how invaluable it is for young people in our city to have opportunities to engage with higher education institutions, so that when the time arrives for them to consider university as an option they are able to make an informed decision.

As a team the award further solidifies our great working partnerships across the city with schools, colleges and community groups.

Discover more about the work of Solent’s widening participation team and approach to working with the local community