For World Social Justice Day (Monday 20 February), Professor Dave Petley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull, reflects on how we are ‘overcoming barriers and unleashing opportunities for social justice’.
We are reminded, this World Social Justice Day, that fairness and equality aren’t guaranteed. Worldwide, poverty and inequality are rising, climate breakdown and armed conflict threaten insecurity and violence, and, at home, healthcare provision is struggling to keep pace with rising demand.
The UN’s 2023 World Social Justice Day theme is ‘Overcoming Barriers and Unleashing Opportunities for Social Justice’. ‘Overcoming barriers’ stands out in particular. Research can best impact the reality of people’s lives by crossing over barriers – between nations, between the local and global, and between root causes, present impacts, and looming crises.
This work starts at home. Recent research, led by our academics, looked into food insecurity in Hull. The Trussell Trust reports that it distributed 1.3 million food parcels in the UK between April and September 2022. What leads to food insecurity and how can it be mitigated? Our research aims to understand the blight of food poverty on families and, crucially, inform local organisations developing a three-year food poverty action plan which aims to make a concrete difference to families striving to get food on their plates.
Research partnerships are also key to an innovative project from the British Science Association (BSA) that has recently announced that it will be funding seven more community projects in Hull as part of its Ideas Fund programme. The local projects aim to improve mental wellbeing across a broad range of communities – from children with visual impairments, families living with the impact of acquired brain injuries and those with lived experiences of addiction.
The projects will involve a knowledge exchange between University of Hull researchers and the community groups as part of the Ideas Fund, which is run by the BSA and funded by the Wellcome Trust. The Fund enables the UK public to work with University researchers to develop and try out ideas to improve mental wellbeing in their communities. Hull was one of four pilot areas in 2021 – and it is extremely heartening to see this new way of working evolve.
The innovative approach means that both partners – the community groups and academic researchers – share their knowledge and expertise equitably, valuing both lived and learnt experience to enhance the projects. This creates more impact because the ideas come from needs identified by the community. It shifts and shares power between the partnerships – and steps away from traditionally academic-led projects – to give everyone a voice.