Another year begins….

….and there is so much in store!

I am delighted to be returning to the University after maternity leave with my daughter, Jess.  I am very grateful to Terry Hanley for keeping #SEEDSR going strong whilst I was away.

September always brings promise as several thousand students arrive and many more return.  Its wonderful that so many undergrad students took part in the Sustainability Challenge yesterday.


Whilst a thought provoking exercise in itself, undertaking the interdisciplinary challenge in Welcome Week affirms sustainability as one of our core priorities across the University, and particularly in SEED.  SEED prides itself on its social responsibility, much of which is supported by our research.  As the globe prepares to strike for climate this Friday I am making a declaration; this year SEED will review our operations and processes and become even more sustainable.

That is a challenge that needs to be understood in full.  There are trade offs and synergies to sustainability, a huge number of critical decisions to be made.  Fieldwork, for example, is core to who we are as a School.  This year colleagues in Geography, Chris Darvill and Jonny Huck are piloting a low carbon field option to the Isle of Skye.  It will be really intriguing to see how this is received by the students as an alternative to flying to a more exotic location, putting the aim of fieldwork into critical question.  Our pledge to make all SEED catered meetings vegetarian has encountered some resistance.  It is too easy to hide behind the popular ‘plastics message’; the University is striving to prevent unavoidable single use plastics.  Illustrating some of the complexities of sustainability, I would argue that plastic is a wonder product that has become an environmental villain only through poor use and disposal. Our gold Green Impact Award winning labs team, for example, experimented with reusable plastics in the labs but they contaminated results using significant energy in the process.  Complex processes need thought and brave trials – which is what SEED will do this year and happily share our learning so that others might also benefit.

I’m also excited to be the new Chair of SEED’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  I have the large shoes of Dr. Susie Miles to fill who has become the Faculty lead for EDI.  Under Susie’s leadership and with particular thanks to Rosie Williams, our last Head Of School Administration, and a strong assessment team, in 2017 SEED became the proud holder of a bronze Athena SWAN award for gender equality.  We have a lot of work to do to roll out the action plan that achieved the bronze award but I’m also keen that that action plan continues as an operational approach for SEED, rather than a tick box exercise.  I also believe that there is more to EDI than Athena SWAN.  In the next few months, with guidance and support from colleagues, I will be reviewing the structures of the committee, how often we meet, our roles and remit, etc to really critically consider what SEED’s EDI vision is, and how to achieve it.   I am particularly grateful for the support of Monique Brown, SEED’s Doctoral Services Manager, who is supporting EDI for SEED this semester. Together we are keen to increase the role of students and PS colleagues in these discussions. As I return to work, part time, and Mum for two young daughters, I feel immense pressure to champion a successful work life balance for academics everywhere. The dreaded chicken pox phone call from nursery on day 3 of welcome week (and my first working day) brought that into sharp focus…… 

Indeed, I see a huge part of ‘Responsible Processes’ as working together.  To SEED colleagues – staff, students and alumni – I would love to hear more about your work and your ideas about how we can make SEED a more socially responsible place, for all. Drop me a line, or come say hi.


Geography student as a (research) partner

Embodying the spirit of SEED learning which sees students as partners, final Year Geography student, Reuben Cutts, recently attended the UK Luminescence Conference in Sheffield. There he presented the initial findings of his undergraduate dissertation about lake shoreline sediments.  He was supported by his dissertation advisor, Dr. Abi Stone. Here Reuben reflects upon the conference and his experience of a broader research setting.


The longer I spend at university, the more about the world I realise I do not know. The day I spent at the UK Luminescence Conference in Sheffield represented one such juncture where this has been starkly apparent to me. I was presenting a poster on the initial research findings of my dissertation, which investigates the ability of a portable luminescence reader to identify the indicative age of lake shoreline sediments. Throughout the conference there were around 25 other poster presentations, as well a programme of  oral presentations.

At the conference I enjoyed being exposed to the cutting-edge of the research field that I am undertaking my dissertation in. It was interesting to see how the information we learn about in lectures is actually cultivated: years of unrelenting research, ultimately crafted into an abstract for students’ consumption. It surprised me to see that such a big emphasis of the conference was focused on interaction with other researchers, whereby people developed their own research efforts with the ideas of others. This collaborative approach to working was something that I had not anticipated. It demonstrated to me how my own dissertation research can be improved with the input of ideas from other researchers.

Reuben’s conference poster

In speaking to some of the UK’s leading thinkers in luminescence research, I gained lots of ideas as to how my research could be enhanced. It was also a really good way to have my own understanding of the work tested, and to have my thinking challenged by others’ different takes and approaches. I gave a two-minute presentation on my research to the conference audience, which although quite daunting, I definitely enjoyed.

Overall, this was nothing but a positive experience. I really enjoyed getting to know the UK Luminescence community, whom I found thoroughly supportive. I am especially grateful to Abi Stone for her encouragement and support with my poster, and of course the funding of the SEED social responsibility funds that made this experience possible.

Manchester Geographer bound for Antarctica


Through a hugely competitive international application process, Madeleine Hann, second year PhD researcher in Physical Geography, has a secured place on the prestigious global leadership program for women in STEMM.  In this interview she explains the challenges and opportunities ahead as she travels across Antarctica with women from 27 different countries which is driven by her passion to enhance equality across STEMM.

Madeleine Hann Twitter @Geomorph_Mad #HB3

Tell us about yourself and why you’re going to Antarctica?

I am a 2nd year PhD candidate in physical geography and I have been selected for a global leadership training program for women in STEMM called Homeward Bound. This New Year I will travel to Antarctica to promote women in science and leadership along with 85 other women from 27 different countries.  But it’s not just about the Antarctic expedition, in the 12 months leading up to the trip all participants learn about all aspects of leadership, from vulnerability to visibility. We do this through video conferencing (with up to 50 women at a time), coaching sessions, set reading, social media discussion and in-person meetings when geography allows!

What is Homeward Bound?

Homeward Bound is an unprecedented leadership initiative for women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine).  The big vision is to equip 1,000 women over 10 years with the skills and network to proactively address the underrepresentation of women in global decision making. The program has four core components: leadership development, strategic capability, visibility and science communication, and science collaboration.  Homeward Bound is part of the system change needed for effective leadership and has already gained recognition by media across the world including Nature and Vogue.

Homeward bound expedition
80 women on the first Homeward Bound expedition in 2016 celebrating reaching the Antarctic Peninsula.

Why did you apply?

Having been accepted to start my PhD in SEED I knew I had a valuable skill set and knowledge base to contribute to Homeward Bound. Having seen first-hand the damage caused by sexist and discriminatory working and social environments, I have known for a long time this is an area where I want to make change. Being part in Homeward Bound will vastly increase my opportunity and ability to do this.

group in Europe
Meeting other women in Europe I will travel to Antarctica with as part of the 3rd cohort: Madeleine (bottom left), Anne (from France), Stephanie (Belgium), Daisy (Switzerland), Steph (Australia), Lorna (Canada + Scotland), and Ana (USA). 

Why women?

At all stages of education and work there are systematic, conscious and unconscious bias facing women. This is particularly apparent in science disciplines, where equality between men and women is still far off. Pure meritocracy is not enough to overcome this bias; we need to actively pursue diversity. Homeward Bound is proactively supporting women to work through these barriers and progress to leadership positions.

on board ship
Women collaborating during intense group work on-board ship on the second Homeward Bound expedition in 2018.

Why Antarctica?

It is an incredible privilege to travel to Antarctica and I do not take it lightly. Regions of Antarctica are showing the fastest responses to some of the global sustainability problems we currently face. Antarctica offers a unique opportunity to witness the effect humans have on the planet and see what is really at stake in this rapidly changing world. Decisions on climate change, pollution and natural resources are the real challenges we will all face as leaders in STEMM, and these topics will form the basis of many discussions and outcomes of Homeward Bound.

How do you fund the expedition?

I will be crowdfunding in November to raise £5,000 to get me to Antarctica to promote women in STEMM. I will be using the University of Manchester platform ‘Hubbub’ and am grateful for their support with the campaign planning so far. I have also received fantastic support from SEED SR in purchasing equipment to keep me safe and warm on the ice! Homeward Bound is also supported by several strategic partnerships including outdoor clothing brand Kathmandu and sustainable infrastructure group Acciona.

What will you gain from Homeward Bound?

As well as increased confidence, communication skills and leadership capabilities, Homeward Bound has given me a lifelong network of women as well as a platform from which to promote equality.  Looking beyond the expedition, I can’t wait to continue to share what I learn and the outputs of the program with communities here in Manchester and beyond.


Homeward Bound Project website

Madeleine Hann blog

Madeleine Hann Twitter @Geomorph_Mad #HB3

Inspiring the Future: Volunteering opportunity.

Rowena Harding, Research Communications Officer for the Global Development Institute, offers her time to motivate and inspire young people in state education.  She would encourage others to get involved to mutual benefit.

Inspiring the Future is a charity with an online “match-making platform” to connect schools and colleges with volunteers from a range of sectors and professions. Teachers register  volunteering opportunity and volunteers register with a short profile. Volunteering opportunities are broad and can include giving a talk on career progression, conducting mock interviews or speaking at events and fairs. Volunteers are emailed opportunities and can make a decision to go ahead or not. Rowena recently conducted mock interviews for more than a dozen year 10s in the space of a morning! “It was very worthwhile from both perspectives as I was able to give constructive feedback to young people about what employers are looking for but it also gave me a real insight on the pressures of being a school leaver.”


Where has volunteering taken SEED students?

SEED has over 250 students who volunteer in communities near and far.  Volunteering contributes towards the University of Manchester’s prestigious Stellify Award which formally recognises how our students graduate with the skills, experience, understanding and drive to make a positive impact on the world. Moreover, volunteering can really enhance your University experience as a great way to meet new people, learn new skills, get out of your comfort zone, and feel good as you give back to society.  Don’t take our word for it – listen to why some of SEED’s students decided to volunteer, and just how much they have given back to the community, but gained in the process, too.

Sakib graduated from Geography in 2017.  His range of volunteer experience equipped him to set up his own organisation, Open Mind, aiming to support students living with mental health issues.  Sakib and Open Mind, won a University of Manchester Making a Difference Award in 2017.  Listen to why he decided to volunteer:


Lucia Banjo graduated from Management, Leadership and Leisure.  During her studies she had a work placement with the Big Change Campaign.  She then went on to volunteer with Team Uganda. She won the University of Manchester’s Volunteer of the Year Award.  In the video below she talks about how much she enjoyed this experience and how it helped her to get a graduate job.


Postgraduate, international student Mengru was studying for an MSc in International Development: Public Policy and Management with the Global Development Institute.  She talks about how volunteering helped to develop her skills but also meet new people, practice her language skills and get to know Manchester.


Matt studied for an MSc in Planning.  Here he talks about his volunteering with the Scouts, including a development project which has given him the opportunity to use the skills he has gained from his degree.


If you are interested in volunteering – or would like to advertise a volunteering opportunity –  the Volunteer Hub lists pre approved volunteering opportunities, everything from environmental opportunities, work in schools, cultural projects, experience overseas, representing your fellow students, to name but a few.

Read with SEED

Every week a team of Professional Support Services (PSS) colleagues from SEED use the University’s electric car to travel to two local primary schools to read with school children. Created and lead entirely by PSS staff, ‘Read with SEED’ came about in 2015 in response to requests from schools asking for trainee teachers to support reading. PGCE students do not have this capacity. Read with SEED originally partnered with Claremont Primary School in Moss Side which has a transient population with large groups of Somali, Pakistani and Arabic speakers. A high proportion receive the pupil premium. The team sought funding to purchase books from the Accelerated Reader Book list and produced stickers to be used on reading records.

Read with SEED were given guidance on supporting and evaluating reading comprehension by Claremont. On a weekly basis each colleague spends 30 minutes reading one-to-one with pupils. From October-December 2015, the 18 participant children from Claremont School showed an average increase in reading age of 6.5 months. The rest of the year group made on average 4.5 months’ progress. The Read with SEED team was Highly Commended for Inspiring Communities in the University of Manchester Making a Difference Awards, 2016.

Read with SEED receiving their high commendation at the Making a Difference Awards, 2016

Two years on, the scheme has gone from strength to strength and has been expanded to include Medlock School in Ardwick alongside Claremont Primary maintaining the weekly reading support and continuing to provide books. The current Read with SEED team is: Ruth Rawling, Jonathan Lillie, Kerry Mccann, Georgia Irving, Vesna Higginbotham, Phillippa Stirk, Emma Davies, Emma Moores, Emma Curran and Elaine Jones.

The 2018 data from Claremont School showed the incredibly positive impact of Read with SEED on the school learners, just from October to April, as measured through reading points:

Claremont pupil reading data Oct-April 2018
Learner’s reading point change between October and April, 2018 with support from Read with SEED

The learners said:

“ I like it when I read with them, it made my minutes go really high (referring to her accelerated reading level). They really helped me”. – Fardowsa

“ It was good because they helped me understand how to do comprehension and read and they shared their thoughts about the books … I had fun reading”. – Emmanuel

Ruth Rawling, one of the original Read with SEED creators, successfully secured funding from the Faculty of Humanities Public Engagement competition 2018 to welcome learners from SEED partner schools onto campus. In July 2018 over 100 7-9 year old pupils alongside teachers and supportive parents from Claremont and Medlock Primary Schools were welcomed to the University of Manchester to get a sense of who we are and what we do. Some spent time in Martin Harris learning about sound and light production; some visited the Geography labs learning how to identify bugs in water to analyse its quality with Tom, JY and John;  others used GIS to find battleships with Patrick.

Some learners worked with Jen to critically consider single use plastics, their use and impact on the environment.  The learners created plastic awareness posters to enhance sustainability, a sample of which can be seen below:

Some of the plastic awareness posters designed by Claremont School learners

Beyond the obvious and immense positive impact on the schools, the team also benefit from Read with SEED. Ruth Rawling explained that she first got involved as a way of getting experience in project management, budgeting and working with outside agencies on her CV. She evidenced that the project has taught her skills in all three which she wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to achieve in her day to day role at the University. She said:
“I thoroughly enjoy being part of Read with SEED because of the many and varied opportunities it has brought me. Foremost, it’s a fab opportunity to be helping out the local community and to see the confidence of our pupils grow each week. It’s great to dive into a ‘word party’ poem or help to make sense of a book extract for an hour or so, and this seems to put the other day’s tasks into the shade somewhat! But I also enjoy the project as a way of getting to know other with PSS staff in the school where our roles don’t usually bring us in contact”.

SEED is immensely proud of the inspiring commitment and dedication of our colleagues which has made such a positive impact on the local community.

If any other PSS teams across the University, or indeed beyond, might be interested in setting up their own reading with school partners scheme, or would like to join Read with SEED, please feel free to contact Ruth:

Carbon Landscape: opening of new boardwalk to bring the community closer to nature

Led by Dr. Joanne Tippett, in Planning, the Carbon Landscape is a 5-year, £3.2 million project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the first project of the Great Manchester Wetlands Partnership.


This ambitious project will restore landscapes in Wigan, Warrington and Salford previously scarred by industry. By improving and re-connecting these green spaces the Carbon Landscape is not only creating a better future for wildlife but is also benefiting the local communities living alongside them.

The Carbon Landscape aims to restore more than 130 hectares of habitat, reducing fire risk whilst also creating opportunities for local people through training, volunteering, events and learning resources.

Risley Moss

Risley Moss is one of the last remaining fragments of the lowland raised peat bog that once covered large areas of South Lancashire and North Cheshire.

Restoration and a new boardwalk will improve the area for wildlife, and enable access up close to the Mini Moss bog education area for all ages and abilities.


July 17 marked the official opening of the first major restoration project of the Carbon Landscape to be completed. A new Boardwalk (see image to the right, above) at Risley Moss, Warrington now allows the public to get up close to nature. The boardwalk allows people to see how a peat bog is coming back to life with the restoration efforts made possible by the Heritage Lottery fund and hundreds of volunteers.

At this launch, after Dr. Amanda Wright from Natural England briefly introduced the Carbon Landscape project, Gorse Covert Primary school and Wigan disability advocacy group More Than Words received a guided tour of this ancient moss, joined by the Risley Moss friends group (RIMAG) and partners from across the Carbon Landscape. Ranger Mark Cozens of Warrington Borough Council and Dr. Paul Thomas of Natural England discussed the restoration work and the project’s future ambitions.

This is the first of 8 major restoration projects in the Carbon Landscape, which over five years will restore more than 130 hectares to nature. Upcoming projects include restoration works at Wigan Flashes, Hey Brook, Rixton Claypits, Woolston Eyes and Paddington Meadows.

Further projects include the Carbon Trail, a 20 km route linking up wild spaces in between urban areas; Carbon Volunteers, getting people involved in improving the landscape; and the Mossland Gateway to improve pedestrian and cyclist assess to Chat Moss. Other plans include an educational programme for schools, physical and online interpretation of the landscape and Citizen Science, with volunteers surveying species across the landscape and increasing our knowledge of how the landscape is changing.

So far, the project has successfully worked with 150 dedicated volunteers and provided 6 trainee placements, all of which leading to full-time employment in their desired careers.

Mike Longden, a former trainee said: “During my traineeship I gained a lot of new skills and knowledge and was able to tailor my experience to fill gaps in my C.V. It was great to work alongside the project officers helping them to deliver their part of the Carbon Landscape. I was also able to meet a lot of amazing people who shared my passion for wildlife. The skills I learnt varied from practical experience and leading groups, to survey skills and working with the local community.

The traineeship was a great experience, the work you do is very diverse and you gain valuable skills and knowledge for your future career. I am now working for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust as their Chat Moss Project Officer and I am having a great time!”

What is coming up?

The next few months will see a roll out of the Carbon Clever programme, which has been piloted in two schools so far and will reach 40 schools over the next few years. An exciting community project will document the transformation of the landscape using photography and work with archival photographs from local museums through the Carbon Creative programme.  The programme of community events will see a series of nature, history and family fun walks and a Jurassic Quest for families to celebrate national bog day. There are lots of volunteer days and training opportunities, such as mapping and GIS skills, coming up through the summer.

Why is this work so vital?

Our wildlife is being squeezed out, isolated and we have a real risk of losing species locally if we don’t create a safe and effective corridor for them to move through the landscape. By creating a network of safe spaces for wildlife to move between, and inspiring local people to experience these areas in new ways, we will re-imagine our landscape.

There are twenty-two different projects interwoven throughout the Carbon Landscape, ranging from habitat restoration works to community group empowerment.  These projects are delivered by the Carbon Landscape Project Team and the thirteen project partners. The Carbon Landscape offers access to amazing natural sites and rare habitats on the doorsteps of our major cities in the North West.

The restoration work has another important benefit, reducing fire risk.

Dr. Anna Hetterley, the Programme Manager of the Carbon Landscape says: “People have been digging-up the lowland peat bogs for fuel in Salford and Warrington for thousands of years. When large areas of peat between these major cities in the North West dry out, they become fire hazards. This project is restoring these rare habitats, allowing them to soak up and store rainwater. Re-wetting the bogs reduces the risks of fires, such as those that are currently ravaging Saddleworth Moors. The restoration work enabled by the Carbon Landscape has the extra benefit of helping to reduce flooding in times of extreme rain.”

Warrington Borough Council’s executive board member for leisure and community, Cllr Tony Higgins, says: “The mini Moss and boardwalk that has been created though the Carbon Landscape showcases the vital role nature can play in improving our lives, with vastly improved access and educational value. I am looking forward to taking hundreds of school children out onto the moss, and watching them learn about this amazing, rare habitat that is right on their doorstep, which up until now has been hard to access and see”.

Dr. Joanne Tippett, of the University of Manchester, says:

“This is the landscape that fuelled the Revolution. It is appropriate that through telling the story of this landscape and uncovering its hidden beauty, we are starting to think differently about the future. It is exciting to see this first project that not only restores a rare and important lowland bog habitat, it helps us all get closer to the natural processes at work. I am proud to be working with the people of the North West to learn from our industrial past so we can reimage a more sustainable future”.