SEEDSR Random Acts of Appreciation


Every year we hold a small celebration for SEED staff and students who have been recognised, formally or otherwise, for their great work that contributes to Social Responsibility.  This year it was impossible to recognise the fantastic work of all our colleagues in one event – considering that we have over 250 volunteers alone! Instead, over summer and into September, SEED is delivering ‘Random Acts of Appreciation’, to reward, recognise and inspire.

Our #SEEDSR reusable coffee cups and SEED seeds (see what we did there) speak to our commitment to sustainability, in part through our Sustainability Champions, just small tokens of appreciation to our colleagues and friends who do so much to make a difference.

We like seeing #SEEDSR on the road!  If you receive one of our mugs or plant pots please Tweet a photo to #SEEDSR and @jenrobrien. Fabulous prizes to be won – although Rosie, Williams, our Head of School Administration, may be in the lead with her morning brew at Greenman Festival:

Rosie's mug at Greenman Festival
#SEEDSR at the Greenman Festival 2018 with Rosie Williams, SEED HOSA

This blog details just some of the great things that have been happening in SEED over the last year, or so, showcasing some fantastic people.  If you would like to add your story, or discuss developing ideas, drop me a line:

Applied (online) research projects for students through University Living Lab

The short version: We have a load of applied research projects for sustainable development set by internal and local partners.  These are aimed at students who want to make a difference through their assessment. Many of these are based on secondary data sources, or draw on data that could be collected virtually.  During the unsettled times of COVID-19 when face to face engagement is being minimised, we hope these might be mutually beneficial.

The projects are available via this dropbox link.

** Please be aware that at the University of Manchester you cannot use the same piece of work for more than one assessment.

If you use any of the research projects, we ask that you complete this simple survey This does not collect any personal data, it shows interest in the projects and explains how to share the final research on our website and with our external partners so that they can use them to affect change.

We hope to keep updating the list. If you would like to add any research projects, please email

We would really value your feedback, or just a quick line to tell us how you used the projects.

The longer version/explanation: Five years ago, the University Living Lab* developed the University of Manchester campus as a site for applied teaching and research around sustainability and low carbon.  It served as an excellent platform for collaboration between researchers, students, external sustainability stakeholders and the Directorate of Estates and Facilities to deploy and monitor new technologies and services in real world settings.

We believe that students are a 40,000 strong force for potential change. An interdisciplinary team led by Geographers, Jen O’Brien, Joe Blakey and Ross Jones (Ross was part of the original University Living Lab team), will be taking over the original site to focus particularly on a Living Lab for Pedagogy.  The site will host applied research projects that have been set by external partners that any students can access.  The idea is to undertake ‘real world’ research to affect positive change.

Jen is using some fellowship time from the Manchester Institute of Teaching and Learning to make this happen.  We will be growing the site and linking projects to our work around the Sustainable Development Goals. Students on Geography’s final year Governing Urban Transformations led by Joe Blakey will undertake one of these projects in groups.  Students on the 20 Credit University College of Interdisciplinary Learning (UCIL) course, Creating a Sustainable World: 21st Century Challenges and the SDGs will use these applied projects to make a difference in our local communities as part of their assessment.

If you would like to add any projects please email:

This site serves as a stop gap aiming to be useful during uncertain times.  We will grow this into a sustainable project through the original University Living Lab site:

Later down the line, we are happy to host research on the University Living Lab for Pedagogy site to the benefit of the author and the organisation who set the project.  Please send the work through to Jen (

*The University Living lab initiative was originally funded by the University of Manchester Research Institute and the Higher Education Innovation Fund.


The Just 5 Challenge

The Geography Peer Assisted Study Scheme (PASS) have launched their Just 5 Challenge. They invite you to pick up Just 5 pieces of litter and dispose of them properly (recycling wherever possible, of course!). By recording your efforts on social media tagging with #Just5UoM or @JUST5GEOGPASS we will start a movement to create a cleaner healthier environment. Join us!

Clothes swap for climate justice

Sabrina Verby, MSc student in International Development: Globalisation, Trade and Industry hosted a clothes swap at The University of Manchester, on behalf of the School of Environment, Education and Development’s Social Responsibility Catalyst Fund and Climate Justice Fortnight.

Her motivation for this was to raise awareness that we can exchange goods and services in an alternative way to the contemporary market system. The fast fashion industry demands clothes to be made as cheap as possible, allowing consumers to constantly purchase new items at cheap prices. Yet, reducing costs results in the exploitation of millions of garment workers across Asia. Individuals are stuck in precarious working conditions, on low wages, often with no formal contracts. By participating in a clothes swap you are reducing high street demand for fast fashion and sending signals to multinational corporations to change the way they produce clothing. In addition, you are contributing to less landfill pollution from clothes. The UK alone produces 350,000 tonnes of used but still wearable clothing each year, having detrimental effects on our environment. The perfect solution is exchanging unwanted clothes at a clothes swap or donating them to a charity. All the remaining clothes today were donated to Women Asylum Seekers, on behalf of The Refugees and Asylum Seekers Conservation Club.

🎄 Levenshulme Community Christmas Windows 🎄

Last year we trialled Levenshulme’s first Community Christmas Windows, it was great fun. It’s a lovely way to meet people, light up the dark evenings with some sparkle, get into the festive spirit, and eat a mince pie… or 7…🥧

It’s a living advent calendar. Each evening in the run up to Christmas a new window is revealed that has been decorated by lovely Levenshulme volunteers. Often the ‘switch on’ is accompanied by treats, mulled wine, music, and general festival cheer.

One of last year’s windows

The windows are then lit up each evening until Christmas.

We’ll have a map so residents can trail the fairy lit delight (for free) over the festive period.

2018’s Christmas llama!

The glorious The Owl and the Coconut will provide crafting support & inspiration, but you dont have to be an artist to decorate your window. In fact, often bolder, simpler ideas have more impact as details are lost to the darkness. Last year some windows were made from entirely upcycled materials.

Some more windows from 2018’s trial. The third one is the window of The Owl and the Coconut (they’re pros!)

Local businesses can offer their windows, too. This was local estate agent Edward Mellor’s window, last year.

We are looking for window decorating volunteers! Message me with your preferred dates* if you are willing to host a window:

Or join our Facebook group

Some crafting kit will be provided. We need to have 24 windows by 19th November for the festive sparkle to go ahead🤞

If/when the 24 windows are booked we’ll share the map through here. Hard copies may also be available.

*some windows are already booked, please send me a few date preferences & I’ll do my best.

Thank you 🎄

SEED Social Responsibility Catalyst Competition 2019-20

How could you make a difference in and around the School of Environment, Education and Development? 

Our SEED Social Responsibility Catalyst Competition offers seed corn funding between £200 and £1500 for ideas.  In consultation with colleagues, it has been decided that this pot will have a particular focus on funding initiatives that directly relate to:

– decolonising university activity

– addressing inequalities at the university

– environmental sustainability

Priority will be given to projects that fall under this focus but we are open to other ideas.  Feel free to talk to Jen ( or to submit an alternative application.

Funding applications can relate to teaching, research or other university activities in or around the University but need to relate to one, or some, of the five Social Responsibility strategic priorities of

– responsible processes

– engaging our communities

– environmental sustainability

– research with impact

– developing socially responsible graduates

If you would like to discuss your idea prior to application, please get in touch with SR Director, Jen O’Brien

Apply by clicking this link– (

How much is available?

Up to a maximum of £1,500 is available for each project. Applications need to be over £200.

When can applications to be fund be made?

There are two rounds of funding to maximise impact.

  • The first opens in October 2019 and closes on 14th November 2019 at 5pm. Decisions will be shared by 21st November 2019.
  • The second opens on 3rd February 2020 and closes on 28th February 2020 at 5pm. Decisions will be shared by 5th March 2020.

ALL claims for money must be submitted before 11th May 2020.

Who can apply for the fund?

All members of our SEED community can apply for the fund – all students, alumni and staff across our academic and PS communities. Students and PS colleagues are particular encouraged to apply. You are welcome to apply for both rounds of funding. Projects will be judged on their individual merits.

Apply by clicking this link– (


How will applications be assessed?

The following questions will therefore be asked of each application:

– What impact will the application have to Social Responsibility within SEED, and beyond?

– Does this represent value for money? And, are there any other funding sources that might be more appropriate for this application? (e.g. research impact sources)

– How sustainable is the initiative? Will it’s impact be greater than this seed corn funding? Have longer term plans be considered?

If successful you will be asked to write a short report about your initiative that will be shared with SEED external communications.


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.