Co-creating Learning Loops with partners in Brunswick to make a difference

As a result of their scale and range of activities, universities have a tremendous impact on the neighbourhoods around them. If a university is attentive to the needs of its neighbours, this impact can be positive. The university can be seen as a source of amenities to enjoy such as green space, museums and public events. It can be a provider of knowledge and support that is available to local communities, a partner in solving problems rather than a source of problems. In this spirit, the LOOPER project is working with residents of the Brunswick neighbourhood which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the main University of Manchester campus.

LOOPER stands for Learning Loops in the Public Realm and the project is funded through JPI Urban Europe with support for the UK portion provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The aim of LOOPER is to build a participatory co-creation methodology and platform to demonstrate ‘learning loops’, which are new ways of decision-making that bring together citizens, stakeholders and policy-makers and incorporate visualisation technologies and experimentation. This process unfolds through the implementation of ‘Urban Living Labs’ here in Manchester and also in Brussels and Verona with continual exchange and learning taking place across the three sites.


During the next two years LOOPER project participants from the Brunswick neighbourhood, local partner S4B and the University of Manchester will together move through the learning loops. The process begins with discussions of issues of concern in Brunswick and gradual framing of problems followed by participatory data collection and visualisation in order to fully understand the nature of the identified problems. Based on collective understanding of the problems to be addressed, we will co-design potential solutions, and evaluate their feasibility and likely effectiveness. The most promising solutions will be implemented and the results monitored. (This will probably mean physically changing something in the neighbourhood on a temporary basis.)  If an experimental solution works, we will explore how to make the change permanent.

Based on several months of discussions and facilitated workshops using Ketso and maps/aerial views of the neighbourhood, we are getting a sense of the key concerns of Brunswick residents (see photographs below).

People in Brunswick have voiced concern about air quality, which they see as a result of the high volume of traffic moving around and through the neighbourhood. Some of the traffic results from people who work nearby looking for parking and some Brunswick residents feel that their neighbourhood is being treated as a car park and they resent this. Traffic within the neighbourhood also raises a lot of concerns about road safety for pedestrians and particularly for children. People talk as well about whether they feel safe and secure in other public spaces and opinions about this vary depending on the places and the individuals who experience them. There is general agreement that there is a lack of good community spaces for people to meet and children to play, and of basic amenities such as bus stops and a laundrette. Residents wonder about the effect of moving local shops to the periphery of the neighbourhood, which is one of the many changes resulting from the large scale regeneration project currently taking place in Brunswick. As the university is engaged in a similar process just across the street, local residents feel like they are living in a continuous building site with all of the corresponding disturbances and constant changes in their surroundings.

We are now beginning to more clearly frame the problems and preparing for participatory data collection which will involve work with technologies like air quality monitors and geotagging apps, as well as documenting people’s perceptions and experiences and linking these to particular places in the neighbourhood. It’s a chance for everyone involved to try out new tools and learn new things, and hopefully it will all lead to positive change in the Brunswick neighbourhood based on the ideas of people who live there. Learning from Brunswick and the other LOOPER sites will be shared widely so that the learning loops approach can be applied in other contexts and the benefits extended.

If you would like to get involved please contact Janice Astbury (


Mapping hidden homes in post-conflict Uganda to deliver medical care

Written by Jonny Huck ( and Cait Robinson (

The 30th of November saw the first of a series of ‘mapathons’ held by the Geography Department. A mapathon is an event where volunteers gather together and create maps of areas that have not previously been mapped, normally for the purposes of humanitarian work. The mapathon is inspired by Missing Maps, an open and collaborative project that aims to ‘put the world’s vulnerable people on the map’. Around the world it is estimated that over 200 million people are affected or displaced every year by conflict or disaster, and many of the impacted regions are quite literally missing from the map. By organising a Mapathon, coordinating a group of volunteers to map the affected region using OpenStreetMap, first responders can be rapidly provided with a map to help them to targeted those most in need.

In this case, the area to be mapped was the Acholi region of Northern Uganda, which is a fertile but impoverished region with a population of approximately 1.5 million people and a land area of approximately 28,000 km squared. The small town centres and the surrounding remote villages were badly affected by a prolonged civil war (1986-2006), which has left people of all ages suffered from poverty, malnutrition, disease, mutilation and Major Limb Loss (MLL) related to gunshot wounds, mines and punishment amputations. Unfortunately, the majority of victims in this region have no access to health or rehabilitation services and the level of requirement for those services is currently unknown.

Because of this, the Acholi region is the focus of a multi-disciplinary research project that was recently funded by the MRC/AHRC, which seeks to provide the first systematic study of the prevalence of these injuries, as well as the installation of an orthopaedic workshop in the town of Gulu, the construction of a mobile orthopaedic clinic, and the provision of 50 prosthetic limbs using an outreach service delivery model. Further funds are currently being being sought to fit limbs to hundreds or thousands more victims, as well as address numerous other endemic post-conflict health issues that we have encountered in this region.

One of the greatest challenges to this research is that detailed maps of the area have never been produced, with the only previous attempt being by the British Army in the 1960’s (which are available in the University Map Collection). These maps, however, are very outdated and lacking in detail, and without detailed maps we cannot model population distribution, understand the level of requirement for prosthetic limbs and orthopaedic care, and access the people who can benefit from healthcare provision. As such, we are holding a series of ‘mapathons’, where volunteers can come along, enjoy some complimentary pizza, and contribute to a new, freely available map of the area by drawing around huts, buildings and tracks on satellite photography. No skills or experience are required, you simply need to turn up (with a laptop if you have one) go to our website ( and get mapping. The map data that is created goes to OpenStreetMap, meaning that it is freely available to anyone that wants it, and we are going to produce a series of map sheets for the Acholi Region, which again will be freely available to anyone. Last week’s event saw 100 volunteers arrive from within and beyond the Geography, including staff and students at all levels of study. It was wonderful to see how many people were willing to give up their time to help produce these vital maps (including some entire seminar groups arriving together!), and we hope that the event series continues to grow and include more volunteers from elsewhere in the University.

The mapping process: drawing round the huts and highlighting roads to access them so medical teams can reach homes to deliver care.

The mapathon was organised by Jonny Huck (Geography), Cait Robinson (Geography), Garrett Wolf (Architecture), Patrick Reynolds (SEED), and Chris Perkins (Geography), and 28 pizzas were kindly provided by the Geography Student Experience Fund. Mapathons are a simple and enjoyable way to do some real good in the world, and we would be delighted to see you at the next one, watch this space for the next date! You can also map from home, simply go to and have a go, even if you can only spend a few minutes, it’s well worth having a go every little helps! Some people even find it quite addictive!


Just some of the 100 strong mappers of the first #UoMMapathon

If you would like to know more information about the mapathons, or indeed about the ongoing research into healthcare provision in post-conflict Uganda, then please do not hesitate to contact Dr Jonny Huck ( Whilst we made fantastic progress at the first event, we still have a long way to go! To find out about how to join in at the next event keep an eye on our twitter @UoM_MCGIS #UoMMapathon

Farhana Choudhury – Undergraduate Award Global Winner 2017

Written by Ellen Logan

SEED is proud to announce that student Farhana Choudhury (top right in photo below) was recently named the Global Winner for Education at the Undergraduate Awards (UA) Global Summit 2017.IMG_4640

This prestigious award recognises excellent undergraduate research from all disciplines around the world, bringing students together to commend their work and share it with a global audience.

Farhana graduated with a First-Class Honours in English Language for Education this summer from SEED’s Manchester Institute of Education of Manchester (MIE), and is now undertaking a Masters in the Psychology of Education (also MIE). Synthesising her interests, Farhana is hoping to look at the motivations of minority ethnic students when applying to/attending a red brick university, as well as their self-efficacy.

Outside of high-achieving academia, Farhana is in the process of working on a widening access programme with the central Widening Participation team at the university, focused on raising aspirations amongst students from widening participation backgrounds. Farhana also acts as a mentor for Mosaic in her home-town, Oldham, where she works with young people from socially deprived areas. Currently she is working with girls in year five and has weekly sessions with them, in which they focus on aspiration, confidence and communication skills. The young girls mother’s also attend these sessions, which Farhana highlighted as invaluable as they get to see the importance of education too.

The research

Farhana’s award-winning research was a literature review looking at educational inequality, specifically: A discussion of literacy as a vehicle which enables women from urban Afghanistan and rural Nepal to overcome societal challenges and participate in society.

Farhana looked at the main barriers these women face in society and how literacy is being used to overcome them. In Afghanistan a ban was placed on female education by the Taliban – a direct attack on women’s status in society and a policy that resulted in high rates of illiteracy. In response, women set up secret schools underground and in the homes of women, offering a basic rate of literacy and numeracy for females. Once the Taliban were overthrown, women were able to reclaim their rights and access education; following this there was a significant increase in female voting participation, further empowering women and moving the country forward.

In Nepal women face issues of social hierarchy; there is a caste system with the Dalits (‘untouchables’) being placed at the bottom. As a result of this, many women from Dalit communities are prohibited from education, as well as being discriminated against at every level of society. Another hindrance to education is the practice of Chaupadi Pratha – the isolation of women during the menstrual cycle. This forced isolation prevents females from accessing education and many girls are expelled from school for being ‘impure’. This specific practice impacts women all social backgrounds. To overcome this, a ‘sustainable literacy programme’ was introduced by the Nepalese government. This is a practical approach to education, providing literacy classes that use material relevant to the daily lives of those learning. To tackle additional discriminatory customs, such as those faced by the Dalits, the government has also given disadvantaged groups priority access.

Farhana’s research highlights the importance of access to education and literacy programmes to help women overcome societal issues and discrimination, and obtain the agency required to become socially and economically empowered.

The award

With over 6,500 submissions to the 25 categories, Farhana’s research was chosen as the Global Winner for Education and she had an all-expenses paid trip to Dublin to attend the UA Global Summit this summer.

The three-day event was held in Dublin, with the final awards ceremony being held at Farmleigh House in Dublin, the official Irish State guest house. This was where Farhana received her award, as well as the other Global Winners, Regional Winners and Highly Commended.

On the first day the students enjoyed a formal dinner, with speakers and the organisers emphasising the prestige of the award and further congratulating the students on their achievements.

During the second day the winners had the option to present their papers to their peers in a three-minute presentation. Farhana received a lot of interest and questions about her presentation, and she felt the whole experience really highlighted the value of research and further motivated her to continue within academia.

The final day was jammed-packed with speakers and breakout sessions, giving the attendees the opportunity to listen to inspirational orators, as well as engaging in topical discussions. The evening was the official award ceremony.

According to Farhana, each year the award ceremony has a central theme linked to ground-breaking research. This year’s focus was a piece of research undertaken by Thomas Clarkson, a student at the University of Cambridge during the slave trade era. Clarkson was asked to write an essay looking at: Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?. Clarkson’s research was submitted it into a competition, where it received much interest and sparked a debate over the abolition of the slave trade (at a time where the University of Cambridge received extensive funding from slave owners). The awards were in honour of Clarkson, demonstrating the influence research can have on the world.

The main addresses were from Chris Lubbe, former bodyguard to Nelson Mandela, and Zerbanoo Gifford, a writer and human rights activist. Lubbe spoke about his experience of apartheid and the duty the international community has to work together for social cohesion and justice, and how education is central to achieving this. Gifford also spoke about the importance of education and social change, but said something that really resonated with Farhana: “You have to live with an open heart. Help people, keep helping people and don’t get tired of doing this.”

Farhana came away from the event with an even greater understanding of the importance of critical thinking and the impact and value of research. She is motivated to change the world for the better, and use her research and education to do this.