The Community Buddy programme, supported by funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), matches community organisers from the British Science Association’s (BSA) established group of Community Leaders with hand-picked researchers in their local area. The aim? To kickstart relationships that will spark new ideas and drive innovative, community-led science engagement.

What happened next?

Last year, we decided to take this successful pilot one step further. We introduced a new grant of up to £4,000 to support our Community Buddy pairs to further develop their co-created science engagement projects.

In this blog, we ask our Community Buddy grant recipients about their experience. We explore the opportunities and challenges of working together to create meaningful science engagement projects, and how it has shaped their public engagement practice going forward.

You can find out more about each Community Buddy Grant recipient pair by following the links below:

Why did you get involved in the Community Buddy Grant scheme?

James Poulter, University of Leeds (researcher) says:

"The main thing that attracted me to the scheme was continuity. I have been a STEM ambassador for over 10 years but this generally involved one-off sessions in a school or elsewhere, so I wasn’t really getting much from the experience. Through theCommunity Buddy scheme however, I had developed a good relationship with Claudia and the African Caribbean Achievement Project (ACAP) and I felt I could help more in this way rather than as a one-off flying visit."

What have you gained from being part of the Community Buddy programme?

Gemma Martin, Wheal Martyn (Community Leader) says:

"Working with a researcher has offered me such a range of opportunities and knowledge that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Katharine’s understanding of immersive technology proved essential in planning the project. Her enthusiasm to engage with an audience group and being able to tap into her research have certainly helped to move the project on and open doors to additional funding and important contacts. Also, Katharine’s experience of supporting those with hidden disabilities has been valuable in shaping the project, and in turn, the project has allowed her to develop new areas of research."

Natalie Butcher, Teesside University (researcher) says:

"In terms of the grant project specifically, working with the community group has been a great opportunity to do something different, to engage the public (both young and older) with the topic that I research in a completely different way than I would have ever envisaged without the community group. It gave me an opportunity to develop my presentation skills to engage an audience who were extremely varied in age."

Paul Hyde, Whippet Up (Community Leader) says:

"Creative planning with Dr Natalie Butcher was a delight. She ‘got’ the ethos of our community group and fully supported the work we were doing. The enthusiasm and creativity generated through our link with Natalie was infectious!"

On the flip side, what (if anything) have you found difficult?

Gemma Martin, Wheal Martyn (Community Leader) says:

"There haven’t been too many challenges in our relationship. COVID-19 imposed the greatest challenge in us moving forward and engaging with groups! The one thing that did influence us was the academic year structure. This imposed some time limits on when things could happen as university students completed their courses and would no longer be available for the project."

Natalie Butcher, Teesside University (researcher) says:

"Initially, I found it challenging to see how the community group I was paired with on the Community Buddy Scheme could benefit from my work. I am an experimental psychologist whose main area of expertise is face recognition and they are a local organisation that uses art and creativity to improve wellbeing and tackle social isolation, so the synergy wasn’t immediately obvious. Instead of thinking about what I could offer them, I acted as a gatekeeper to others in the University who could support them. This was a great opportunity for both the University and the community group. As we learnt more about each other though, we started to see how I could work with them to develop the Grant project."

One of the core concepts of the Community Buddy programme is relational training. How did you find the relational meeting stage of the programme impacted your grant project?

Yang Zhou, Mandarin Speakers Association Derry (Community Leader) says:

"The relational meetings have motivated us to continue this project. We have had the opportunity to brainstorm many ideas, such as workshops (Natural History) and events (Family Fun Day). They helped to shape our project and its fantastic outcomes."

Natalie Butcher, Teesside University (researcher) says:

"The initial stage was crucial to our grant project as it gave us the time, space and opportunity to learn about each other’s interests, work and desires. It was in the later stage of the buddy programme that we identified what we could do together and developed the ‘Science vs Art Face Off’ project idea. Had I not been buddied with the community group, I would have never come up with a public engagement event of this nature, combining the arts and sciences."

Claudia McFarlane, African Caribbean Achievement Project (Community Leader) says:

"The meetings have helped to strengthen our relationship which led to us implementing good working processes right from the start. We very quickly recognised what we were each bringing to the table and have concentrated on those parts. We come together to meet and discuss strategy for the club and also involve parents in our discussions. James is responsible for setting the curriculum for science club lessons and I am responsible for making sure young people turn up, purchasing resources and assisting James with practical science experiments and activities as part of the club."

Lastly, how, if at all, has this experience shaped your public engagement practice?

Natalie Butcher, Teesside University (researcher) says:

"This experience has taught me a lot about how to engage different age groups when developing public engagement events and has taught me that there are always ways to work together with community groups, even if initially the link between you and them isn’t obvious."

James Poulter, University of Leeds (researcher) says:

"I think the key thing I’ve taken from it is developing my skills talking about science to a non-scientific audience, particularly school children (with some as young as five years old). I think it took me a few sessions of the science club to get the right balance, but I think we’ve got quite good at being informative but also just letting the children engage and interact with the experiments to get them thinking about how things work. The funding from the BSA has really helped with this, as we were able to buy some really interesting equipment and resources that the children could use in the sessions."

If you’d like to stay up to date with these projects and other BSA community engagement work, follow BSA Communities on Twitter.

Read more about the Community Buddy programme

Find out about community engagement at the BSA