Leicester universities’ funding success for local improvement project

The University of Leicester and De Montfort University have been awarded £171,000 for an innovative project working in partnerships with local groups to gain insight and improve services in core areas including education, health, and environmental sustainability.

Funding for the initiative was awarded by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), following a competitive bidding round, and is part of a new pilot Local Acceleration Fund (LAF) totalling nearly £1 million. The progressive Leicester initiative secured the highest award.

The project forms one of 11 landmark pilot projects in the UK, which will support close collaboration between researchers and local authorities, charities and businesses and will address policy priorities that make a real difference to local areas, including net-zero, local economic growth and levelling up.  

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester said: “We are delighted to win significant project funding from the ESRC to initiate and develop a range of pilot projects. It’s a fantastic achievement and clearly demonstrates the potential for further extending the excellent collaborative working between the University of Leicester, De Montfort University and our civic and community partners.

“The University was established as a result of the commitment and vital support of local people, and in our Centenary year we continue to be dedicated to our civic mission and working in partnership to achieve positive change for our local communities.”

Professor Katie Normington, Vice-Chancellor at De Montfort University, said: “This work will mean that we can help people into jobs, support businesses to cut carbon emissions and help companies recover from the effects of the pandemic.  

“We’re delighted to be working with our partners at the University of Leicester to create meaningful and positive change for people across the city.” 

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of ESRC said: “We are delighted to announce funding for 11 pilot projects, which will demonstrate the breadth and relevance of social science research to the UK’s place-based challenges. 

“These projects demonstrate the critical role that collaboration and co-creation play in bringing together complex local challenges with social science expertise in order to make a difference in local communities.  

“The Local Acceleration Fund will inform ESRC’s next steps in supporting social scientists to collaborate with local stakeholders, including local authorities, charities and businesses, through people, partnerships and research.” 

The University of Leicester and De Montfort University will work with local stakeholders in five priority policy areas, including: Education and skills; Business and the economy; Health and wellbeing; Environmental sustainability; and Arts, culture and heritage. The collaborations will support stakeholders to develop local action plans to improve evidence-informed policy making against each of these areas. The six-month pilot project will complete in summer 2022. 

Many of UK’s biggest challenges, including net zero, supporting innovation, levelling-up and addressing inequalities, require local intelligence, evidence and action. ESRC is committed to working with and supporting collaboration between social scientists and local policy makers to address these challenges and increase the availability of evidence to help shape local solutions that improve outcomes for people and places. 

This fund highlights the critical role of the social sciences in understanding and addressing a variety of complex local challenges. The work builds on a portfolio of research and innovation activity funded by ESRC which aims to address inequalities in the UK. Learnings from the fund will inform ESRC’s future approach to investing in locally focussed projects that enhance opportunities for collaboration and improve access to research, evidence, data and social science expertise to inform local policy making.