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2022-23 SHAPE Sustainability Impact Projects: harnessing the power of arts and humanities to tackle the sustainability challenges

July 28, 2022

Sustainability is broad, and its challenges interconnected. Consequently, we need a range of disciplines, subjects, approaches, and ways of thinking in how we choose to create a sustainable and just society. This includes the arts and humanities – disciplines that help us to understand and explore the complexities of human life.  

For the past two years, British Academy (BA) and Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) have worked together to deliver SHAPE Sustainability Impact Projects, a year-long programme supporting students in social sciences, humanities, and the arts to use their disciplines to develop solutions to real-life sustainability challenges experienced by their university or local community.  

The 2021-2022 programme saw the highest number of students work together from five universities across Scotland, England, and Wales to provide solutions to local or institutional challenges set out by their university. Throughout the year, SOS-UK provided scheduled and ad-hoc support to students on teamworking and problem-solving, how to monitor and evaluate impact of their solutions, engaging with stakeholders and how to present their findings.  

2021-22 SHAPE Sustainability Impact Projects culminated in a hybrid conference at Aston Students’ Union in Birmingham where over 80 staff and students from the University of Aberystwyth, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of West London, Goldsmiths’ University, London, and De Montfort University gathered to listen to student groups present their solutions to sustainability challenges utilising a range of disciplines including fine art, creative writing, urban planning, sociology and more. Staff from British Academy as well as early career researchers listened in and provided feedback on their presentations in order to support students with their presentation skills and ensure their solutions are as impactful as possible.

Delegates also heard motivating speeches from BA Fellows Professor Julia Black (Strategic Director of Innovation and Professor of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Tim O’Riordan (Emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia) and Birmingham City University VP Diversity and Inclusion Asha Stewart.  

12 teams were awarded £5000 from British Academy to support staff and students to collaborate on progressing their ideas and bringing their solutions to life in the 2022-23 academic year.  

A final survey shows that the majority of participating students found the experience either met or exceeded their expectations, writing, “[participating] feels like a total turn around in my thinking and creativity which is a plus for me, getting involved in this challenge,” and “this was one of the best experiences which I have had in my life, I would like to involve more in this type of project to gain more and more experience.”

Congratulations to students and staff on this incredible achievement!  

For more information on this programme, please email Sonya Peres (Senior Project Manager - Education) at sonya.peres@sos-uk.org.