University of Oxford: Museum of Natural History to showcase Science Together community-researcher collaborations

What happens when eight Oxfordshire community groups are given access to the world-class skills, knowledge and resources of the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University researchers?

SCIENCE TOGETHER is a brand new, grass-roots programme that harnesses the power of community-led collaborative research projects to overcome challenges and seize opportunities for people who live and work in Oxfordshire. It is bringing together diverse people and expertise to address major issues and questions impacting local people’s lives.

To showcase some of the new projects and approaches being developed, Science Together is hosting ‘Explore Science Together’ on Tuesday 7 June 2022, an interactive day of free workshops and activities at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, followed by an opportunity to explore the collaborations in more depth in the evening.

During museum opening hours, visitors will have to chance to interact with the community groups involved in the programme and participate in eight workshops, activities and demonstrations, ranging from making natural paint from sustainable materials, exploring the evolution of hip-hop technology, creating their own app, and much more. Each session is led by one of the local organisations that have been collaborating with university researchers this year, with opportunities to get hands-on, learn more and provide feedback to help take the work-in-progress projects to the next level.
In the evening, guests will have the chance to find out more about each collaboration from the researchers, community groups and service users involved, in ‘Science on the Sofa’ from 7-9pm – a candid conversation hosted by Science Together lead, Oli Moore. This event is free, but advance registration is required. For those unable to join in person, the conversation will also be live-streamed.

Since September 2021, eight research projects, involving 33 scientists from across the two universities, have been developed with groups ranging from Barton coLAB for teens, to Daybreak, an inclusive scheme for those with dementia – and covering themes such as tackling under-reported bike crime, facilitating communication for people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and researching the impact of freeform play on young people’s development.

Maggie Lewis, Area Representative and Administrator at Oxford Neighbourhood Watch, said: ‘The word ‘science’ used to fill me with dread – bunsen burners, no relevance to my teenage life and totally boring lessons at school. But Science Together, what a fantastic experience – meeting normal people who may be highly academic but are engaging and concerned about checking out that things are okay along the way. Science is fun and useful at last!’

Professor David De Roure, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science, said: ‘This has been a brilliant collaboration – it’s inspired me to look at things in new ways, have new conversations and get some excellent insights. I don’t think this could have happened any other way – it’s been a unique and rewarding experience.’

Dr Clare Rathbone, Senior Researcher at Oxford Brookes Centre for Psychological Research, said: ‘It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with Daybreak Dementia Day Clubs. I’m so proud of what we have already achieved together – very much a team effort – and excited to develop our collaboration further in the future. It has been both informative and refreshing to step out of the office, away from the journal articles and into the real world!’

Science Together community groups and projects

Barton coLAB – Young people aged 13-16 have co-created a disaster-themed immersive experience, to bring local people in their community together around an imaginary disaster scenario. A volcano has suddenly started emitting huge clouds of ash that are blocking light from the sun across the globe. Barton, on the eastern edge of Oxford, is getting cold! How will you face the coming volcanic winter? The Barton Survival Centre features challenges, crafts and more.

Daybreak project participants
Daybreak project participants
Credit: Rachel Ashwanden

Daybreak – This project has not one but two research strands. Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering are investigating how wearable technology can help people with dementia live independent lives for longer. Alongside this, researchers from the Oxford Brookes Centre for Psychological Research gather data on the impacts of therapeutic art classes and how they can positively influence the wellbeing of dementia sufferers.
Leys CDI – Leys Community Development Initiative want an app to help the young people they work with better connect with the services available to them. However, rather than developing this independently, they have enabled the young people to lead the development – to prioritise collaborative research and user-centred design. Through workshops with university computer science researchers, the young people of Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys are co-developing and building the app for their peers.

KEEN – Disabled young people across Oxfordshire are working with researchers and academics to explore challenges and enablers for communication in different settings. Uniquely, this is being done through the development of an innovative new board game called Game On!, which is based on challenging scenarios commonly experienced by young people, for example going to hospital appointments.

Oxford Neighbourhood Watch – This collaboration seeks to understand more about bike theft and theft prevention in Oxford. A survey has been developed, in collaboration with researchers, to gather the experiences of local residents. It focuses on low-end or second-hand bikes, in particular, which are less likely to be reported as stolen. Despite their lower monetary value, the theft of these bikes can have a greater impact on the victim, for whom their bike is often much more than just a mode of transport. When a bike is someone’s primary mode of transport, its loss can cause not only inconvenience and distress but also loss of independence and significant financial difficulty.

Oxford Play Association – The importance of sport in the school curriculum and out-of-school clubs is well understood. By comparison, freeform play is less well researched and funded, and multiple issues including perceptions around safety, cleanliness and structure mean that children today often have limited scope to explore and play outside under their own direction. To address this, Oxfordshire Play Association are creating a research and evidence document called ‘Why Play Matters in Oxfordshire’, to highlight to local decision-makers the importance of play for the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people. A second edition of the report will be designed for parents and carers.

Urban Music Foundation – Working with Oxford-based hip-hop artist Rawz, the Inner Peace Records collective, and researchers in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Immunology, Technology and Literature, this collaboration has developed an immersive soundscape to help the Urban Music Foundation investigate people’s physiological responses to five epochs of popular music, from the 1950s to today. The aim is to understand more about the interplay between science, technology and human creativity.

Close up photograph of test tube
Watlington Climate Action Group
Credit: John Cairns

Watlington Climate Action Group – This group is finding novel uses for hedge material from West Meadow that was felled as part of Watlington’s local habitat regeneration project, by extracting natural inks and pigments and incorporating them into carbon dioxide absorbing paint. The aim is to re-use the felled hedgerow material to generate environmentally sustainable solutions for use in the local community and beyond.

Collaborating research departments

University of Oxford – Departments of Archaeology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering Science, Experimental Psychology, Materials, Oncology, and Psychiatry; Nuffield Department of Medicine; Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences; Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Services; Ruskin School of Art, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health; Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine; Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics; Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging; Global Centre on Healthcare and Urbanisation, Kellogg College

Oxford Brookes University – School of Architecture; School of Education; School of English and Modern Languages; Faculty of Health and Life Sciences; Department of Psychology, Health and Professional Development; Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work