Our monthly round-up

Wed, 21 Oct 2020 14:36:00 BST

The early part of October was a challenging period for our student community, with increases in positive testing for COVID-19. While we are in no way complacent, thankfully our daily updates of students and staff who have reported testing positive for COVID-19 show that student cases have reduced dramatically, staff numbers remain very low and we are not aware of any infections that have been transmitted through teaching.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all aspects of our lives. It has impacted our healthcare and economy and acted as a catalyst to drive change across key areas from addressing inequalities to developments on climate change. We’ve therefore launched COVID Catalysts to show how our research is looking to build a fairer, healthier and greener world in the wake of COVID-19 through a collection of flash lectures that showcase our ideas and innovation.

On social inclusion a wide range of events in October have been focused on Black History Month. We have marked the 75th anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress – a crucial event in the African independence movement held in Manchester that brought together key figures who later led successful anticolonial campaigns. Our Professor of Sociology, award-winning author, broadcaster and columnist Gary Younge, delivered a Brilliant and Black event on race inequality and the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. And our Professor of Public History, the Historian and Broadcaster David Olusoga, delivered an event Making History in the age of Black Lives Matter.

Fittingly, October was also the month when our Global Development Institute secured £32 million for a new African Cities Research Consortium, funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as part of UK Aid. This will tackle complex problems in some of Africa’s fastest growing urban areas and generate new evidence to catalyse integrated, sustainable, inclusive approaches to urban development. We’ve recently surpassed £1m of support for our least advantaged students during the pandemic thanks to generous donations to our Emergency Hardship Appeal from over 3,000 of our supporters in 80 countries across the world. We’re delighted that our IntoUniversity Manchester North centre in North Manchester has re-opened to expand the academic and pastoral support that had been offered to pupils and families during lockdown. And we have received positive feedback from women's refuges we work with on a regular basis following a call for donations.

On environmental sustainability we marked clean air day by publishing a new model demonstrating that maintaining lower outdoor air pollution (NO2) levels could improve a child's ability to learn. Our research, undertaken on behalf of the co-ordinators of Clean Air Day, Global Action Plan, and the Philips Foundation, found that that maintaining lower air pollution levels in and around school grounds by 20% could enhance the development of a child’s working memory by 6.1% – the equivalent of four weeks extra learning time per year. These findings are part of the Clean Air for Schools Programme, a ‘first of its kind’ year-long research project which looked at how air pollution and its effects on children can be tackled. We’ve been profiling how graphene entrepreneurs from the University are putting social responsibility at the centre of their new businesses – from recycled vehicle tyres through to more sustainable food production.

On better health, our Doubleday Student Society has launched a new campaign amongst healthcare professionals and students on clinical placement to help develop empathy with patients during the COVID-19 mask-wearing era. Whilst critical from a health perspective, face coverings can also be intimidating, scary, or impersonal for patients which is where the innovative #TheSmileBehindTheMask comes in. And our Nobel Laureate Professor Novosolev has recently cited the importance of graphene in combating COVID-19 - from improving PPE to the development of new diagnostic devices and smart medical clothing.

On cultural engagement, it’s all about podcasts and race: our Manchester Museum has launched a new Manchester Museum official podcast to bring new voices to some of the big issues of our time, with its first episode featuring Kwame Boateng from the Black Curriculum; and a new episode of the Whitworth’s ‘A Walk in the Park’ podcast series has been launched covering the Black Lives Matter movement. Remember that you can book to visit our University’s Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, which all re-opened successfully in September.

Whether it’s alert tier 2 or 3, we still have a huge amount of opportunities for staff, students, alumni and the general public to engage with us online. Here’s three examples: we’re delivering social-media based awards as part of Greater Manchester Care Leavers Week 2–6 November; we’re hosting a Music, Health & Wellbeing workshop on 11 November on the importance of musical participation in everyday life, particularly for those people with dementia, and those in society who struggle to be heard through words alone; and we’re supporting World Antibiotic Awareness Week on 18 November with prestigious annual lecture by Dr Jennifer Hobbs entitled The fight against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR): A feminist perspective on militarised AMR metaphors.

Check our events pages for even more ways you can engage.

Dr Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility