Students in the arts, humanities and social sciences are set to benefit from more work placement opportunities thanks to new funding awarded to the University of Sheffield.

Jointly-funded by Research England and the Office for Students, and working in close collaboration with arts partners from across the Sheffield City Region and the UK, the University has been awarded over £530,000 to create 140 paid work placement opportunities for students, helping to deliver knowledge exchange projects to impact positively on our communities.

The placements aim to engage students from widening participation backgrounds to enhance equality, diversity and inclusion across a variety of sectors in the planning, design and reinvention of the public spaces at the heart of every community. The students will bring knowledge and experience from their University studies to help reimagine spaces that can promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.

The opportunity for businesses from a variety of sectors to diversify their workforce will be a priority for the initiative, and the University will be proactively working with students from underrepresented backgrounds to enable them to use their experiences and skills to bring new perspectives on reimagining towns, cities and communities.

The initiative will also lead to follow-on projects, which will give students an opportunity to apply learning from their placement in a programme of ongoing activity and development with the host partner. Whilst the University will embed learning from the initiative into curricula for the benefit of future students providing more graduate and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson, Director of Knowledge Exchange and Impact at the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, said: “Students of the arts, humanities and social sciences are exploring disciplines that make them ideal candidates to share their critical insights into the human, cultural and social dimensions of reimagining public spaces.

“We want to empower our students to engage creatively and proactively with the built environment through new partnerships and help address barriers in the social and economic development of our communities to be of benefit to the residents.

“Being able to offer these enhanced experiences to our students will also allow us to develop graduate opportunities and entrepreneurship in areas where there is currently an evidenced lack.”

The programme hopes to create a virtuous and scalable platform to enhance student engagement in knowledge exchange and to directly apply the benefits to regions and students through the development of valuable work experience and entrepreneurial skills.

Partners of the initiative will benefit from access to some of the brightest students alongside integration with the University’s research community. The learning from these projects will be used to enable businesses to open up their recruitment pipeline to a more diverse future workforce.

As an established anchor institution within the region, the University of Sheffield has long recognised the importance of supporting economic and social development in the community, which will be further enabled through this funding. Creative engagement from the students themselves will provide them with entrepreneurial skills and broader graduate opportunities.

The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire will be hosting some of the placements, progressing diversity in the arts sector workforce by supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds into arts and museum careers.

Nicola Freeman, Director of Engagement and Learning at The Hepworth Wakefield, said: “We are delighted to build on our long-standing and deeply enriching partnership with the University of Sheffield in hosting paid student placements. The University’s innovative and collaborative approach to reimagining public spaces has led to many new ideas and approaches to engaging our local communities – in particular with the recent opening of The Hepworth Wakefield Garden.

“As the students working with us gain valuable experience, we will benefit greatly from their experience as they contribute to our curatorial and community programmes, working with us on projects to uncover hidden narratives in our collection and break down barriers and broaden access to green spaces across the city.”

John Flint, Professor of Urban Studies at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this project which enables even stronger links between social sciences and arts and humanities and provides our students, including those less likely to usually get such opportunities, to use their own learning  to positively work with a range of organisations and gain crucial experience and skills that will enhance their future careers.”