Working to the Same Goals

A case study of Southampton Hub’s work at Student Hubs

Sophie Ford and Fiona Walsh, Student Hubs

As a charity working within the higher education sector, Student Hubs has a unique point of view on working with communities, students, and higher education colleagues to enact change. We work in partnership with five UK universities, reaching 1800+ university students through over 100 community projects.

We want to share our approach with our Southampton Hub, who works in partnership with the Widening Participation team at the University of Southampton, and our relationship with young people aged 7-14 in the community.

Designing Activities

In Southampton, we work in partnership with schools, social services, youth clubs, and the Council to run volunteering opportunities that make an impact on young people and the university students we engage as volunteers. Our recruitment of student volunteers informs what social issue programmes students are interested in, but our work with individuals in the community shapes what these opportunities look like practically and what interventions for young people are actually needed to ensure they are not prescriptive.

We’ve run tutoring, STEM clubs including coding and engineering, mentoring, activity days and sports clubs, along with tutoring, art and a whole range of other clubs and activities for young people. It’s important to note that these are a mix of academic and non-academic activities.

University is not all about academic activity, and neither should it be our entire focus in engaging with young people.

Many of our programmes have outcomes relating to self-belief and self-esteem, aspirations, confidence, and relationships with adults, even in programmes where there is a direct link to subject knowledge and attainment, such as our Schools Plus tutoring programme. This is because we recognise the importance of motivation, cultural capital and social and emotional capabilities in the ability for young people to thrive at school, and these interventions at an early stage also support the young peoples’ expectations for what further and higher education may hold.

Stepping Out into the Community

Our activities do not only take place on school grounds. Gaps will remain in schools; whether that be due to learning styles not being met, relationships with parents and peers or general attitudes toward education. To fully engage young people, we must meet them where they are at, which means past the school gates and in their community and youth centres, on the university campus, at local libraries, and in local activity centres. These places are key because they are where young people feel comfortable, where they hold positive relationships with the space and the people around them, and where they feel a sense of belonging.

In these spaces there are no pressures for young people to meet academic expectations

It’s there that through our programmes, we get to speak to not only young people but
families and parents, and do the important work of building relationships and supporting the individuals who play such a big role in shaping young people’s expectations about what life after school is like.

Outreach during COVID

Delivering youth programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic has definitely enhanced the relationships we have with parents in Southampton, as we have had to find news ways to communicate with them about existing activities, but also to consult them about their needs when shaping new ones. Where we once went through partner schools or services to contact parents, we are now communicating directly with them through text message, phone calls, in person drop-offs and virtual sessions. Here, the parents are not just communicating with staff but, like their children, are building positive relationships directly with our student volunteers who are the tutors and the mentors.

Like the school classroom, the university campus can be seen as an academic space, and it is a space that many of our participants and their families have never engaged with outside of school visits.

We use the University as a Community Space

We use the university bouldering wall or trying a class with the Zumba
society – exposing young people and their families to the idea that university isn’t just about knowledge or career aspirations, but about trying new activities, finding new passions, meeting people and having fun.

In our joined up approach with the University of Southampton, our projects regularly engage with campus-based events such as the Human Worlds Festival and Southampton Science and Engineering Festival. If we are not actively taking our participants to these events, we are encouraging them to attend with their families, potentially encouraging a family activity that they may never have otherwise have considered.

Joining Up a Partnership approach

In the past, youth work and university outreach programmes have worked very separately with their own aims and their own target audiences. In my experience as a young person in Southampton, but also someone who has worked as a youth worker and within higher education, it was always clear to see the difference in privilege between each group:

  • University outreach is “for” young people we expect to go to university (those with knowledge)
  • Youth work is “for” young people with additional needs or who are at risk of being NEET (those who need skills).

Even though it is a new way of working within higher education, engaging with diverse groups, listening to our communities and being youth-led isn’t a new practice. Youth workers have been doing it in their field for years and there is a lot to learn from them.

At Student Hubs we evaluate our programmes using the 6 key principles of youth social action, and our local partnership with Youth Options in Southampton has strengthened this process. By working together we have developed an extensive volunteer training programme including, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Restorative Practice, Managing Challenging Behaviour and added to our safeguarding training. We know that these ‘youth work’ skills are paramount in ensuring that we are developing skilled student (and eventually graduate) practitioners for the future, and that our activities are high quality and young person centred.

Let’s do more together, meet young people and communities where they’re at, and create more joined up interventions with students, communities and practitioners all working towards the same goals.

Sophie Ford is the Southampton Hub Manager for Student Hubs. Fiona Walsh is the Sales Director for Student Hubs. If you are interested in hearing more about Student Hubs’ work, training and our partnerships, get in touch with Fiona Walsh at

To find out more about our work at Student Hubs and Southampton Hub, join Sophie and Fiona as we present at the NEON Summer Symposium 2021 on 2nd July. Our paper presentation will reflect on our relationship with widening participation at the University of Southampton, community engagement in our youth work, our programme Branch Up and how this learning supports the university’s outreach activities. 

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