Canterbury Christ Church University has honoured outstanding local organisations at its inaugural Business and Community Impact awards. Celebrating successful collaborations and knowledge sharing, the awards recognise the significant impact these partnerships are having on the region and the international community.

Organised by the University’s Enterprise and Engagement team, the awards were presented at a special ceremony last month, with 28 local businesses and organisations celebrating alongside University staff and invited guests.

Winner of the Community Outreach Partner of Year was Canterbury for Ukraine, a charitable organisation which was set up as a community response to the Russian war against Ukraine, and has since been providing extensive relief and support to displaced Ukrainians.

Canterbury for Ukraine winners receiving their award
Community and Outreach Partner of the Year, Canterbury 4 Ukraine. L:R Denys Nizalov, Annette King, Olena Nizalova, Connie Nolan

Together, Canterbury for Ukraine and the University have created opportunities for displaced Ukrainians, collaborating across the local community to create an environment of safety, support and international cooperation.

As a strategic partner from the outset, the University has supported Canterbury for Ukraine with many different areas of its work.

One of the most important needs for displaced Ukrainians was English language training, and a programme was swiftly established by the University’s Centre for Language and Linguistics, which has now trained over 500 Ukrainians in the English language, with additional embedded employability training to help support Ukrainians in finding work. The partnership has flowed both ways, with Ukrainians offering translation services to prospective students from Ukraine, as well as volunteering at Open Days. The University is now also hosting displaced academics, providing a safe space and access to facilities to allow them to continue their research.

Denys Nizalov from Canterbury for Ukraine, said: “It is an honour to stand in front of you today. The Community and Outreach Partner of the Year award that is presented today recognises an effort of a large group of people: Canterbury for Ukraine members, trustees, volunteers, and partners who come together to help displaced Ukrainian people in a moment of great need. Unfortunately, the war is not over and many of Ukrainians have no place to return to. That implies that our help will be needed yet for some time. Today’s award inspires us to continue our work as long as it is needed."

Nataliia Gnatenko, who came to the UK from Kyiv with her 10-year-old son, said: "It is very difficult to describe in a few sentences the high level and multifaceted nature of Canterbury for Ukraine's assistance. This is a unique institution that has evolved over the years together with the Ukrainians who came to Canterbury fleeing the war. It should be noted that we are mainly talking about women with children. Striving to provide safe living conditions for their children, the absolute majority of Ukrainian women had no idea about life in Britain.

“Canterbury for Ukraine became the main source of information and provided information support at all stages of the formalization of the status of Ukrainians in Britain. This invaluable help saved many women from additional stress because most of them had a very low level of knowledge of the English language. Thanks to the generosity of Canterbury Christ Church and the University teachers, free English language courses were organized for Ukrainians. Since the fall of 2022, Canterbury Christ Church has become a place of strength for Ukrainians. For Ukrainians, on whose land there is now a bloody war for the right to exist, the preservation of identity and Ukrainian culture is an overarching task that cannot be fulfilled alone."

We are extremely fortunate and proud of the partnerships that we have in place with industry and the community. These awards are an opportunity to say thank you for their invaluable support and contribution, and also to showcase a range of diverse collaborations that we have across our partnership arrangements. We were recently ranked number one for graduates going into employment in the UK, and one of the reasons for that success is our partners’ support, providing professional experience, advice, time, opportunities such as research, and real project briefs to prepare our students to be career-ready graduates.

Abbie Kempe, Director of Enterprise and Engagement

Innovation of the Year Award went to Ootiboo, an education outreach company based in Folkestone, who aim to foster creative curiosity from an early age and give grown-ups the opportunity to embrace their own creativity. Via the University’s Hi3 Network, Ootiboo worked with the University visiting several schools in the area, including two Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools, and worked with over 50 students in small groups, tasking them to draw their own 'imaginary worlds'.

Supported by the University’s Film Production staff and students, the children produced 18 unique short videos based on their imaginary worlds within the Hi3 Network’s green screen studios at the University. They were able to step into the creative sphere, becoming Producer, Actor, Director, and Narrator, as well as working on skills such as negotiation and teamwork, experimenting with sound design and digital compositing, and learning about green screen filming. The project gave children access to knowledge and technologies that they otherwise may never have had, and it is hoped the experience will inspire them to take a creative path in future.

Ootiboo receiving their Innovation of the Year award
Innovation of the Year, Ootiboo. L:R Dr Nicholas Furze, Angus Cameron, Jack Bidewell

Unitemps Partner of the Year was awarded to Evolution Water Services Ltd, which has worked with Unitemps, the University’s in-house recruitment service, for several years. Unitemps connects students with businesses and organisations to access key work opportunities. Through Unitemps, Evolution Water have employed three students as Assistant Service Engineers over the last year, providing students with the opportunity to develop industry experience alongside their studies, and a fantastic platform to make vital connections in the early stages of their career.

Winner of Commercial Partner of the Year was RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), who have provided Canterbury Christ Church students with guest lectures from industry experts, field trips, and academic mentoring, providing them with valuable insight into the logistics industry and vital practical experience. The University has also been working with key individuals from RSP to develop skills training provision in STEM and business skills development.

Medway Community Healthcare, Blackthorn Trust, and the Health and Europe Centre won the Research Initiative of the Year award, for their collaboration with Canterbury Christ Church academics on the EU-funded Diabetes and Wellbeing (DWELL) project, a novel programme for the self-management of diabetes type 2, which affects 4.8 million people in the UK and presents a key public health challenge worldwide.

Through engaging local people in the programme, the DWELL project is making an important contribution to empowering people with diabetes in our region to live better and have the tools to effectively manage their health and wellbeing.

With trial programmes taking place across the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, the DWELL project is designed to help people living with diabetes take control of their treatment of the lifelong condition. DWELL provides individual support and advice to patients with a ‘pick and mix’ offering of wellbeing activities, information sessions, and lifestyle recommendations, to help patients to find their own path in managing their diabetes, and make empowered choices to live well. Healthcare partners facilitate these programmes for their patients, while academics at Canterbury Christ Church are evaluating the programme’s results. So far, significant positive changes have been evidenced, across metabolic health such as weight loss and BMI reduction, as well as improvements in self-care attitudes and responses to medical advice, and a rise in optimism for treatment and life with diabetes.

This collaboration is providing and promoting high quality evidence-based diabetes care which benefits our own community, but also contributes to diabetes healthcare and management research at an international level.

Medway Community Healthcare, Blackthorn Trust Charity and the Health and Europe Centre receiving their Research Partner of the Year award
Research Initiative of the Year, Medway Community Healthcare, Blackthorn Trust Charity and the Health and Europe Centre. L:R Anna Best, Professor Eleni Hatzidimitriadou, Julie Webster

eXroid Ltd were also honoured with the Research Initiative of Year Award for their partnership with the University’s Engineering department, offering exceptional opportunities for students, including CDIO, internships, and potential Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. Working on eXroid’s projects has provided students with valuable hands-on engineering experience with real-world impact, whilst creating innovative research outputs.

The awards were presented by Professor Mike Weed, Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research, Enterprise and Business Development, who said: “Looking across the award nominees, it’s really fantastic that we've got so many connections with public services, businesses, and charities - it’s that current diverse mix that is really important to us as an institution.

“Over the last 5 years we have put 15,000 graduates into the Kent and Medway economy in terms of supplying the local workforce, and around 90% of those came from Kent and Medway in the first place, so there's a real sense that as an institution we are here to serve the local and regional economy, and to serve businesses and workforce needs.

“Our partners’ engagement with us, through providing opportunities for students and working with us on innovation and enterprise, helps develop our research, academic excellence and the ability to support our local communities. Congratulations to the winners. We can only do the things that we do for our students, the community and the local economy with our partners’ support, help and advice.”

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