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Council hosts University's annual civic showcase event

Kingston University's role in the community has been showcased at the council's Guildhall with its annual civic event.

Hundreds of local residents were joined by representatives from the area's businesses and community organisations, council members and the Mayor, Councillor Margaret Thompson, at the University's annual civic showcase, hosted this year by the Royal Borough of Kingston.

The event featured an exhibition in the council chamber of work carried out by the University with more than 20 stands and displays accompanied by music performed by students, alongside a series of short talks and dance performances.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier chaired a panel discussion centred around what it means to be a University town and the benefits the University brings to the area alongside Kingston Council leader Councillor Liz Green, Kirsten Henly, chief executive of Kingston First, and law student Faustina Edward.

Staff and students were on hand in the bustling exhibition area to explain their contributions through research, volunteer projects and mentoring, while visitors were able to take a tour of the University's lab in a lorry, which takes science activities out to schools across the capital, and find out about the latest exhibitions and projects taking place at Dorich House Museum and the Stanley Picker Gallery.

"The civic showcase celebrates the strong relationship between the University and the Royal Borough of Kingston and the integral role we play in the community," Professor Spier said. "As a major employer, we are proud of the contribution we make to the borough culturally, socially and economically and through all the volunteering work our staff and students do."

Professor Spier added that the relationship was set to get even stronger with the opening of the University's flagship new Town House building, which will become a gateway to the University when it opens next year.

"Town House will be a world-class building that has been purposely designed to help break down those barriers that can exist between a university and a community. We want to create an inviting, welcoming environment with a café, studio theatre and courtyard on the ground floor and a range of other facilities for residents and businesses to enjoy and explore," he said.

Guests at the civic showcase event were able to take in a series of dance performances in the Guildhall's Queen Anne Suite.

Welcoming the benefits Town House would bring for students and the wider community, council Leader Liz Green emphasised the importance of having developed strong links between the University and the local authority.

"Looking at how the University and council now interact and work together, the relationship has never been stronger and we are now truly becoming 'town with gown' rather than 'town and gown'," she said.

"Residents are starting to see more of what the University brings to the borough and what students are giving back and contributing to the local area."

Chief executive of Kingston Council, Ian Thomas, added that Universities in towns, boroughs and cities had a key role to play in raising aspirations and providing partnerships and opportunities that can have a life-changing impact on residents in those areas.

"I'm an advocate of universities and the role they play in social mobility and community development. We are fortunate to have Kingston University right here in the borough working with us to ensure people have the best opportunities life has to offer," he said.

"This showcase has been a thriving, buzzing celebration of what the university does for our families and the impact it has on our economy. It's fantastic to see so many people coming here to find out more about the contribution the institution makes."

During the evening, visitors heard about the University's involvement in the Community Brain's award-winning ShedX project, as well as first hand examples from students of how volunteering and working as an ambassador have enhanced their university experience. The final talk from the Union of Kingston Students focused on the positive impact students have on the town, including how sports teams and societies contribute to creating a vibrant and diverse community.

Another event highlight was the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Professor Spier and council leader Liz Green, cementing the final stage of a decade-long collaboration to bring back a highly significant collection of work by pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge to Kingston. The works will be housed alongside the University's own archive collections in the Town House building.

Devaki Amin, who worked with the STEM Saturday Club - an initiative that sees students in the borough come together at the University to work on projects across the town centre, was among the students attending the annual celebration.

"It's so amazing to see the difference Kingston University students are making and after seeing the performances and hearing the talks, it really highlights the positive impact the university has on the local area and the wider region," she said.

"What's inspired me the most is seeing the enthusiasm and pride the staff and students on the stands have in the work they do and how beneficial it is to people of all ages living in the borough."