Academic Director’s Blog September

Hello!  I hope you have all had a great September and enjoyed the mostly warm weather we have been experiencing. It looks like autumn is getting underway now – the excitement of the football season is upon us – and the first coats and boots are starting to make an appearance on my commute to Letchworth – where if I’m feeling too autumnal. I have to say that garden city’s fantastic trees and gardens cheer me up on my walk to the Institute building. For that I say a silent thank you to Ebenezer Howard and to the town’s great master planners, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, as well as to the Letchworth Heritage Foundation which keeps the town looking good.

Since I last wrote, Brexit has been in the news and this is likely to have some implications for UK researchers’ access to European research funding. However while we are still ‘in’ we are also still eligible to apply for funding like the ‘Horizon2020 research funding pot. This is described on the European Commission’s website as ‘the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.’

As I said in my last blog, colleagues here and in France think the H2020 funding pot might be the right source of funds for the comparative work we would like to do on garden cities and health, in recognition of the importance of Garden City place-making ideas and practices to making healthy places in both countries in the past, now and in future.

In September, I went to Brussels for an information day on the H2020 funding area. It was a huge affair held at one of the European Commission buildings, with over 600 keen researchers in the room, more watching via a video feed, and questions coming in on email and Twitter. Like me, everyone was trying to find out how best to make a successful application for funds for their various research ideas and network like mad. It was exceptionally well chaired, with lots of very useful hints and tips, as well as dos and don’ts for research applicants that the staff there were able to provide from long experience.

At the end of the afternoon I was able to walk back through historic central Brussels to the train station to catch my train home, and buy some chocolate on the way, which I have to say is among the most delicious I’ve ever tasted (they do say one piece of really nice chocolate a day is good for your health so I will consider that as the right start for this particular research bid.) My colleagues and I will now be getting together to look at our proposal and see if we can shape it into a really fundable proposition. I will report back on that process in due course.

One of the other things I am busy with is finalising the research plan that is going to be the framework for my (and other University of Hertfordshire research colleagues) work with the International Garden Cities Institute. I explained in an earlier blog that I’d got together with lots of my colleagues earlier in the year to explore what might be good to include in the Research Plan and some of the points in the Plan so far include:
•    Work we have done to date with Letchworth – there is already a lot that scholars across the university do with the Garden City and with the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.
•    How we are going to link research and teaching and making sure we disseminate our research widely to people that will find it interesting and useful.
•    The changing context with Brexit and how to make sure we can successfully fund research (this is really about ways of sourcing money to do research).
•    The kinds of research themes we can focus on – there are lots of these from garden city principles, to planning, design and architecture; history and heritage; food; arts and culture; environment and sustainability; engineering and technology, economy, stewardship and more.

So the next steps are to get that all in order and then get on with producing some good research results that help support what should be the incredibly significant role of garden cities in future. I will keep you up-to-date with progress toward that Institute goal.