Cheshire West and Chester Council and University of Chester develop borough opportunities blueprint

Cheshire West and Chester Council and the University of Chester have a strong track record of joint working, including through the provision of education and skills, health and wellbeing support and city centre initiatives, including cultural activities.

A new Partnership Agreement is being considered next week by the Council’s Cabinet members that will build on the existing working relationship and deliver solutions for the local population which meet its evolving needs and aspirations.

The proposed Agreement is a joint commitment to Chester as a ‘University City’ and to exploit the full potential of working together to improve the lives of everyone across the wider borough and the region.

In a joint foreword to the Partnership Agreement, Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council; Council Chief Executive Andrew Lewis; Professor Eunice Simmons, the University’s Vice-Chancellor; and Canon Dr Jeff Turnbull, President of University Council, set the scene:

“We are now at a crucial moment as we look to rebuild from the challenges of the pandemic, and drive positive change which improves the lives and livelihoods of our population over the months and years to come.

“Our organisations have a strong track record of working together towards shared ambitions; we are both strongly committed to supporting our communities.

“This Agreement, and the work that will follow, will provide greater coherence between existing partnership efforts and a basis from which we can identify and drive forward new ideas and deliver specific initiatives in support of our shared ambitions.

“This Partnership Agreement reaffirms our commitment to Chester as a University City and to the wider borough which we serve, and to working even more closely together as civic leaders to further improve the lives of everyone across our region.”

Councillor Richard Beacham, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Growth, Economy & Regeneration said, “Like the Council, the University of Chester is a large organisation, which reaches out across our borough and beyond. Through collaboration on agendas such as skills and training, education and attainment, health and wellbeing, the environment and support for business, we will use our networks to build a fairer economy in Cheshire West and Chester.

“This partnership is about a better future through an enhanced relationship. Our organisations share many challenges, and when people who live, work and learn here look to us for answers, it is important that we have the right processes in place to find solutions.”

Throughout her first two years in post, Professor Eunice Simmons, Vice-Chancellor, has stated her commitment to reinforcing the relationship between the University, the city of Chester and the surrounding area, and has personally championed an active civic role.

She added, “Our Partnership Agreement maps out the mutual benefits for both the electorate of Cheshire West and Chester and the University connecting in addressing some of the most critical issues of our time, such as the Climate Emergency, skills shortages and the requirements of an ageing and vulnerable population.

“The University has contributed more than £410 million in Gross Value Added (GVA) annually to the economy nationally, [SOURCE: University of Chester Socio-economic Impact Assessment, by Hatch Regeneris July 2019] £150 million of that in West Cheshire.

“The Partnership Agreement demonstrates our strategic intent to work together with the Council. We are both major employers and organisations which can have a significant influence over all aspects of people’s lives, so it makes sense to harness more fully the tangible added value that a university brings to an area on an everyday basis.”

Seven partnership priority themes have been identified in a Partnership Action Plan, to progress initiatives highlighted by communities through the One City Plan consultation. This, in turn, complements the University’s Citizen Student Strategy, and both are driven by a clear sense of purpose.

Education and skills

The Agreement identifies the need to help local employers and sectors to address growing issues, including attracting skilled people into key front-line jobs such as health and social care and other public services, and to retain them. To respond to changing community expectations and needs, it highlights matching skills to plug local gaps; modernising the borough’s workforce to meet new and increasing demands for Green and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs and digital transformation; maximising opportunities for work experience, mentoring and volunteering; and supporting the establishment of a full Medical School for Chester from 2022.

Sustainable, inclusive, green growth

A vital area of growth will relate to climate change, as people and businesses will choose to live and work in places where there is action to address it. Cheshire West and Chester faces significant challenges compared to many other areas, as a focus for energy-intensive industries. This also presents considerable economic and employment potential, with local support for a green economy that contributes to the Net Zero ambitions of the Council, the University and the wider borough. The pace is being accelerated, with ambitious, but necessary goals, to address the Climate Emergency.

Sustainable transport

Every effort will be made to encourage people to choose healthy, safe and climate-friendly transport options, to work towards the borough’s 2045 Net Zero target with goals for 2030 of having a 17% reduction in travel demand overall and for 2025 of reducing car journeys by 25%. This will include pilot projects with public sector staff and students to test accessibility of active travel initiatives (walking and cycling) and promoting green transport awareness in schools and in the community.

City centre improvements and culture

As centres of population evolve, combining the specialist research and policy expertise between the Council and the University will help revitalise the city centre, shape its ongoing regeneration and contribute further to promoting and marketing the city as a great place to live, learn, work and visit. The prospect of becoming a ‘University City’ encompasses a broad spectrum of possibilities, covering cultural provision, economic success, wellbeing, skills, sustainability and transport.

Health and wellbeing

Covid-19 has created a range of new challenges over and above the immediate public health response, including greater demands for enhanced mental health and emotional wellbeing support, the need for additional support for those with, or at risk of experiencing social isolation, and the benefits of more physical activity. The Partnership Agreement will promote improved health of all communities, increasing joint initiatives which raise awareness of health and wellbeing issues and provide enhanced opportunities for people to get involved, for example, through knowledge sharing.

Community relations

It is acknowledged that the University is fundamental to the fabric of the city. There is a strong tradition from students promoting equality, diversity and social justice in the local region through active projects and extra-curricular engagement with a variety of community groups. The partnership supports opportunities for students to work with others living in the area on volunteering and other community action projects, to improve lives and provide personal and professional development for learners.

Student voice

The Council and University have both found new ways to engage with colleagues, peers and communities throughout the pandemic. The new Agreement is aligned to the Council’s One City Plan consultation, which enables everyone in the borough to help shape the future of where they live and how they connect with each other and will encourage greater participation involving students and alumni.

Image: Cllr Richard Beecham

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