UCL Global


Sierra Leone visit strengthens UCL collaborations in urban research

28 June 2019

The trip saw partners from the Bartlett Development Planning Unit and Njala University explore further opportunities for collaboration through the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre

Conference in Sierra Leone

Last week a UCL delegation led by Dame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s Vice-Provost International, visited the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), an international research collaboration between the UCL Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) and Njala University in Sierra Leone.

Established in 2014, SLURC aims to increase urban research capacity in Sierra Leone and enhance urban knowledge, prioritising the residents of informal settlements and their organisations.

By improving the quality and quantity of available knowledge on informal settlements in Sierra Leone, SLURC is credited with changing Freetown’s thinking about urban renewal. It has strengthened its impact through building collaborations with many international institutions.

Influencing policy and practice

The visit served as an opportunity for the partners to discuss SLURC’s achievements to date and explore further opportunities for collaboration.

Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, UCL Pro-Vice-Provost (Africa and Middle East), and colleagues from the DPU met with academic leaders at Njala University to discuss future projects and SLURC’s success to date in influencing policy and practice.

This was followed by a conference, ‘Urban Transformations in Sierra Leone: Lessons from SLURC's research in Freetown,’which formed part of the Bartlett 100 centenary event series.

Addressing the conference, Dame Nicola said: “At UCL we talk about partnerships of equivalence, based on mutual trust and respect and where the learning, knowledge and benefits flow in both directions equally.

“It seems to me that the collaboration between UCL and Njala University is a really good example of this kind of partnership.”

Building a bridge

Professor Uchegbu echoed this sentiment. She said: “A bridge has been built between UCL and Njala University, and that bridge is SLURC. This is a fantastic model of two universities working across geographical boundaries with communities to help change lives.”

Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu addressing SLURC conference

The Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, also attended the conference. In her address she spoke about the Transform Freetown Plan – an initiative developed in collaboration with SLURC to improve urban conditions in Freetown.

Longstanding collaboration

Over 20 UCL staff and 90 masters students have visited Sierra Leone since SLURC was established and a joint Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled ‘Development and Planning in African Cities’ is now in its third year.

Professor Caren Levy, Professor of Transformative Urban Planning at UCL (Bartlett DPU), is leading a project to support an urban planning Masters curriculum. This initiative is similarly designed to establish much needed academic training, not only for Sierra Leone, but for the wider region.