UCL London


Advocating for UCL’s impact in London whilst adapting to new ways of working

Written by Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences and Pro Vice Provost (London), UCL

27 JULY 2020, issue 5

Alan Thompson

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on society over the past six months and we have all had to adapt to new ways of working, not only in our professional lives but in every aspect. A key part of my role as Pro Vice Provost (London) is to engage with our local communities, policy makers, local government and other partners in London. Whilst this has certainly been challenging, in particular as we develop a new London Framework for UCL in London, I have been very encouraged by the continued level of impact and support UCL has provided for London’s communities and beyond in such a time of crisis through research, community engagement and enterprise activities.

As many of us are preparing for the end of the academic year at UCL, so much energy and planning is well underway for the next academic year, whilst delivering our goals in a much different landscape to that we have previously planned for. This is very much the case for myself and my colleagues who are preparing to welcome students in the new academic year and the education programmes which are going to be delivered. London is a fantastic, world-class, capital city and there are many benefits to studying and living in such a vibrant place. We look forward to welcoming new and existing students back to Bloomsbury. Of course, as ever safety on campus is paramount to UCL and recently we signed up to the London Higher COVID-19 Secure Charter along with 20 other universities in London, to illustrate how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across London are committed to safety on campus.

In times of public crisis and uncertainty there is even need for joined-up thinking and debate with local policy makers and government in order to influence change. Whilst advocating for our innovation and research excellence, the role of the PVP London Office is to create opportunities in and for London whilst building relationships and engaging with our partners. It is therefore so timely that colleagues in the Office of the Vice Provost (Research) have recently been awarded £3.9m funding from Research England as part of the 3-year Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) project. The project will support academic engagement with policy professionals, ultimately engaging universities and policy stakeholders from across England. Sarah Chaytor, UCL Director of Research Strategy and Policy and project co-lead outlined that “By addressing the existing barriers between universities and public policy organisations at a range of levels and working in close partnership across the project and with a wider network, we will be able to build our understanding of ‘what works’ in academic-policy engagement and how universities and policy stakeholders can work together to tackle national and regional policy problems, including those in London.” We look forward to working closely with colleagues in OVPR and UCL Public Policy as we continue to engage with our stakeholders and partners in London.

Additionally part of our work in the PVP London Office is focused on providing a platform in which collaboration can be more closely aligned when relating to London. We have a fantastic London Advisory Group who provide strategic guidance to the development of the London focussed programme from across all aspects of UCL. Together, we have been planning our activities for the new academic year ahead.

I’m delighted to share that from the new academic year we will launch our annual programme as part of the PVP London Office portfolio of activities. The aim of the annual programme is to demonstrate UCL’s commitment to doing more in key areas which are so important to our own priorities as well as to Londoners. It will also provide opportunities to showcase the breadth and depth of UCL’s research and activities in key areas, and create new local impact through the PVP London Office.

The theme of the first programme will be mental health. This is one of the biggest challenges to society, impacting both socially and economically. In London alone, mental ill health results in £2.6billion economic and social costs each year. £7.5billion is spent on addressing mental ill health in the London community each year. Approximately 111,000 young people In London have a clinically significant mental health problem. Of course mental health is also linked to many other inequalities such as homelessness (1 in 52 people in London are homeless), health, education, welfare and equality to name a few. 

Additionally a new impact, Covid-19, will now exacerbate mental ill health for many Londoners. I spoke about how UCL is transforming mental health and social wellbeing for all throughout the Covid-19 pandemic previously, here. We’ve also understood recently through UCL research led by Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care) as part of the UCL Covid-19 Social Study, that 21% of people from white backgrounds have reported being lonely during lockdown, rising to 23% amongst those from BAME backgrounds. Thoughts of death have affected 15% of those taking part in the study. 35% of adults reported that their mental health have been worse than usual throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The study has highlighted that “substantial numbers of people have been experiencing serious mental health difficulties during lockdown without access to vital support”.

UCL is a beacon in its work in mental health. We have a UCL Mental Health Strategy, demonstrating our commitment to developing opportunities between UCL and partners to deliver long-term benefits to our local community, students, staff and stakeholders in London and beyond. In addition to the research outlined above by Dr Daisy Fancourt, our academics are already carrying out significant research and impact in this area including the work of Professor Peter Fonagy (Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences), Professor Anthony David (Professor of Mental Health and Director of the UCL Institute of Mental Health), Professor Essi Viding (Professor of Developmental Psychopathology), Professor Steve Pilling (Professor of Clinical Psychology and Clinical Effectiveness) and Professor Glyn Lewis (Professor of Epidemiological Psychiatry) amongst many others. The annual programme will therefore act as a vehicle to showcasing our already existing work and its London impact, as well as creating and developing new opportunities for work in this area. 

The programme is currently under development but will launch in October, followed by a series of virtual events and collaboration opportunities. We very much welcome UCL colleagues as well as our external partners, local communities and alumni community to be involved in the programme and be part of the platform to create impact for our locality and region.  More information will be published on our website in due course, but to find out more or to be involved in the programme please contact Amy Lightstone