Sociology Symposium With Nottingham Trent University: looking at public engagement with educational achievements

Penny Cooper, 27th July 2017

We engaged together, all in the same room, Practitioners, Students MSc and PhD, Lecturers and Department Heads, Representatives of Community Groups and Guest Speakers.  The day was set up to engage in questions about public sociology.  Nottingham Trent University, and the Sociology Department, Sharon Hutchins and her team, have been piloting projects which come from the Community, for students to learn and actively engage with different local community organisations.

The pilot of this service learning began 4 years ago at Nottingham Trent University, about 200 students and fifty community partners, with a social justice focus to benefit mutually both student and community organisation, and can see how well practice and theory connections come together. They get to grips with real issues and sometimes highlight aspects they had not thought of before.

Here at Mojatu, we have engaged with the universities in Nottingham, at all levels of achievement, PhD, MSc, undergraduates and graduates.  If it had not been for the work of such students engaging with our project choices, we would not have achieved so much in the Community, local, national and international engagement.  They have a big vote of thanks from Mojatu. Mojatu have worked with the universities in Nottingham to improve the service to students and by students when working in the Community, and have successfully committed to projects in: Africa, Kenya and working towards an end to female genital mutilation; GAIN Diaspora has grown and formed with the help of students; the Mojatu magazine is being organised by a graduate, students have engaged with Mojatu regular volunteers to help at the Eco Farm in Screveton; students have worked on the Committee of the Hyson Green Cultural Festival to formulate ideas about community cohesion, bringing different communities together, with an understanding of the reasons we do it; and there is much more we can be grateful for.  They are learning about community issues, events and celebrations.  Their employability will improve with their hands on experience, and it does not end there, many students enjoy their experience so much, their passion is ignited and they wish to continue volunteering after their course module is finished.

This is a great forward approach for universities, and is a modern take on education.  We are pleased to be a part of it at Mojatu.

Donations needed to help student architects build a new nursery in South Africa

22nf February 2017

University of Nottingham architecture students are asking for crowd-funding support to help them build a nursery in a South African village, ensuring its toddlers can access vital pre-school education. 

Some 39 second-year undergraduate architecture students will head out to construct the new facility at the Rethuseng Créche in Lephepane Village, Limpopo, in just four weeks over Easter 2017.

Current facilities at the nursery drastically need improving to get young children school-ready, as they comprise just a single room, with no water supply and very basic toilets. 

Project Myemyela (which means ‘smile’ in Sotho) will provide over 80m2 of new accommodation, new toilets and cooking facilities, and a reliable water supply that it is hoped will be shared with the village.

For several months, participating students have competed in teams to develop innovative architectural designs for the new nursery. 

The winning concept, which will be built on site, is a “deceptively simple solution to providing practical enclosed classrooms and external, shaded space for the teaching of pre-school children that will create a fun, landmark building for the community”, explained John Ramsay, Live Build project lead at the University.

 “The design permits a quick, efficient approach to building - the students must complete the project in four weeks - and is well suited to the available technology and construction methods in rural South Africa. Its form reflects traditional building in the area, while using simple modern materials in novel ways,” John adds.

 The construction project is wholly funded by participating students. Each had to raise £2,000 in contribution towards the building materials and their flights in parallel to their studies.

Accompanied by six to eight academic and technical staff from the University’s Department of Architecture & Built Environment, the students will also carry out the on-site construction themselves.

The project team will be supported by a local network including Education Africa, the Thusanang Trust and many small contractors and suppliers in the nearby town of Tzaneen.

Using funds raised, more than 90% of materials and equipment will be bought or rented within 50km of the site. This effort to support the local economy is extended to employ skilled labour from surrounding towns and villages on the build where possible.

Project Myemyela is the seventh instalment in the University’s live build initiative which gives second-year students the opportunity to design and build a nursery in South Africa.

John Ramsay said: “Every student emerges with a deep understanding of place, social responsibility and technical resolution that is impossible to replicate in the studio.”

The students gain lots of valuable hands-on experience during the live build course module, which is a unique offering among architecture courses in UK universities.

“Participating students often outperform their peers. The project is recognised for particular praise by external examiners and is always the most compelling thing in portfolios when they are applying for work,” explains John.

 Project Tshela which ran last year saw students develop a brand new nursery in a small village called Mokomotsie, also in the Limpopo region.

Watch the Project Tshela video here:

Prior to the project, its existing school ran only on a volunteer basis, confined to a basic 3m x 6m brick structure. Many students were shocked at the poor conditions the school operated under.

The new building is now three times the size of the original nursery space. The larger space and improved facilities allowed the school to get formal registration and therefore government funding.

 Building nurseries like these helps to readdress the inequality faced by pre-school children from rural African villages who often don’t have access to education prior to primary school.

Project Tshela students also developed innovative new technology to help build the nursery in a four-week turn around. 

This included an ingenious and economical design for a ply web truss - a lightweight structural component which spanned the required 10-metre building width and overhangs.

This simple timber box beam, with ply acting as its webbing was fixed externally to make the structure appear more elegant and increase its resistance to torsion. It was conceived by the winning team of five students and was finessed prior to travel in consultation with structural engineers and through prototyping in the workshop.

This clever design allowed the student builders to get the roof on the structure quickly and therefore working in much-needed shade for the majority of the construction period.

 Ryan Boultbee, from last year’s the winning team, said: “The truss allowed us to span the greatest distance unimpeded with the least amount of work or material waste yet still arrive at an architecturally-beautiful solution.

 “As far as I am aware this project represents the greatest internal span produced by the South Africa Live Build Unit so far. Working as a team we each used our respective skills to strengthen and enrich the scheme and bring to life the building we see today,” Ryan added.

 Ryan is also emphatic that future second-year architecture students should take the Live Build module. “The project offers a long list of experience, life skills, and opportunities, but there is only one way to find out what they are for you.” 

To donate to individual students or the entire team, please visit the Project Myemyela Just Giving page:


For the latest information on the project, visit: or like the Project Myemyela Facebook page