Image shows architect drawing of the Torry re-development programme

Cross-Sector Collaboration: Fostering meaningful community relationships

By Jenny Frost - 29 August 2022

Academics and professionals at Robert Gordon University (RGU) are breaking traditional professional and academic silos by working together to restore the former primary school on Victoria Road in Torry. Whilst the Victoria Road School Regeneration Project has been a long time coming, with delays resulting from Covid-19 and planning restraints, a tender for works will be issued later this year.

The Victoria Road School Regeneration Project brings together professional disciplines from across the University including architects from The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environmentand health professionals from The School of Health Sciencesand RGU’s Centre for Employability and Community Engagement.

This professional team is supporting Torry Development Trust and Grampian Housing Association who are spearheading the project. Urban Designer from The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment, Dr Quazi Zaman, Stephanie Morrison from the School of Health Sciences and the Vice Principal for Research and Community Engagement, Professor Nick Fyfe highlight the benefits of interdisciplinary partnership and collaboration to support this regeneration project.

Through partnership working, the former Victoria Road School in Torry, which is owned by Grampian Housing Association (GHA) will be transformed into affordable, energy-efficient and multi-generational housing. The project includes a communal courtyard with seating areas to foster social cohesion and multi-generational living. An integrated community learning and skills centre will also be developed, providing opportunities for a range of activities designed to enhance the health and well-being of the community.

This innovative project demonstrates the importance of co-design and taking an interdisciplinary approach to tackle society’s challenges. The project also offers practical opportunities for students from The Scott Sutherland School and The School of Health Sciences, who are working together, to identify key factors in the project’s design that create good health and encourage participation in community life.

This is known as the concept of salutogenesis. By adopting a salutogenic, or health-based approach to design at the Victoria Road School, the team is helping to promote good health in daily life.  The project centres around an inclusive building design and spatial outside garden area which has been designed to have a therapeutic effect on sensory awareness through colour, texture and smell. This would benefit people of all ages and activities are designed to complement the environment and promote health and wellbeing.

The team is working closely with Torry Development Trust and the students have built-up invaluable experience through their practical course work which has not only supported their studies but given them opportunities to work on a ‘real-life’ project that will make a difference in people’s lives. This community learning adds significant value to the community and to the student’s learning.

By breaking the traditional professional and academic silos, interdisciplinary and university-community engagement can help accomplish great benefits for the community. The method of teaching or pedagogy attempts to brand learners as ‘socially engaged professionals’, while empowering each student with the power of learning, applying and transforming our society.

The project has shown the tactical importance of co-design and an interdisciplinary approach to harness community-university engagement and extends the benefits of higher education beyond the University campus.

Occupational therapist and lecturer in Public Health, Stephanie Morrison from The School of Health Sciences added: “It is essential to bring together the skills and experts from health and architecture, to understand what creates good health for a range of populations in community settings. In doing so, we can change perceptions and understanding of what creates good health. We can remove any barriers which exist to access good health and by working innovatively together, we can promote health and well-being in affordable, multigenerational housing.”

Vice Principle for Research and Community Engagement, Professor Nick Fyfe, said: “The Victoria Road School Regeneration Project exemplifies the approach that the University is taking to community engagement in the city, focusing on partnership and collaboration, where our expertise can add value to local initiatives. 

“The importance of this project to health and wellbeing as well as energy efficiency also reflects the way RGU is focused on working to address some of the most significant challenges that societies face.  Beyond Aberdeen, we are also working with communities in other parts of Scotland and in particular on Orkney where we have built strong relationships with local stakeholders to co-design approaches to address some of the social, economic and environmental issues associated with island living.”

David Fryer, Lead Trustee with Torry Development Trust said "Grampian Housing Association and Torry Development Trust greatly value the ongoing commitment and collaboration with RGU in the development of the Victoria Road School regeneration project which demonstrates the added value of cross-sector working to benefit community wellbeing."

Sandra MacIntyre, Communications Lead at Grampian Housing Association said: “We believe that the value of partnership working and cross-sector collaboration involving organisations like RGU shows that investment and regeneration in communities is the way forward for areas such as Torry.”

Elsewhere in the city, an interdisciplinary team from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & School of Health Sciences is working on a Seaton Community and Placemaking project with the Fresh Community Wellness Group to regenerate the Seaton area.  The team is working with residents to map out areas to improve local amenities and create new social spaces. The project is helping to foster social inclusion and offering new ideas to revitalise the area.

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