Student consultancy gives charities a helping hand

06 May 2015

Community groups and charities in the Lancaster area are getting a welcome boost to their work, thanks to a series of consultancy projects involving MSc Project Management students.

The ten-week projects  form a key part of the students’ curriculum, and are the first of two projects for external clients that they undertake during their year on the programme.

“Live client projects in businesses have always been a key part of the Project Management MSc, but having all these projects focused purely in the voluntary and charity sector is a new development for us this year,” says , a tutor on the programme who helped to set up the projects.

“These projects give our students a chance to put something back into the local community, at the same time enabling them to learn more about some of the issues that people within the community are dealing with – sometimes difficult for them to appreciate, living relatively cocooned on the University campus.

“When we gave the client briefs out to the students, they were really excited, as they realised these were projects that could actually make a big difference to people’s lives.”

“We feel very responsible for the outcomes. It’s challenging, but it’s also very inspiring and motivating,” says Georgii Zavialov from Russia. Working with the Lancaster-based social enterprise Outrageous Ambition, his team has been asked to develop a business case and action plan for a new form of care agency that will enable disabled adults to live together independently.

“Our client is looking for a model in which all the profit can be reinvested back into the agency in order to make it more sustainable and improve the quality. The project timeframe is about three years, so we need to look ahead to work out the various possible risks.”

Strengthening the funding base

Another team is working with West End Impact, a faith-based charity which runs a range of facilities and activities to support adults and families in Morecambe with significant social problems. They have been asked to find ways in which the charity could strengthen its funding base for this work, and in particular its ‘Impact Angels’ donor scheme.

“Our aim is to provide them with some marketing tools which will help raise awareness of the scheme,” says Filip Bobula. “We want to give them something that will be of good quality and valuable on a longer-term basis.”  

His teammate Balakumar Arumugham adds: “It is really satisfying to be doing this kind of project, for an organisation like this. All of us really want to create a deliverable that will have impact for them.”

Other project clients include Brathay Exploration Trust, a charity which runs worldwide expeditions and environmental studies for young people. The students have been asked to come up with ideas and plans for three physical ‘challenge events’ for Trust volunteers. These events, to be held simultaneously at three venues in July, are designed to raise awareness of the Trust’s work and raise money for its bursary scheme.

Two-way benefits

The Lancaster YMCA has also asked students to look at ways of extending the usage of its multi-purpose community facility in a converted former mill. The student team (pictured in our banner photo) is conducting a feasibility study into how the building could be used more extensively to provide new income streams that would help fund some of the organisation’s other core activities.

Another student team is helping a local community association in the north of the city by undertaking a detailed needs assessment of local residents to be used as part of a Lottery Bid to secure future funding for Skerton Community Centre. Students are also investigating ways in which Nurture Lakeland could boost take-up of its individual membership scheme.

"All these projects are really important to the future of our client organisations, and we know they value the knowledge and experience that students bring, not least because they come from diverse cultural backgrounds,” says , Director of the MSc programme.

“But the benefits are two-way: for the students the projects also provide an ideal opportunity to translate theory into action by applying their learning to real-world problems. This helps develop their professional project management skills.”

Projects like this can also widen students’ visions of where they could use their project management skills, adds Emma Watton. “We know from research that when students undertake a community-based project, they are not only more engaged with community initiatives, but quite often they continue as volunteers post-project or may consider applying for a job in that sector which they would not have done without that experience.”