MMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Blog

Funding opportunities, news and guidance from RKE at Manchester Met

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Study shows beneficial effects of blocking brain inflammation in an experimental model of Alzheimer’s

Take a look at this article detailing new research on Alzheimer’s disease funded by the MRC and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

A study, published today in the journal Brain, has found that blocking a receptor in the brain responsible for regulating immune cells could protect against the memory and behaviour changes seen in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The research was jointly funded by the MRC and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

It was originally thought that Alzheimer’s disease disturbs the brain’s immune response, but this latest study adds to evidence that inflammation in the brain can in fact drive the development of the disease. The findings suggest that by reducing this inflammation, progression of the disease could be halted.

The team hope the discovery will lead to an effective new treatment for the disease, for which there is currently no cure.

To read more, please visit:

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Dr Josh Edelman talks about his AHRC ‘Cultural Value’ funded project on The Value of Amateur, Subsidised and Commercial Theatre for Tyneside’s Audiences

What can theatre do for a city? Why should its citizens value it, and make time and space for it within their lives? Why should democratic governments, charged with nurturing and developing not just an economy but a society, spend their limited resources on it? And how do these values differ between theatrical forms, between cities, between modes of production and between individuals? Our project seeks to address these questions through a qualitative and quantitative study of the theatrical audience of contemporary Newcastle, Gateshead, and the surrounding Tyneside region: what draws them to the theatre, what values they take from it, and what effect this has on their lives, and the different values different sorts of theatre hold.

Especially for a six-month project, this may seem impossibly broad. The value of the arts for society has been so thoroughly debated over the last 50 years—indeed, over the last 2500 years—that these questions may seem unanswerable at best, and ignorant at worst. We have two defences against the charge of naiveté. First, while the relationship between arts and society has been a major debate within aesthetic philosophy since Plato (see the useful intellectual history in Belfiore & Bennett’s 2013 The Social Value of the Arts), very often this discussion remains at the level of theory, or at best, refers only to a few extraordinary examples of artistic achievement. Very rarely has this philosophical debate come into full dialogue with good data on the reality of the living art world: not just exceptional masterpieces, but the day-to-day reality of the social practice of making and attending to the arts. Second, theatre makes a poor proxy for the other arts. The theatre has always been a bit of a problem for aesthetic thinking; too commercial, too collaborative, too entertaining, too low-class, it has been seen as more akin to circuses for the masses (or rituals for the faithful) than poetry for the discerning reader. Claims to the value of the arts as an autonomous sphere are much harder to maintain for a business like the theatre where public opinion and the public purse are ever-present forces.

How can we make a small contribution to the addressing of these very large questions? Our methods have been developed by the Project on European theatre Systems (known as STEP), of which both the project’s research assistant, Dr Maja Šorli, and I are members. STEP is a group of theatre sociologists from seven countries around Europe. It is led by Dutch arts sociologist Hans van Maanen. Building out of the work our first book, Global Changes/Local Stages (2009), STEP has developed a set of metrics to gauge the values that theatre has for audiences, and a common questionnaire and focus group technique to measure them. The values these metrics try to capture are based on the post-Kantian theories of the social value of the arts, including those of George Dickie, Arthur Danto, Pierre Bourdieu, Niklaus Luhmann, Bruno Latour, Nathalie Heinich and others, as described in van Maanen’s book How to Study Art Worlds (2009). By sharing a common set of metrics and measuring technique, we can create a data set that is easier to replicate and much more comparable. Using survey and focus group techniques to measure the value of the experience of the theatre is difficult. But using these techniques to compare the value of different theatrical experiences is much easier. We can, for instance, see how audience members value different theatrical genres differently, or how people from different demographics value their experiences differently, and so on. We can also compare the theatre of different cities. So far, STEP members have used these methods in Aarhus, Denmark; Tartu, Estonia; Maribor, Slovenia; Berne, Switzerland; Groningen, the Netherlands and Debrecen, Hungary. Together, these projects are assembling the largest single data set on the audience experience of theatre in contemporary Europe. The initial results of these international comparisons have now been published in the journal Amfiteater, which will be online by the end of the year.

On Tyneside, we worked in partnership with most of the local theatre community, and in particular the Empty Space, a valuable theatre resource organization for the local area. We complied over 1600 surveys and conducted 12 focus groups. A particular focus of our Tyneside work is the different values that amateur, commercial and subsidized theatre hold for their audiences. From the perspective of what an audience takes from it, what makes subsidized, not-for-profit theatre different from its amateur and commercial cousins? What are the values that amateur theatre realizes, and are they more like that of the professional theatre or more like that of a local football club? Answers to these questions would be fascinating to arts sociologists, of course, but they will also help those who organize, promote and fund theatrical work in this country to have a better understanding of the effect they actually have on audiences so that they can better advocate for it.

Our initial findings showed that we could identify two relevant sets of values that theatre had for its audiences. One set of values (which we called the I Component, for impressiveness, as it contained aspects of the audience’s emotional and aesthetic admiration for the performance) was consistent across commercial and subsidised theatre; audience members saw it in all kinds of professional theatre (though not to the same extent in amateur theatre). Another set (which we called the C Component, as it contained ways in which the performance posed an emotional, aesthetic or intellectual challenge to its audience) seemed to mark a remarkably clear separation between commercial and subsidised theatre. Subsidised theatre audiences embraced these values, while commercial theatre audiences did not. More detailed results have now been published in our final report, which specifies these two components in considerable detail. But our analysis raises questions as well, particularly about amateur theatre. Though amateur theatre did not score as well on the I Factor as its professional counterparts, this did not seem to matter to audiences so much. It had a particular draw — a joy in watching the arduous, impassioned labour of people ‘just like us’ — that seemed both potent and compelling, even when audience members knew no one in the cast. We are talking with the Empty Space and our amateur theatre colleagues on Tyneside about conducting a follow-up project to learn more about this area.

Joshua Edelman is senior lecturer in the Department of Contemporary Arts, Manchester Metropolitan University

This Blog post originally appeared on the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project Blog:

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Guest Blog: Dr Lucy Wright reports back on her experience of receiving British Council funding to attend an international conference

Early career researchers from the UK were recently invited to apply for full bursaries from the British Council and the Thailand Research Fund to attend a new Women’s Entrepreneurship conference in Bangkok. Dr Lucy Wright, Research Associate at the Centre for Enterprise reports on her successful experience in securing funding to present her work at Bangkok International University in June 2015.


“It was a very quick turnover. I submitted my proposal and supporting documents in May and attended the conference the following month. The whole process was surprisingly easy; I received a full bursary to cover my international travel, fees and living costs, and the conference was excellent and very well organised. I’d highly recommend taking advantage of these sorts of opportunities when they come around – I’ve never applied for a British Council bursary before, but I will definitely be doing so again in the future…”

A few months ago one of my colleagues forwarded me an RKE email advertising a conference in Bangkok on the theme of women’s entrepreneurship. Thailand has one of the world’s highest rates of female entrepreneurship, and Bangkok University’s School of Entrepreneurship and Management (BUSEM) is developing an excellent reputation, not least for its creative new Masters programme, offered in partnership with Babson College in Massachusetts – so the prospect sounded very appealing.

As academics, we hear about a wide range of interesting conferences held both nationally and internationally, but in many cases – although relevant – we just don’t have the time or funds to attend. However, generous support from the British Council and Thailand Research Fund made participating in this particular colloquium potentially viable. Full bursaries including accommodation, international travel and significantly reduced conference fees were offered for outstanding candidates, selected from expressions of interest and letters of recommendation submitted by applicants in the preceding months.

Specifically encouraged to apply were early career researchers (post-docs within the first ten years of their career) who were interested in attending an intensive, yet supportive, three-day event to develop their research on any subject related to female entrepreneurship. With a list of keynote speakers including Professor Erkko Autio from Imperial College, London, Professor Susan Marlow from Nottingham University and Dr Koson Sapprasert, Director of Research at BUSEM, the conference promised to deliver high quality discussion, as well as a rare and valuable opportunity to network with scholars from Thailand and other parts of South East Asia.

It took me a couple of days to pull together the relevant documents required to make my application, and I was notified of the result a couple of weeks later. The conference was excellent, and we were made to feel very much at home by the students and staff at the International University, enjoying top-notch facilities and delicious catering. After three packed days of seminars and presentations, we were treated to a field trip to see the production line at female-owned business, Giffarine Cosmetics, on the outskirts to the city. This was a fascinating experience, giving us an opportunity to put some of our theory into practice at a Q&A session with the firm’s Managing Director, Dr Nalinee Paiboon, who sent us away with her patented words of wisdom and a fantastic goodie-bag of popular products to try for ourselves. The final day of the conference offered a chance to participate in a walking tour of Bangkok, with a highly knowledgeable guide who tailored our itinerary to our research interest in entrepreneurship (as well as some beautiful temples!). Having seen little of the city until this point, this was a very welcome excursion, leaving us all wanting to return to Thailand again some day.

I had a fantastic time at the Women Entrepreneurship conference at BUSEM, making friends and contacts that I hope will last well into the future. My very positive experience of applying for British Council funding has made me more confident about trying my hand for similar opportunities as they arise, rather than letting them pass through my inbox unconsidered. As a very new venture for BUSEM, a significant number of UK scholars were also successful in securing full bursaries, although the organizing team hope for a larger response to their forthcoming call-for-papers for a creative industries event in 2016. I’d urge any of my fellow researchers to do the same – you never know where in the world you might end up!

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How academic staff from MMU are promoting sustainable pubs

Robinsons - with acceptable padding       _MG_3932Hatters      ESRC 2

A team from MMU has joined forces with Robinsons brewery to help make their tenanted pubs more resource efficient through an ESRC funded Knowledge Exchange project. Dr Tamara McNeill, Senior Research Associate within the Centre for Enterprise explains more:

We hear a lot about ‘sustainable business’ these days but what is a sustainable business? One that doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment perhaps? Or one that is economically sustainable, operating without making a loss and resilient to future risks and shocks? Advocates of ‘lean and green business systems’ suggest that the overlap between these is large. In contrast to viewing ‘green’ behaviour as a type of corporate and social responsibility – a ‘nice to do’ involving a cost and little return – a focus on waste reduction ticks both the environmental and ‘bottom line’ boxes. At the simplest level, if businesses use less they pay for less while reducing their carbon footprint, a clear win/win.

As researchers in the Centre for Enterprise we use research to inform the Centre’s work to help small firms thrive and grow. With William Robinson, MD of Robinson’s brewery on our board, we had a clear opportunity to build on projects and publications in this area to achieve some substantial impact. Having already invested heavily to make the brewing process more efficient and greener, William was keen to develop a project for us to work with the brewery’s tenant licensees, themselves small businesses operating in a changing and challenging market. We put together a (successful) ESRC Knowledge Exchange bid, collaborating with Carolyn Branston as a Co-investigator, who is a Senior Lecturer within the Hollings Faculty, Department of Food & Tourism Management. The partnership with Carolyn made sense on a number of levels. Firstly, having access to the latest thinking on ‘Responsible Hospitality’ is of great value to the project; and secondly, Carolyn herself understands the nature of the industry from first hand-experience having been a Unit General Manager for an international national branded pub-company and run a private enterprise pub-restaurant prior to embarking on an academic career. Thirdly, there may also opportunities to help shape elements of the new Holling’s Hospitality Business Management degree programme, particularly on sustainability in the public house sector.

The ‘Greener Pub Retailing’ project started in February and runs until December 2015. Initially we’re working intensively with eight trailblazer pubs to trial different ways of reducing waste. The pubs are all very different and for some efficiency around beer dispensing and storage is a priority while others want to target trade waste. There are particularly big opportunities around food with WRAP estimating that food waste costs the pub industry £357 million per year amounting to £8,000 for the average pub! Water and general energy efficiency are also rich areas to explore. Simple things like switching things off can be an easy wins and we are looking at various ways to encourage behavioural change, particularly among staff which is often the real challenge.

Our second objective is to develop a community of practice among the wider Robinsons estate which includes around 300 pubs. We’re planning a series of events where the trailblazers will be able to share their experience and we hope to build a network around leaner greener pub retailing as a legacy of the project. An important part of the infrastructure for that will be a website which we are in the process of developing and which will remain as part of the project’s legacy to provide a forum for sharing information, advice and experience.

If you’re interested in what the pub tenants decide to do to make their businesses leaner and greener – or if you’d like to know more about our Knowledge Exchange journey and the lessons we learn along the way – then keep an eye on the RKE blog or get in touch with us.

The project team is:

Professor Sue Baines, Professor of Social Enterprise, Centre for Enterprise (Principal Investigator) (

Dr Tamara McNeill, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Enterprise (Co-Investigator) (

Carolyn Branston, Senior Lecturer, Hollings Faculty & Enterprise Scholar, Centre for Enterprise (Co-Investigator) (

Jonathan Lawson, Head of Business Programmes, Centre for Enterprise (


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HEFCE Publishes Database of REF Impact Case Studies

HEFCE has published a searchable database containing all of the 6,700 or so REF impact case studies. The database, commissioned by HEFCE and produced by Digital Science is available here:

The database coincides with the release of a report available here that is launched today at a conference being hosted by the Royal Society and HEFCE in London. Headline analysis in the report includes the following:

  • The societal impact of research from UK Higher Education Institutions is considerable, diverse and fascinating
  • The research underpinning societal impacts is multidisciplinary, and the social benefit arising from research is multi-impactful
  • Different types of Higher Education Institutions specialize in different types of impact
  • UK Higher Education Institutions have a global impact
  • The quantitative evidence supporting claims for impact was diverse and inconsistent, suggesting that the development of robust impact metrics is unlikely
  • The impact case studies provide a rich resource for analysis, but the information is collected for assessment purposes and may need to be aligned for analysis purposes

The analysis presented in this report was a collaboration between the Policy Institute and Digital Humanities at King’s College London.

HEFCE are also publishing an evaluation of how universities prepared their impact submissions for REF 2014. Available at:

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Guest Blog: Disability Research @ MMU

Katherine Runswick-Cole and Rebecca LawthomGuest blog from Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology and Prof Rebecca Lawthom, Professor of Community Psychology.

As the international day of disabled people approaches, we reflect on  disability research at MMU that crosses departments, research centres and faculties, with colleagues from the Allied Health Professions, Humanities, Social Work and Social Care, Education, Sports Science and Psychology among the many academics engaged with disability research.  Indeed, research excellence in the field of disability has been recognized by the university; in the last two years, the MMU research and knowledge exchange award has been given to disability researchers, Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology (2013) and Dr Lucy Burke, Principal Lecturer in the Department of English (2014).

We locate our research in Critical Disability Studies. Critical Disability Studies aim to understand and challenge exclusionary and oppressive practices associated with disablism and to consider the ways in which these intersect with other forms of marginalisation including hetero/sexism, racism, poverty and imperialism.

Our research embraces projects that are in collaboration with local people, community, voluntary, activist and human service organisations. Lived experience, participation and well-being are at the core of our research and we try to work in ways that understand both the processes and outcomes of change for people. We are also interested in embracing new theories and forms of activism that challenge disabling and ableist conditions of contemporary life at various cultural, social, political and interpersonal levels.

A few examples of current and recent projects include:

Big Society? Disabled People with Learning Disabilities and Civil Society (June 2013 – June 2015)

The aim of this timely and exciting project is to explore the opportunities for disabled people with learning disabilities (LD) to contribute to and benefit from Big Society. The research team, from The University of Sheffield, Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria University and The University of Bristol, are working with organisations of/for disabled people, activists and allies to discover how disabled people with LD are participating in their communities, in public services and in social action. The team are exploring disabled people with LD’s access to social capital and networks of interdependence as well as their social emotional well-being in a context of austerity. (For more information and outputs from the project visit:

Resilience in the lives of disabled people across the life course (October, 2011 – February, 2013)

Working with the UK disability charity, Scope, we asked:

  • what resilience means to disabled people at different stages across the life course;
  • how resilience, or a lack of it, has affected disabled people’s ability to negotiate challenges and make the most of opportunities in their lives;
  • what works in building resilience amongst different groups of disabled people;

And we:

  • developed a toolkit for use by Scope’s policy and services functions that outlines what Scope means by resilience, what does or doesn’t work in supporting people to become resilient, and what we can do to build resilience in disabled people throughout the life course.


Does Every Child Matter, post-Blair?  The interconnections of disabled childhoods (September, 2008 – May, 2011)

How did disabled children, between the ages of 4 and 16 years old and their families, fare under the Blair government?  This project explored the extent to which policies, legislation and practices have tackled matters of exclusion and regeneration for disabled children. We engaged with parents, children and professionals to help us to explore the impact of the Every Child Matters agenda; the adequacy of existing theories about disabled children, parents and professionals; how the concepts of ‘good parent’, ‘enabling professional’ and ‘disabled children’ are promoted; the ways in which forms of ‘enabling healthcare’, ‘inclusive education’ and ‘accessible leisure’ can work together. Our study employed a critical review of policy, interviews with disabled children and  parents, focus groups with a mix of professionals and observation of families as they participate in the arenas of health, education and leisure. Our work was informed by critical disability studies, critical and community psychologies and sociologies of childhood and families.

Visit for information and outputs:

Further information and links

We also have a tradition of dissemination events, knowledge exchange and impact generation.  If you want to find out more visit:


Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology

Professor Rebecca Lawthom, Professor of Community Psychology


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Research Matters: A Year in Focus

You can read the online version of Research Matters here or a PDF version here. Paper copies will be available at all reception points across MMU from next week.

This article is taken from ManMetLife – written by Gareth Hollyman, MMU Press Team – available in its original form here.


The University has produced its first cross-institutional research brochure called Research Matters – ‘World Class Research Impact’ 2014.

The 36-page glossy reviews the past year in research and knowledge exchange celebrating the quality and diversity of work and its relevance to industry and society.

Inspired by our impressive entry to the Research Excellence Framework, the brochure is being marketed to funding councils, commerce and industry and university and other collaborators.

Writing in his preface, Vice Chancellor Professor John Brooks says: “MMU has set a challenging 2020 vision to become a top 50 university for both teaching and research.


Create, communicate, commercialise

“We have a very strong foundation laid by the REF submission which demonstrates research with world-class outcomes is being produced by some 330 of our academic staff who were selected.

“The role of modern universities is to create, communicate and to commercialise knowledge. Our RKE strategy ensures that our research is relevant, has impact and informs our teaching.”

Research Matters includes case studies related to our five key areas of:

  • Lifelong Health and Wellbeing
  • Sustainability and Adapting to Climate Change
  • New Technology and Innovation
  • Education and Society
  • Arts and Humanities

Some highlights featured include: Nick Bowring’s ‘microwave’ security scanner, Jamie McPhee’s healthy ageing physiology work, Katherine Runswick-Cole’s work on new approaches to adoption, Cathy Parker’s retail management and high street research and Carl Payton’s work on disabled swimming to support Paralympians.

The cover features the high-profile work of artist Steve Dixon whose sculptures of Nobel Prize winners including Aung San Suu Kyi are on show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Public engagement

Vanda Murray OBE, Deputy Chair of Governors said: “I never cease to be amazed at the vibrancy and diversity of research within the University and this publication provides a timely review of the breadth and quality of our work.”

“Equally important is engagement with external communities which has become an expected part of everyday academic life. I am always struck by how grounded MMU academics are; experts in their field undoubtedly, but also able and, more importantly willing, to take time out to communicate their ideas to a wider audience.

“It is important that staff that engage in these agendas feel recognised for their efforts.”

Research Matters was overseen by Professor Dave Raper and Sam Gray in the RKE team and produced by the Marketing Communications and Development Team, with design by Jo Phillips.