There is clear evidence of the link between educational outcomes and place-based disadvantage. A complex ecosystem of factors and inter-relationships between school, home and community shapes individuals’ life chances and determines socio-economic and geographic outcomes. Schools can play critical roles in deprived urban areas through both their educational functions and their community engagements.

Arbourthorne Community Primary School, led by its Executive Headteacher Vanessa Langley and her senior management team, is committed to positioning themselves at the heart of their community. The school is located in an area of Sheffield that is in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and has around three times the national average of pupils eligible for free school meals in the last 6 years. The school has a long history of innovative thinking to engage families to get involved, such as the development of Red Robin House, a life skills centre for children and families.

In 2018 the school co-launched an initiative called ‘An Even Better Arbourthorne’ (AEBA), a partnership with the Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action (CIVA), Growtheatre CIC and external community organisations. It has been funded since July 2019 by a three year grant from the National Lottery ‘Reaching Communities’ fund, the Tudor Trust, private donations and small grants. The aim of AEBA is to support community capacity-building and poverty reduction through engaging with families and community organisations. The focus to date has been on volunteering through initiatives to encourage active citizenship and entrepreneurship, food and nutrition (through a parent-led community fridge, for instance) and energy savings training.  AEBA intends to address the root causes of hardship by bringing new ideas and solutions into the community. A distinctive feature of the initiative is the focus on capacity building and social learning as goals in their own right, via volunteering and community engagement.


The University of Sheffield started working with Arbourthorne Community Primary School in 2018, with match funding from the Realising Just Cities programme and Mistra Urban Futures. Since then, CIVA have commissioned the University of Sheffield as a learning partner for the AEBA initiative. A collaboration between Beth Perry, Urban Institute and Lee Crookes, Urban Studies and Planning, the project will mobilise learning and expertise to

  • identify critical success factors and support the initiative in real-time;
  • help school and community partners to vision the future of AEBA and build in sustainability, and
  • learn from and with others about how schools can contribute to addressing socio-economic and place-based disadvantage.

An additional aim is to mobilise the connections and expertise of the University of Sheffield to support the initiative.


Photos courtesy of An Even Better Arbourthorne and Arbourthorne Community Primary School, with acknowledgements to HUBBUB's Community Fridge Network. 

People involved

Beth Perry

Beth is a Professor of Urban Knowledge and Governance and Co-Director of the Urban Institute. Her research focuses on urban governance, transformation and the roles of universities, with an emphasis on socio-environmental and socio-cultural transitions.

Beth Perry joined the Urban Institute in September 2016 and is now Co-director and leads the Co-producing Urbanisms theme.  Following degrees in European Studies and Modern Languages (BA Hons, University of Manchester) and European Integration (MA, University of Bradford), she joined the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) at the University of Salford and became its director prior to moving to Sheffield.  During this time she completed her PhD which focused on the relationship between universities and the knowledge economy in the context of multi-level and multi-actor governance. From 2010 to 2019, Beth was the UK Programme Lead for the Mistra Urban Futures Centre, a research centre headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden and led the UK's Realising Just Cities programme. 

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Lee Crookes

Lee is a University Teacher in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (USP) and a Co-Director of the University-wide Engaged Learning Network.   Having completed degrees in Government (BA Hons, University of Manchester), Lee worked in different roles with Bradford Council, the South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat and Derby City Council, before going on to complete a PhD in USP in 2011. He joined the Department as a member of staff in the same year.  His research interests are wide-ranging but he is particularly interested in the civic role of universities, engaged scholarship and learning and the links between planning and public health.

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