By Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director
Many of you know that I and others who live or work in Hazelwood visited England in mid-September with the University of Pittsburgh.
Pitt’s BioForge Life Sciences project and Community Engagement Center will be built in Hazelwood in the next year or two. The goal of the trip was for those of us leading the effort to ensure those projects benefit both Pitt and Hazelwoodians. The trip included stops in London and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, home of one of Pitt’s sister schools, Newcastle University.
In London, we had the privilege of visiting the Somers Town Living Center. The center is a social change organization focusing mostly on supportive programming for the low- to moderate-income communities they serve. Most impressive is their community garden, which includes a maker’s space and children’s play area – definitely some things we can think about incorporating in Hazelwood’s gardens.
We also toured the Francis Crick Institute, one of the largest biomedical research institutes in Europe, a funder of and located next to Somers Town Living Center. An exhibit in the institute’s lobby, “Cut + Paste Exhibition,” showed how the work of the institute can be made “real” to everyday people. It made the space more welcoming and offered the community a way to understand how the research done there could lead to medical advancements that enhance their well-being. I hope to see something like this implemented in the BioForge.
In Newcastle, we met with the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor of Engagement to discuss the school’s outreach practices and how they collaborate with the neighboring Northumbria University. This was a great conversation with a dynamic host, but the universities are still working out how to build meaningful and lasting partnerships with each other. Several Hazelwoodians have stressed the importance of this issue to our local universities.
Newcastle is also home to The Newcastle Helix, an innovation district campus focused, in part, on life sciences. One research facility on the site, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, helped me understand what types of advancements could be birthed at the BioForge. NICA is working on increasing longevity and improving overall health at any age. Those insights could be amazingly beneficial in a place like Pittsburgh with a large aging population.
At 24 acres, The Helix is about one-seventh the size of Hazelwood Green. But like Hazelwood Green, it is a hugely transformational, potentially nationally significant district located in an established neighborhood. Newcastle United, the local soccer team (with Steelers-level fandom!) is a major supporter – both financially and through volunteers – of the Newcastle United Foundation, a community center serving children and families.
Visiting the foundation was the best part of the trip. This. Facility. Is. Incredible. In addition to having a soccer field on the roof, there is an e-sports room where the university holds e-sports courses allowing local kids to engage with university students and people all over the world. The Foundation also hires from the local community and engages with the schools attended by the children they serve.
It was a great trip, and I’m happy to share some of the highlights. If anyone wants to chat more, please feel free to grab me after one of our community meetings. I’d love to share!