The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks and the Canadian Parliament building

The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks

Well, after a hectic week of travelling, listening, talking and sharing, I’m back from my trip to Ottawa. I had a great time and met some interesting people, but I’m also glad to be home again!

I’ve never been to Ottawa before and I enjoyed wandering round parts of the city in-between conference sessions, exploring some of its history, as well as acquainting myself with the history of the nation itself. The Truth and Reconciliation report on the indigenous people of Canada was on the brink of being released at the time of my visit, and even to an outsider, it feels like this will be a momentous and sobering moment for a nation which views itself as ‘Canada the good’ and has, on the whole, a well-earned reputation for kindness and generosity. I think its going to be a tough road ahead for Canadians of all descent, but also perhaps a hopeful and honest one. You can find out more here: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission


The reason for visiting Canada was so that I could participate in the biannual C2UExpo conference, which took place this year at Carleton University. This year the conference organisers have made an effort to include local colleges as well (hence the C2 title adaptation), and we had the opportunity to visit Algonquin College, which, like much of Ottawa, is sited on unceeded Algonquin land. (The Algonquin are an indigenous people group who originate in this part of Canada). In 2017 the conference will move to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.

There are increasing efforts to make universities more accessible and for research work to become increasingly more grounded and relevant to the felt needs of local communities – hence the idea of castles and raising the portcullis. This isn’t always easy, and the university might often find itself pulled in different directions between the expectations and standards of academia and the aspiration for more engaged and diverse community engagement.

However, in varying ways, individuals, teams and departments are seeking to find more creative and reliable ways of

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

doing this in a wide range of fields and disciplines, and we heard a lot about this during the 3/4 days of the conference. One of the things which really struck me was the reality that unless a Vice Principle or someone else at executive level within the institution, pro-actively takes up the mantle of community engagement, then this kind of work is resigned to being ‘off the edge of my desk’ and will never achieve the quality and impact which such work is capable of. There are many universities within the UK who fall into this category, and whilst the REF Impact agenda* did something to raise this issue and force universities to engage with it, there are still wide-ranging disparities about the effectiveness of this work.

*The ‘Impact’ agenda refers to a decision made by UK Funding Councils, who fund universities, that up to 20% of their core funding would only be awarded on the basis of community engaged research work 

There are challenges to forming mutually beneficial and sustainable research partnerships, not least becoming acclimatised to the different cultures and practices found within universities and community groups. This is something of what my story ‘The Castle of Mystery’ aims to highlight. I told the story to a room of about 30 people on the first full day of the conference and I’m pleased to say that it was very well received, which was very encouraging!

As promised, the audio version and the script are available below, and if you ave any comments or feedback, please feel free to drop me a line: or via Twitter @sharonaverona or Facebook: The Potting Shed on Facebook

listen to ‘The Castle of Mystery’ on audioBoom

The Castle of Mystery script