Changing the Story

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A University of Leeds-led project to help young people whose lives have been affected by conflict will showcase how the arts and humanities can help those in need.

Changing the Story, led by Professor Paul Cooke, Director of the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures is one of five major new international academic networks being set up by universities in the UK and the ‘Global South’ to conduct collaborative research into some of the world’s most pressing development challenges.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has announced details of the interdisciplinary networks, which will access more than £9 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Starting next month and running for up to four years, they will look at issues such as how the heritage sector can generate jobs and growth in East Africa and strengthen democracy in politically fragile states. The Leeds-led four-year project, Changing the Story: building inclusive civil societies with, and for, young people in five post-conflict countries, will work with researchers, organisations and communities in Cambodia, Colombia, Kosovo, Rwanda and South Africa.

Professor Cooke said: “The aim of this project is to evaluate present – and inform future – practice of youth-focused charities and international non-Governmental organisations working in ‘post-conflict’ settings, in order to build strong institutions that can support communities to deliver sustained social justice.”

He added that the use of participatory arts – for example inter-ethnic choirs in Kosovo or community filmmaking in Cambodia – will provide a key focus of the project, as it examines what actually works in helping post-conflict societies to face their past.

Announced by the Government in November 2015, the GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund to support leading research and ensure the UK takes a leading role in global development. By working with world-leading researchers and institutions, the fund aims to help address the complex global issues faced by developing countries.

It focuses on challenge-led, multidisciplinary research, providing an agile response to emergencies in need of urgent analysis and strengthening the UK and developing countries’ capability for research.

Each of the multi-institutional and cross-disciplinary projects will work extensively with indigenous teams to build partnerships and deliver effective solutions that demonstrate the importance of areas such as culture, languages, identities and local contexts as foundations for addressing development challenges.

The other four networks will bring new perspectives to a broad range of geographical areas and development challenges by researching:

  • Slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa, led by the University of Liverpool;
  • Historical and cultural approaches to democracy in politically fragile states, in particular Myanmar and Ethiopia, led by the School of Oriental and African Studies;
  • The use of cultural heritage for economic growth and social cohesion in East Africa led by the University of Nottingham;
  • New historical research for education and post-conflict development in Iraq and neighbouring countries led by the University College London.

The AHRC funds will be allocated through the ‘Network Plus’ model. This is designed to bring together a wide range of UK arts and humanities research expertise with researchers and non-academic partners in low and middle income countries. Researchers will take an area-focused approach shaped by the needs of particular places and communities.

The networks will support the co-production of research through three linked strands of activity:

  • initial scoping, capability development and partnership building;
  • new funding calls;
  • evaluation and legacy planning.

They will work extensively with more than 40 international research organisations and non-academic partners, such as the British Council, Basrah Museum, the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation, the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and UNESCO.

For the Leeds project, Professor Cooke will work with University of Leeds colleague Professor Stuart Taberner and colleagues in Bournemouth, Bath and the University of East London, Rwanda’s Mashirika Performing Arts Group, University of Pretoria, University of Pristina, Documentation Center of Cambodia and University of Los Andes, together with the British Council, Salzburg Global Seminar and various charities on the ground.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of the AHRC and Chair of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Research, Innovation & Strategy Advisory Board, said: “The Arts and Humanities Research Council is delighted to support these important new networks. Partnerships between leading researchers in the UK and the Global South are vital in bringing innovative approaches to, and deep understanding of, some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

“The Arts and Humanities have a critical role to play in tackling development challenges, building capacity in partner countries, and laying a foundation for future collaborations in development research.”  

More information about international funding opportunities

Further information

For information or interview requests relating to the University of Leeds project, contact Gareth Dant, Media Relations Manager, 0113 343 3996,

Full list of investigators and project partners

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries.
It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.
It is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

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