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‘Learning with the City’ opens its doors in Leiden-Noord

Bringing the community together, doing up the community centre or researching how to make gardens greener. Students now have a base in Leiden-Noord where they can work with local residents and partner organisations to make the city a better place to live. It was the official opening of ‘Learning with the City | On Location’ on 25 October.

Resident Marja Geus is keen to set the students to work.

‘We’ve been welcomed with open arms,’ says coordinator Mirtele Snabilie to a roomful of students, city residents and administrators from the two universities and the vocational training college. ‘It’s important to be physically present in the neighbourhood because then you hear what’s really going on.’ Two residents firmly agree. They both do a lot of voluntary work, but could use a helping hand. Many elderly people are lonely says Marja Geus. She wonders whether the students could do something with them. Both the students and the administrators can see plenty of opportunities.

Working on complex, real-life problems

Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl notes: ‘Students want to add value to society. In Learning with the City they can get to grips with complex, real-life problems and work with the residents to find solutions. During their studies they already learn to work with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. That’s essential because they also have to do so after graduation.’ 

Learning with the City | On Location is the initiative of the Municipality Of Leiden, Leiden University and University of Applied Sciences Leiden. Students work on societal issues during their degree programme. The students are here from Monday to Thursday. Interested? Mail oplocatie@lerenmetdestad.nl. The building, Het Gebouw on Arubapad 2, also houses the library and community organisations such as Incluzio, SOL and the Een Goede Buur (A Good Neighbour) drop-in centre.

‘The reality is more complicated than we can cover in the lecture hall.’

Full of students

Alderman for education Paul Dirkse praises Leiden as the ultimate city of knowledge: it has a ratio of 35,000 students to 125,000 residents and a university, a university of applied sciences and a vocational training college. ‘It’s full of students and the residents should also benefit from this. Noblesse oblige,’ he says. Residents are also welcome to pop in if they have a question or a good idea for the neighbourhood. Students are there during the week to talk to residents and community organisations. They use the spot as their base for research in the city. 

Rector Hester Bijl, Joeri van den Steenhoven (Executive Board of University of Applied Sciences Leiden) and alderman for education Paul Dirkse.

Round neighbourhood with a pull wagon

At the opening different students spoke about their internship and research. Roos, a psychology student at the University, is researching how residents landscape their gardens and why they choose paving stones or green. She does this by going round the neighbourhood with a pull wagon and coffee, ringing on people’s doorbells and talking to them. Roos: ‘Not to tell them off if their garden is paved over. But talking to them might make them more aware of their decisions and they may choose green at a later date.’ Why did she choose this internship? ‘A university degree is quite theoretical, which is why I want to go out into the field. To do research and learn from the residents. And I really like talking things over and working with students from other disciplines.’

Roos (left) and Rianca talk about their research.

Doing up the community centre

Students from University of Applied Sciences Leiden, such as Rianca (social legal services) and Lisanne (applied psychology), also see the value. For their internship they are organising activities to increase the sense of community in the neighbourhood. Residents can say what they think they need. That varies from organising homework tutoring and help with complex legislation to doing up the community centre. Like Hester Bijl, Joeri van Steenhoven, from the Executive Board of University of Applied Sciences Leiden, hopes there will be more projects in the city that the students can work on. ‘The reality is more complicated than we can cover in the lecture hall. Students can see the real-life impact of knowledge.’ 

Text: Linda van Putten
Photos: Tjakko Bloemendaal

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