Reaching students at red brick universities

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. Yesterday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; today we’re considering those at red brick universities.

 University of Leeds

Example Universities: Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol

Red brick universities in a nutshell: Red brick universities were founded towards the end of the Victorian era in key British cities. Originally specialising in science and technology, they now offer a range of courses in many traditional academic disciplines, plus also in a few key vocational areas. International student numbers are high. There is a higher proportion of state-educated students than at some ancient universities. There is normally a ‘precinct’ of university buildings close to the city centre; first year accommodation is normally in halls of residence some distance from where lectures take place. Christian Unions are relatively large, and there is normally a wide range of local evangelical churches spread across the city.

Opportunities at red brick universities: Whilst life in a hall of residence isn’t quite of the quality of life in college, halls do make it easy to make a wide range of friendships which can be maintained over three years. There is often a very rich extra-curricular emphasis based around a thriving Students’ Union building. Whilst in the evenings, students can be spread out across the city they are often within a close proximity during working hours, making lunchtime events particularly easy to run. Like their colleagues at ancient universities, students at red brick universities enjoy ideas and aren’t frightened to think. Christian students are often spread across a wide range of churches, often reducing church ‘politics’ and making inter-denominational unity attainable.

Challenges at red brick universities: In the evenings, students can be spread across a wide area, sometimes making it difficult to find a venue that is easily accessible to a wide range of students. Security concerns in larger cities also put some students coming in the evenings, if they think they might need to walk home alone. Red brick university cities often have a strong music scene, lively nightlife options and a range of other activities offered by both the university and the city – if students perceive a lack of quality from Christian activities, they’re much less likely to come.

sheffield CU logoIdeas for mission for CUs at red brick universities – like CUs at ancient universities, there are lots of possibilities here, but here are five key ideas:

  1. There are normally loads of clubs and societies at red brick universities – encourage each CU member to join one
  2. CUs at red brick universities can arrange some large set pieces and can be creative with venues: people are used to go into town in the evening, and so a carol service in a cathedral or even events week activities in central venues allows more creativity than venues on campus
  3. It’s not unusual to be able to get several hundred people to a lunchtime event if it’s held near the most bustling point of the university precinct (often the Students’ Union Building): these apologetic events can engage with people’s real questions and train the CU for personal evangelism
  4. There may be opportunities to engage certain university departments – perhaps those with large numbers of Christian students, or those who Christian academics on the faculty. Lunchtime events can be particularly effective here
  5. International Cafes often thrive at red brick universities – there are vast numbers of international students who appreciate British hospitality in a city that can often feel large, threatening and impersonal

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to red brick universities:

  1. Like at ancient universities, there are lots of international students (and their families) who come to red-brick universities. Yet the larger city environment can mean that international visitors get swamped by the city and are desperately lonely; Christian hospitality has an amazing role to play here
  2. Quality both matters and appeals to students at red brick universities, who are used to being offered quality in everyday life in the university and in the city more widely. Who is gifted to a high quality within your congregation – in media, in design, in music, the arts etc.? How could these gifts be used in mission? Could they be offered to the CU to use too?
  3. Students will be likely be accommodated over a wide geographical area, some of them quite far away from where you meet – how can you make ‘guest services’ more appealing to students who may need to make quite an effort to get there? A free shuttle service? Walking buses? A meal afterwards? These little gestures demonstrate a commitment to non-believing students
  4. Red brick universities often maintain something of their original scientific specialism. A high-quality church day themed on Christianity and Science, featuring input from a Christian academic in science, will be of massive help to the Christian scientist students (as well as your wider church family), and may catalyse all sorts of other outreach in science departments
  5. Red brick CUs can sometimes struggle to attract enough ‘CU Guests’, graduates who work voluntarily alongside the CU during an events week, seeking to support and catalyse mission. Offer ministry trainees or members of your church staff for the whole week – they can then help to act as a local form of ‘follow up’ after the events week has finished, and personally invite seekers to church.

Tomorrow we’ll think about the universities founded in the 1960s – the so-called ‘plate glass’ universities.


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