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Institute for Social Justice

Living Lab

The York St John Living Lab is a unique network of students and staff from across the University, collaborating to investigate real-life, local ecological justice issues.

Student putting notes onto map drawn on cardboard

Based in the Institute for Social Justice, the Living Lab seeks to make real changes on campus - from reducing waste to tackling food poverty - while engaging hundreds of students each year in action learning.

The award-winning initiative includes student engagement from across the 5 Schools of the University. This is because all students and disciplines bring impactful skills and insights that can contribute towards a more just and sustainable future.

Each academic year, the Living Lab focuses on a particular ecological justice issue. Projects to date include:

In tune with this cross-curriculum approach, the Living Lab core staff team includes:

  • Dr Catherine Heinemeyer, School of the Arts and Institute for Social Justice
  • Dr Jude Parks, School of Humanities
  • Dr Vicki Pugh, Institute for Social Justice
  • Sarah Williams, Estates team

The Living Lab's vision

The Living Lab's vision is firstly to empower students to develop skills as researchers, advocates and activists. Supported by the Living Lab team, individual students are invited to take the lead through a variety of roles and opportunities. These include paid internships, student researcher roles, volunteer bloggers or project officers.

Secondly, the Living Lab seeks to embed ecological justice within the University's wider curriculum. So far over 25 academics have included direct engagement with the Living Lab as a part of module design and outcomes.

Thirdly, the Living Lab is a space where knowledge can be exchanged and enhanced, and confidence can be grown collaboratively between students and the wider University community. As well as working with peers, the Living Lab invites students to address complex issues alongside academic departments and professional services, including Estates, Catering, and Careers. For staff involved, the network offers an opportunity to embed their teaching in a rich, multidisciplinary context, as captured within the Living Lab's first Reflection Report.

Highlights from the Living Lab

In 2022 the empowering, student-focused approach of our Living Lab was recognised in the UK-wide Green Gown Awards, where we won the 'Tomorrow’s Employees' category.

The Living Lab creates a community through shared events such as workshops, street festivals and potlucks.

Throughout the year the Living Lab brings the diverse network together to take part in workshops, expert talks, film screenings, collaborative art projects, public festivals.

Explore some of our highlights:

Get involved

The Living Lab is an ever-growing network and we welcome informal enquiries about the project.

There are many ways to get involved in the Living Lab as a student, staff member or external organisation. If you would like to know more or to explore opportunities, email