Research Group

The Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG) is a partnership between the Cultural Engine CIC, the University of East London, and the University of Essex. The key aims of the group are to bring academic discourse and research into the public arena through participatory methods, interventions, events, workshops, and funded community based projects. Through CERG, academic researchers can affect change by directly engaging with communities and policymakers, local authorities, charities and not-for-profit organisations, as well as national government.

The ‘sectors’ that the CERG engages in through an interdisciplinary approach include – Place, Pride and Identity (particularly in relation to Levelling-Up narratives and policy), Tourism and Heritage, Public Realm, Digital Cultures and Smart Cities, Creative Industries, Education, Public Health and Food Cultures.

In summary, the aim is for CERG to act as a conduit whereby academic expertise is identified and applied to solve ‘real-world’ problems. CERG welcomes approaches from all academic institutions across the UK for collaborations and projects, and we are effective at sourcing funding.

Some of the CERG-related activity since 2014 is set out below:

CERG at their Modern Universities Event at Conway Hall in 2023

Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust Social History Museum 2024-25

Civic engagement – Resorting to the Coast with Essex CC, 2017

  • Informed the development of the Resorting to the Coast website
  • Policy – direct impact on improved perception of seaside heritage (Clacton/Jaywick)

Resorting to the Coast Conferences 2018 and 2019

  • Heritage Lottery Funded conferences organised by UEL/CERG in collaboration with Essex CC, Tendring District Council and other local organisations (
  • Initiating conference through UEL and providing direct experience for 6 students, working with Essex CC and other partners.

Research Internship

  • Digital Food Cultures – Collected data and evidence (through Focus Groups in Southend) to inform the development of the Southend Food Partnership Action Plan and local policy. Provide text for student produced art exhibit at CCT Food Cultures event at Focal Point Gallery in Southend, Essex.

Impact Fund

  • Essex Future Conference 2 Day Conference at the Civic Centre in Southend-on-Sea
  • Three strands – Place Making, Creative Industries and Food Cultures. Informing local policy through direct engagement with Local Authorities, local activists etc.

Knowledge Exchange

  • Current application ‘Greater Expectations: Tackling the diversity deficit in the UK Creative Industries Sector’. Informing how Essex-based Arts organisations approach the Arts Council’s ‘Creative Case for Diversity’.

Club Critical Theory (CCT) Events

Club Critical Theory Public Engagement Events at Railway Hotel in Southend with public speakers including academics, practitioners and policy makers.

  • Making Sense of Place
  • Kursaal as Heterotopic Space
  • Migration and Cultural Tourism
  • Common Ground (Local Activism) – See related publication: “Interview with Tony D. Sampson” in The Birth of Digital Populism. Crowd, Power and Post Democracy in the 21st Century, Obsolete Capitalism Free Press, 2015
  • Media Power and Politics
  • The Politics of Popular Music
  • Seaside Cultures
  • Food Plan for Southend at METAL’s Village Green Festival (surveys, cooking)
  • Food Cultures at Focal Point Gallery
  • Southend-on-Zine
  • Club Critical Theory Event in Partnership with Conway Hall, London and artist Jane Millar and Deborah Gardner – Funded by Arts Council.
  • Space and Propagation (Critically Examining Art Practice and Cultural Capital). See Sampson and Branch contribution to related publication from the event, Millar and Gardner, Conway Actants, University of Leeds (ISBN 978-1-5262-05 12-4)
  • Event at Focal Point Gallery in Southend – Food Cultures and Launch of the Southend Food Plan.
  • Major event to explore how Food Culture and Public Health/Cultural Policy interrelate.

Income & Investment

Internal Funding from UEL

Civic engagement x 2 Resorting to the Coast with Essex CC.

  • Website and Digital research.
  • Conference organisation and management.

Research internship

  • Digital Food Cultures.

Impact Fund

  • Essex Future Conference 2 Day Conference at the Civic Centre in Southend-on-Sea.

Knowledge Exchange

  • ‘Greater Expectations: Tackling the diversity deficit in the UK Creative Industries Sector – research intern scheme.

External Funding for Projects and Programmes

F&WHT Social History Museum and Resorting to the Coast – Funding from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

  • Funding for participatory research in the community and 2 Conferences co-organised by UEL.

Other bids related to CERG

Collaborative application submitted to Europe for Citizens “Understanding the European Past of Fascism Cultures: Actions towards a Virtual Museum (ActiViM).” Pending.

CERC/DSWG/UEL “Creative Digital: Southend” project – bid to “Make Happen” (HEFCE and Essex University).

Collaborative application submitted to the 4th HERA Joint Research Programme “Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe.”

Teaching & Scholarship

Delivered Projects

Worked with Students on a range of projects:

  • Digital Food Cultures Focus Groups in Southend
  • Food Cultures Event – Digital Media students designed video animation for event and organisation using data from Digital Food Cultures Focus Groups.
  • UX Project to inform Essex CC Resorting to the Coast Website and digital outcomes (informing heritage and cultural policy)
  • Student volunteers (x6) working on planning, social media, promotion and event management for Resorting to the Coast (Coastal Heritage) with Essex CC and Tendring District Council
  • Planned Projects
  • Europe for Citizens “Understanding the European Past of Fascism Cultures: Actions towards a Virtual Museum (ActiViM).” Pending. If successful CERC/UEL will “contribute their best practices in the area of student involvement and participation in a funded major event and organize two events for students in East London.

Impact & Leadership

Impact on policy areas – interdisciplinarity

  • Impact on Public Health and Food Policy in Southend (awareness raising on the wider role that community and arts sectors can have on public health and food in particular).
  • Informing local tourism and cultural strategies.
  • Development of the Digital Southend Working Group (Common Ground / Shared Economy) – linked to publishing by Sampson (2012, 2016).
  • Developing links with East London (Royal Docks Learning & Activity Centre) relating to Food Cultures and public health policy.

Creating the groundwork for CERG – 4 years of work up to this position where we can have a leadership role and direct impact on policy.

Project Team

Dr Tony D Sampson (Reader in Digital Communications, University of Essex)

Dr Andrew Branch (Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, University of East London)

Giles Tofield (Cultural Engine CIC)

Peter Vadden (Cultural Engine CIC)

External Partners

Academic Institutions Collaborated With

  • UEL
  • Goldsmiths
  • Brighton University
  • University of Bedfordshire
  • University of East Anglia
  • Bournemouth University
  • Kingston University
  • Jagiellonian University (Poland)
  • University of Leeds

Local Authorities

  • Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
  • Essex County Council
  • Tendring District Council
  • Rochford District Council

Other Organisations/Individuals

  • RSA (Matthew Taylor – RSA)
  • Brighton & Hove Food Partnership
  • Jack Monroe (Journalist and Writer)
  • The Guardian (Tim Burrows, Joanne O’Connor)
  • Focal Point Gallery (Southend)
  • Conway Hall (London)
  • Robert Hewison (Cultural Historian)
  • Des Freedman (Media regulations activist)
  • Robert Bean (Robert Bean Branding Company)
  • RDLAC (Silvertown/London)