Who: Staffordshire University’s Creative Communities Unit working with local residents and students
What: Residents and student volunteers were trained in participatory consultation techniques and carried out research into the local area
Why: To find out what people think about the University Quarter, and develop an action plan to make the area a better place to live
Where: In the neighbourhood of Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent
When: Between autumn 2009 and Spring 2010
The project involved local residents, workers and students as a community research team to find out what people think about the University Quarter of Stoke on Trent with a particular focus on the Hanley Park area. The research team were trained in a variety of participatory research methods, collecting a range of qualitative data for the project. The findings from the research were shared with the project sponsors and the other stakeholders at a feedback event, where a action plan was developed together.
The research findings fell into five themes:
Quality Streets was a widening participation activity that also contributed to the neighbourhood partnership and University Quarter planning of developments and services in the area.
Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent is the University Quarter area of North Staffordshire. Shelton faces a number of challenges, including a diverse community with a high turnover of tenancies, high traffic levels and poor environmental quality. As one of the main service providers in the area, Staffordshire University needs to work in partnership with other services and residents. The Creative Communities Unit set up the Quality Streets project to involve local people in neighbourhood improvements.
Results and outcomes
What worked well
- Thirteen local people attended training sessions and eleven joined the team. Of those community research team members, seven have gained qualifications or are have experience contributing to their qualifications
- The research project has built upon our existing partnerships to recruit trainee community researchers, and training people by involving them in a practical project was a successful way to develop relationships with local residents and small business owners
- As a result of the research project, a local community networking website for local information on events, changes and local issues will be set up. Two new noticeboards have been put in Hanley Park
- A new Community Forum for the UniQ has been established
- Community events and activities in the park organised by AirSpace gallery and Groundwork Trust in June and July encouraged use of the park and got people’s ideas for a major improvement plan and funding bid
- Staffordshire Probation service has offered Community Payback hours to carry out work in the area
- The police have committed £10,000 plus police staff time for action based on the findings. The funds are going towards an activity budget for public engagement in Hanley Park
- Staffordshire University Students Union, Stoke on Trent City Council and Staffordshire Police have produced a clear guide to community safety and refuse and recycling services in the neighbourhood for every resident
- Further funding has been secured for another training course for community researchers to learn by doing consultation to find out how people want to be involved in long term activities and developments in Hanley Park, and for engagement activities coordinated by the local YMCA
“I have enjoyed being involved in the project. Most importantly I didn’t know you could speak up about where you live; about the community and the environment and get your voice heard – I didn’t know that before. I thought they only listened to big people, like politicians and people like that, so I have learned a lot from that."
"I made loads of friends, and have gained lots of confidence from it. Some places I would never go on my own, but now I can. I think these kind of courses are important and should continue but not just in one area – but all over the City. I also think that now the course is over, it’s finished and not ongoing, I would like to see the activity continue – keep people talking – it is like a method of living, it keeps you going. That’s my own personal opinion, it can make the difference. I would like to see more of this happening.”
What didn't work well
We spent the first two months trying get students by advertising the training as a course. This did not work. We needed to go out and meet people, ask them their views and then ask them if they would like to work with us to do more consultation. This outreach took longer than originally planned.
A number of those expressing an interest and attending sessions did not go on to complete the research or become active members of the team. There were some false starts, for example at one of the early training sessions a large group of young people arrived at a training session with no idea about the project or what they were there for. The team in this instance explained the project, but the young people were not interested in participating.
Recruiting from the local community, and then training them does take longer than simply employing a research company to carry out the research. It also requires patience and perseverance but is undoubtedly worth it.
Some findings need to be cross-checked. One person said that the local primary school was hard to get into. The school were unable to accommodate our request to carry out a research session there and have not responded to emails or phone calls.
- The project started with a focus on training community researchers, with a budget of £7000. As it grew, further funding was found to enable a thorough research project to be undertaken. A total of £13000 was spent, which came from the University’s Widening Participation fund and from Stoke on Trent City Council, Renew North Staffs, Staffordshire Police and the Safer City Partnership. Training sessions were held in the University. Research was carried out in local venues, at community and cultural events, on the University campus, on the street and in the park
- The diverse number of approaches meant that a good cross section of the communities living, working and studying in and visiting the area were able to feed their thoughts into the research. 163 people took part in the research – across all age and ethnic groups apart from under fives
- Tools used were mostly low-tech – printed maps of the area, sticky dots, post it notes, pens, information sheets and forms for people’s contact details and demographic data, paper for timelines, ranking lines etc. We also used compact digital camera and portable photo printers to enable participants to do camera walks of the area
The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on or becoming involved with similar activity.
- Get to know your local neighbourhood service provider partners. Funding and support for this project came from them
- Involve local people in something that they feel strongly about – the area where they live, where the University has a big physical presence
- Be flexible – change your project plans as you are going along, based on involvement from all stakeholders
- If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Give it time and enough resources
- Participatory consultation is the best approach for research in your local community. Your research team will be representative, you will reach a wider range of informants, your findings will be more reliable, people have a stake in the outcomes and will make sure they happen, the project will leave a legacy behind – not just the action based on the findings, but also the learning for all involved
Name: Penny Vincent
Name of organisation: Staffordshire University
Telephone: 01782 294540