Research to help residents shape the future of their communities

An innovative project being led by social policy researchers at Teesside University has secured funding from UK Research and Innovation to work with disadvantaged communities across the Tees Valley looking at ways to harness research to improve economic and social wellbeing in their neighbourhoods.

Research Grant Project

6 Feb 2020

The University is partnering with Thirteen Housing, Tees Valley Arts and Tees Valley Combined Authority on the Tees Valley Lab project, which will bring together the public with community organisations, businesses and researchers to develop a research agenda that will effect real change in the region.

By the end of the six month project, a variety of different mechanisms will have been established to support residents to become the researchers and not the researched, and to identify key questions and priorities to enable future research to be directed.

The project has been part-funded by UK Research and Innovation with additional commitment being provided by Teesside University and Thirteen. The University will be working with its partners to encourage communities to become actively involved in deciding what issues and concerns affect them the most.

Project lead, Professor Natasha Vall, Associate Dean (Research and Innovation) in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, said: “This is about empowering residents to shape what is researched in their communities”.

“Too often, people living in these neighbourhoods are assigned the role of the ‘researched’ we want to enable them to be the researcher, taking an active role in exploring issues that matter to them”.

“We see this particular project as a vital stepping stone towards a much larger body of work destined to make a significant impact upon the neighbourhoods of the Tees Valley.”

Chris Smith, Executive Director of Service Delivery and Development at Thirteen, said: “Thirteen works at the heart of communities across the region and we know that our customers and residents living in these communities have a huge amount to offer. Our members of staff speak to local people on a daily basis and the knowledge and ideas that residents have makes them uniquely placed to provide real insight into some of the issues faced by our communities.

“The two main projects that we’re working on with the University will help to develop a youth panel in the Hemlington and Grove Hill areas, and a food fusion project that will increase co-operation across the generations and different communities that live in Gresham.

“Through both of these projects, residents will be supported to carry out in-depth research into a number of questions that will help the areas develop, and hopefully act as templates that other organisations can replicate in other projects across the country.”

Councillor Shane Moore, Tees Valley Combined Authority Cabinet Lead for Culture and Tourism, said: “We’re creating jobs and opportunities across Tees Valley but to really improve our communities, we can’t just look at facts and figures. People may think culture is just theatres or galleries but it can be a powerful way of reaching out and engaging with people to find out what’s important to them.

“This pioneering piece of work will help develop an inclusive economy in the region, making it easier for people to access our opportunities, training and learning while drawing them closer together. By giving our neighbourhoods an active role in research, we’re giving them real control over the future of the Tees Valley.”

James Beighton, Executive Director of Tees Valley Arts, said: “The arts are about communication, about investigation and increasingly we are realising a powerful agent for bringing about change. This pilot programme is a fantastic opportunity to understand how the arts and creativity can become enmeshed with academic research to support our communities in bringing about the changes that matter to them.”

Tom Saunders, Head of Public Engagement, UK Research and Innovation, said: “This is one of 53 pilot projects that we have funded, all using exciting ways that researchers and innovators can involve the public in their work.

“In 2020 and beyond, we will build on the lessons we learn through funding these pilot projects to help us achieve our ambition of making research and innovation responsive to the knowledge, priorities and values of society and open to participation by people from all backgrounds.”