PEOPLE living in disadvantaged communities in the North East are set become researchers identifying and investigating the best means of improving economic and social wellbeing in their neighbourhoods.
The venture is being orchestrated by a team of social policy researchers from Teesside University. The aim is to empower local residents and give them a greater role in shaping the future of their communities – by taking them out of the petri dish, as it were, and putting them behind the microscope.
To deliver the so-called Tees Valley Lab project, the university is partnering with housing group Thirteen, Tees Valley Arts, and the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).
By the end of the six-month project, it is intended to have established a variety of different mechanisms 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 & Innovation with additional support 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.
“This is about empowering residents to shape what is researched in their communities,” said project lead, Professor Natasha Vall, associate dean of research and innovation in the university’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law.
“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, Thirteen Group’s executive director of service delivery and development, 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. This is about empowering residents to shape what is researched in their communities.”
Councillor Shane Moore, TVCA’s 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.”
Main Image: (left to right) Chris Smith, executive director of service delivery and development, Thirteen Group; Professor Natasha Vall, associate dean (research and innovation),School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law; and James Beighton, executive director, Tees Valley Arts.