The Big Local is a National Lottery funded programme that aims to help 140 communities around the UK identify local needs, take actions in response to the priorities that they choose and create lasting partnerships that will help them make a ‘massive and lasting’ difference to the area through an investment of £1 million .
Using participatory action research, which aims to empower and equip local communities with the skills needed to undertake their own research, the Whitley Big Local in Reading asked Sally Lloyd-Evans to lead an 18 month research project in 2014/15 to explore the everyday travel needs and experiences of communities in Whitley and suggest ways of addressing unmet needs that could be targeted by their £1 million initiative.
The research was undertaken by a new partnership called the “Whitley Researchers” led by Sally and the Big Local Representative, John Ord, and comprised of Whitley residents, local residents, Geography undergraduate student interns, staff and sixth form students from the Northumberland Training Academy (NTA) and the Whitley Community Development Association (WCDA).
The Whitley Researchers launched the research report at the University of Reading in September 2015 to an audience of key stakeholders including the CEO of Reading Buses; Mayor of Reading; Readibus; Reading Borough Council, YMCA, Whitley Excellence Cluster Headteachers, the national Big Lottery trust, VC and Research Dean) (see the press release). Three Community Transport Action groups (Reading Buses, Schools and Community) are currently working to implement the report’s recommendations and allocate an initial £100,000+ fund to projects starting in 2016. The research is already demonstrating measurable impact across local and national scales; these include working with Reading Buses to change Whitley bus routes and developing a community transport hub with the Whitley Community Development Association (WCDA).
The Whitley Researchers partnership is bringing multiple benefits in terms of enhancing the networks and career aspirations of all involved, and there are plans to extend this to other research projects that will have long-term community benefits. As one of the team commented, ”Working together breaks down barriers and shows how we can help each other”.
Sally and the Whitley Researchers’ second research project on ‘Financial Exclusion’ is now complete and the report will be launched through a Participation Lab event in Summer Term 2017.
The team are working closely with Reading Buses and other stakeholders to develop the impact of the research on transport, including the new Scarlet 9 bus service.
The Whitley Researchers presented papers at a session organised by Sally on ‘Next to us’ thinking and doing: universities working with local communities to promote social justice, at the Royal Geographical Society (with the IBG) Annual Conference in August 2016. Presentations were also given by two University of Reading undergraduate placement students working with the team over the summer.
Undergraduate placement students worked with the Whitley Researchers to develop a information leaflet about the group and start plans for a future website that documents the journeys of the community researchers.
Sally, the Whitley Researchers and the Reading Borough Council hosted the successful ‘Whitley for Real: making sure the local voice is heard’ workshop in 20th October at JMA, which brought together local residents, community organisations, senior public sector representations, Reading Borough Council councillors and schools to discuss future policy strategy in South Reading. The outcomes of the workshop will be finalised at meetings with RBC on 25th and 31st January to develop a one year action plan that will lead to funding for several new funded research projects for the Whitley Researchers and the development of a certified community training programme run by the Participation Lab. The group are also involved in a multi-stakeholder Building Better Opportunities (Big Lottery) large funding bid on skills, education and training across Berkshire.
Whitley Researchers project was highlighted as a ‘best practice’ example of empowering communities in a NVCO report in November 2016 – http://localtrust.org.uk/library/case-studies/empowerment-and-capacity-building
Read more about the transport project here:
Want to find out more? The Whitley Researchers are keen to recruit more local residents, particularly young people, to work on current and future projects. Please contact Sally Lloyd-Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org.