Led by the University of Birmingham, USE-IT! has empowered local people to get involved in the regeneration and development of their neighbourhoods through community research. Recognising the diverse skills and experience that exists within the local community as an asset, our community research programme has trained and mentored over 80 local people to identify challenges and tackle problems where traditional public policies have failed. Through a diversity of community research projects local people are changing our urban futures and co-designing research that is impacting policy.
The programme has also increased the University’s presence in areas of deprivation, developed the idea of the University as an anchor institution being civically engaged in the local area, and created a pool of local experts that live in the city.
We believe in the transformative potential of our community research model and the future of ‘affordable research’ to support sustainable and resilient city development. The current team of community researchers are working on 27 research projects, commissioned by organisations such as Birmingham City Council, Canal & River Trust and UK2070, and on topics as varied as the delivery of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, tackling childhood obesity and the Windrush scandal.
The University of Birmingham, Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVCS) and the community research team are now working to turn this activity into a sustainable enterprise. This enterprise will look to both help other communities develop their own team of researchers and provide a permanent pathway for other agencies to unlock community expertise.
Benefits of a Community Research Approach
Members of the community with little or no experience of research processes have been trained by researchers at University of Birmingham’s Centre for Urban and Regional Studies. This has benefited those individuals in developing confidence and new skills such as interview techniques, giving them opportunity to exercise their interests and demonstrate their expertise of the local area. This in turn benefits the community itself, in creating new knowledge to help tackle issues such as obesity. Carol, one of the community researchers, speaks here about her experience of the project so far, recorded in late 2018.
Setting up a Community Research CIC
The community research strand has resulted in a new model for commissioning research, as part of our social enterprise business that promotes community research at the forefront of best practice in collaborative planning and engagement. As of late 2019 we had around 20 projects in various states of development and delivery that have been commissioned by partners and are being delivered by community researchers trained through the USE-IT! Programme - early work of this CIC has helped Birmingham City Council secure £300,000 of funding to tackle obesity issues. The focus here, and ongoing, is to capitalise on local expertise and ensure ‘lost voices’ are heard in local research initiatives. Here, Dr Peter Lee talks about this development of this new enterprise, and we hear from two of the community researchers involved, Jennifer and Alison.
Universities communicating to the public
University of Birmingham’s work in reaching out to work with community members has helped to overcome any stereotypes of universities being steeped in academia distanced from everyday issues and being for a certain type of person. Carol spoke about this at one of our 2019 community events, seen here, describing the relationship, working process, and also how she has taken up the University’s opportunity to study for an MsC in Urban Planning. In the following video, Dr Peter Lee describes how USE-IT! has helped UoB communicate to publics, and we then hear from community researcher Deborah's experience of taking up further study with the University.