Press Release

Students at the University of Reading and Northumberland Training Academy have put together a press release on the community project…

Community Research Project in Whitley brings community together

Whitley has been given £1million worth of Big Local funding after a successful bid was made by a group of councillors and charity representatives to The Big Lottery Fund. Nationally, the Big Local is working with over £200million from the Big Lottery Fund and a range of partners to help improve local communities and is run by the Local Trust.

This project will explore the transport needs in Whitley along with other aspects and includes a community transport feasibility study exploring the possible benefits of a community transport scheme in Whitley. This would promote social inclusion through mobility by offering local transport solutions tailored to individual and collective needs. The team meets every week to design research and plan activities and have so far organised several research training events, developed a questionnaire and have started to gather transport data in Whitley. They have also set up social media accounts, including a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts and a blog to keep residents in the Whitley area informed.

The research is being carried out through a new partnership called the ‘Whitley Researchers’ that consists of local residents, staff and students from the University of Reading and the Northumberland Training Academy (NTA) and John Ord, who is employed by The Big Local agency to assist with running the research. This team is in place to ensure that the research is informative and valuable as well as making sure that the £1million is spent appropriately and effectively as well as allowing the community to share their views on what they believe the money should be spent on.

Local residents are receiving a Reading living wage as well as training to coordinate and undertake the research with the University of Reading, who are additionally funding training, student internships and work placements to collect and analyse data.  Students and teachers from the Northumberland Training Academy are also playing a key role in designing the research and offering digital training on how to engage young people in the research via social media.

Mo McSevney, Whitley resident and Chairperson of Whitley Community Development Association, commented: “Being involved the whole way through, from the first time you are asked about your community’s wants and needs to designing and implementing a research programme that will really prove those wants and needs is very empowering. It really keeps the purpose of the whole project in your mind. It is much less about the potential of the place and more about the people. We will be able to look back in ten years and say “I helped do that” as a bus rolls past.” James Downing, Head of English at Northumberland Training Academy added: “This partnership is a gateway to an exciting project and I cannot wait to see what comes of it. For the Academy, it is beneficial for the students as it opens their eyes to opportunities and paths after college.”

Project managers John Ord and Sally Lloyd-Evans are pleased that the project has become a mutually supportive and collaborative learning venture, as they believe that local communities themselves are best placed to undertake research that affects their own community and make plans for future action. The research is helping the University explore new avenues for widening participation and local community engagement, and students from the Department of Geography and Environmental Science are gaining important ‘hands on’ experience and community development training. 

Sally Lloyd-Evans, based at the University of Reading, commented: “The project offers a fantastic opportunity for the University to work hand in hand with its local community on research that will have widespread impact and also develop long term partnerships that will bring benefits to everyone involved. We have a fantastic research team and we are all sharing ideas, learning from each other and developing new skills as the research evolves. I hope this project will be a springboard for exciting new ventures in the future”.

The next steps for the team include collecting additional data, planning focus groups with local residents and organisations and establishing the current transport provision in Whitley. Once the data has been collected and examined, the team plan to hold local events to discuss findings with the community so that priority areas for investment can be identified and a community transport proposal and a report can be developed.

The team want the Whitley community to have their say and this can be through organising or taking part in a focus group, filling out a questionnaire, or even just contacting the team through their website at www.whitleybiglocal.co.uk. You can also track the latest updates across their social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.

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