Ways of neighbourhood working and knowing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Law


The background for this seminar series lies in the introduction of Localism Act 2011. Since then, wherever parish councils do not exist, local people (or businesses) can set up neighbourhood forums to work collaboratively. As David Cameron put it in a 2010 speech on the Big Society: "We need to create communities with oomph - neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them". Once these formal groupings are in place, residents can prepare a neighbourhood plan and have a framework (though this is not required) to permit the building of new houses ("the right to build") or to bid for the contract to run local authority services ("the right to challenge"). Under this version of localism, neighbourhoods are empowered to "shape their place".

In many ways these initiatives extend previous policies to address community development and place-based disadvantage. Labour's flagship programme, the New Deal for Communities, for example, promoted citizen involvement in governance and active citizenship, involving community members in each scheme's design and delivery. However, these initiatives were very generously funded and were aimed at the poorest. In all, 39 relatively small areas received an average of £50 million each, targeting multiple indicators of deprivation including poor job prospects, high crime rates, educational-underachievement, poor health as well as poor quality housing and physical environment.

The current formulation of "austerity localism" does not provide such extensive funding and is not targeted at the neighbourhoods most in need. It applies to all places. For example, the £9.5million, which has recently been made available to support neighbourhood planning initiatives in 2013-2025, is available to any neighbourhood or parish council. So far, the "frontrunner" communities who have used these funds and the professional help available to work with their community, drawing up their neighbourhood plan, have been communities that are well networked and socially resourced.

Similarly, under the newly introduced "right to bid", local residents can apply to have a "community asset" listed, enabling them to raise the money to buy the property themselves. This right has let some communities to raise money to save pubs, both through community share offers and through public funding including from the Architecture Heritage Fund and the Social Investment Business Group (in the case of The Ivy, at Nunhead). In contrast, in Borehamwood, recently, Hertsmere Borough Council 'de-listed' the Crown pub on an appeal by the developers who owned it, saying both that the listing failed to meet the necessary requirement of furthering the social wellbeing and interests of the local community, questioning whether the "Save the Crown" group were representative of the community and, more significantly, that there was no evidence that the group would be able to raise enough money to keep it up and running. The developers, Woodhall LLP, are now able to sell the pub for any use for the highest price. This is part of a national trend. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), suggest that over 5,500 pubs have closed since start of 2008, with 18 currently closing a week. It also, however, casts doubt on the ability of the residents near the Crown to "shape their place" as Cameron suggests.

Yet despite these concerns about neighbourhood working and localism, there is also optimism. There are also opportunities for communities to use this framework for neighbourhoods to develop new initiatives, co-produce local services or promote self-build schemes on publicly owned land. Arts-based initiatives in communities have found ways to build resilience and promote community engagement in less formal ways, bringing in less vocal participants. This series of seminars will explore both the criticisms and the opportunities offered by neighbourhood ways of working.

Planned Impact

While academics have written widely and trenchantly about place (Tuan, 1977, Harvey 1996), space (Massey, 2005) and understandings of locality (Wallace, 2010), policy developments in planning and community engagement often move so fast that there are limited opportunities to provide timely engagement, providing informed and grounded perspectives and advice to policy-makers in the moment. Yet although Governments change, the fundamental policy questions stay largely the same, and academics do engage with these debates over time, often reformulating and reframing certain key questions: How can neighbourhood capital be developed (Puttnam 2001, DCLG, 2009, HM Govt, 2010)? How can superdiverse and/or disadvantaged communities contribute to making healthy, vibrant places (Sandercock, 1998; Parvin 2009, Hayden, 1980)? Who is represented, and how (Pitkin, 1967, Slater 2006)? Is the creation of a unitary legal neighbourhood unit (with one representative forum and one boundary map) a useful mechanism to achieve this, or are looser, informal arrangements more appropriate (Layard, 2012)? How can land use measures contribute to economic development (Pugalis and Townsend, 2013)? Can we create just places (Fainstein, 2010)? How can housing needs be met (Barker, 2004, Jones and Watkins, 2009)?

A seminar series that explicitly sets out to bring academics and practitioners (however defined) together will enable us to explore how these practices of engagement can be usefully developed. In particular it will focus on methods of "translation". How do we draw on the resources of the Academy to inform policy-making on neighbourhoods? Our networks here provide not only a means of dissemination but also, a sounding board, asking how we can take academic findings into everyday practice in policymaking. Specifically, we are drawing on our diverse disciplinary backgrounds to ask how we can be 'of use'.

This series aims to fill the gap between disciplines, particularly economics, law, planning and arts and humanities as well as engaging directly with user groups throughout the programme. Putting neighbourhoods, their ways of working and of knowing, at the heart of this series, and bringing diverse disciplinary approaches and epistemologies to bear corresponds with the ways in which our user groups work. They too start with the social and spatial site. In order to ensure that our findings are fully comprehensible and to transmit impressions, which cannot always be conveyed in text, we will commission an audio-visual production for dissemination. Pahl and DCLG have already shared findings in films in this way; we are experienced in delivering these engaging, albeit less conventional, outputs.

The organisation and structuring of the seminars enables the series to bring together researchers from different disciplines, sectors, locations and theoretical traditions to generate debate around emergent horizons in neighbourhood research, to develop relevant and generalisable knowledge for research users.

In addition to named speakers, we are building up a database of other established academics, postdoctoral and PhD students, practitioners and policy makers working in areas related to the themes of the series. While participants will be drawn from this group, the main aim of the participation policy is to encourage interaction and debate so care will be taken to ensure a variety of users throughout the series.

We will also disseminate our research findings and email the project report to policymakers and practitioners concerned with localism in practice (including with the RTPI, RICS, Centre for Cities, Locality, the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), IPPR North, CPRE, LGIU and the LGA). We already have links with many of these organisations and we will use the full extent the researchers contacts to disseminate the findings and methodologies as well as the databases and connections maintained by DCLG.


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Title Films from the Neighbourhood Ways of Knowing and Working Seminar Series 
Description Films from the Neighbourhood Ways of Knowing and Working Seminar Series 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact We are still editing these films into a final product. 
URL http://spsheff.wixsite.com/neighbourhood
Description This seminar series finished in December 2016. Our key finding was that neighbourhoods produce and disseminate knowledge and understanding in multiple ways. To truly understand how neighbourhoods come together and develop change, policy makers, practitioners and academics need to understand the different methods employed - participatory, visual, written and performative - and how the forms of knowledge gained from each of these methods differ.

the ability to influence Government may be greater through short workshops and policy pieces, blog posts, creative contributions or videos, than academic papers, which civil servants often do not have access to.
Exploitation Route Yes - the website is a collation of artistic and written resources, which we hope will embrace the multi-sensory way in which communities experience change and give some new ideas on how interventions to bring about change from within the academy might also take different form.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://neighbourhoodworking.wordpress.com/
Description This is a co-produced seminar series, between academics and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The impacts are evolving but they are as much about understanding how academics and civil servants can interact as the substantive findings on neighbourhoods themselves. The experience was invaluable and continues to underpin much of my research, in particular on urban regeneration and transport.
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description ESRC Seminar Series
Amount £29,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/M00239X/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2014 
End 12/2016