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Wider Engagement Award commended 2015

Sponsored by The Idox Information Service

Idox

Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement

Commended

Dr Lee Crookes, Dr Andy Inch, Marion Oveson, Jason Slade, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield

Tracey Hawley-Kirkby, Vice-chairperson, Westfield Big Local

The Westfield Action Research Project

RA9

About the project

The Westfield Action Research Project (WARP) is a partnership between the University of Sheffield and a local community, which combines participatory 'action research' with a taught module and opportunities for student volunteering.

Westfield, a community experiencing high levels of poverty and social exclusion, is one of 150 'Big Local' areas in England that are each receiving a £1 million grant from the Big Lottery programme Since May 2013, two members of staff from the Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning, Andy Inch and Lee Crookes, have been working with a small group of Westfield residents to help them determine a vision for change for their area, and develop and implement a long-term plan that will help to transform their community.

The project combines academic research with opportunities for applied learning, where planning students as well as residents gain confidence in a supportive environment, practice new skills, and apply their knowledge to develop creative but practical solutions that address real problems in the local community.

Working alongside residents, students have been involved in various activities including producing a 'State of Westfield' report to inform community priorities, co-producing research on community buildings, open spaces and local services, organising consultation events, and other social and improvement activities in the area.

Residents and staff have been assisted by a group of around 25 student volunteers, comprising a mix of undergraduate and masters students. Andy and Lee have been supported by Jason Slade, a PhD student in the Department, and have secured funding to employ Marion Oveson, a community development worker, to help develop the partnership.

The project reflects the University's strong belief in its civic responsibility and the contribution it can make to addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing people and places in the Sheffield city-region.

Over the coming months and years, the researchers hope to do even more engagement work with students and residents in order to get more local people involved in the development of their community.

You can read more about the project here.

Implications from the project

In partnership with the Town and Country Planning Association, Andy and Lee have also been undertaking forthcoming research in Westfield to explore how planning can best be re-focused to address issues of social exclusion. This work, and a broader discussion on creative approaches to community planning and developing community-university partnerships, were the subject of the inaugural Westfield International Planning Conference held in Westfield in June 2015, which was open to residents, academics and practitioners.

Judges' comments

"The Sheffield project is brilliant work, great at helping the community understand planning."

"[T]his is an excellent example of combining applied research, teaching with engagement in a manner that is likely to generate real impacts for the community and also for the students involved as well. …[T]he engaged partnership acts as an exemplar model for similar initiatives."