‘Community to me is’…Young People’s Musings on Community

Post by Catherine Wilkinson, ESRC NWDTC PhD student

KCC Live is a community youth-led radio station situated in Knowsley, just outside of Liverpool. The station targets listeners between the ages of 10-24 and has a cohort of volunteers aged 16 and upwards, assisting with roles such as presenting, programming and fundraising. The overarching aim of my doctoral research is to explore how KCC Live creates social capital among these young people in the current time of political, social and economic uncertainty. Within my project I draw on a range of creative qualitative methods, namely: participant observation; interviews and focus groups with young volunteers; interviews with key stakeholders; a listener survey and follow-up interviews; and listener diaries and follow-up interviews. Within my research I adopt a participatory approach.

As part of my research, I am particularly interested in understanding what ‘community’ means to the young people, and the different meanings they attach to the word. To this end, as part of my participatory methodology, the young people and I co-created an audio documentary. The documentary was participatory to the extent that: the young people highlighted key topics relating to community which they would like to discuss; the young people and I recorded discussions about community to be used as content; the young people provided me with advice as to how to edit the documentary; they chose the music and sound effects to be included; after a ‘first draft’ was complete, the young people were involved in snoops (listening sessions where critique and feedback is provided), which instructed me on how to improve the documentary.

In accordance with the desires of the young people, the documentary explores: what community means to them; the different community groups they are involved in; different scales of community, from geographic to virtual; the role of social media in the construction of community; whether they perceive community as positive or negative; the Scouse sense of community; and the community of KCC Live. The audio documentary is around 30 minutes in length and was played out on KCC Live during a show that I present. It is now available as a resource for young people to use as broadcasting content on the station whenever they desire. To listen to the documentary, please follow this link: https://soundcloud.com/catherinewilkinson

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‘This is My Story: A Photographic Exploration of Chicago’ – Notes from the field

HELLO exhibit 3

Post by Natalie Robinson – 2nd year ESRC NWDTC PhD student in Sociology and Geography

In February this year, I moved from Liverpool to Chicago to start my PhD fieldwork, exploring homeless experiences in the city. Six months later and somehow it’s almost time for me to leave the United States and return to England to complete my thesis! Supervised across sociology and human geography and funded by the ESRC NWDTC, my doctoral research focuses specifically on homeless young people’s inclusion in and exclusion from public urban spaces in Chicago, and uses ‘photovoice’ methods to include participants’ points of view. Photovoice involves the use of participatory photography to discuss community issues and aspirations, with an oft cited aim of enabling community ownership of representations. With prior experience working in homeless services in the UK, I had spent the first year of my PhD preparing for my overseas work – reading up on relevant literature, attending seminars, workshops and PhotoVoice’s facilitator training in London. I arrived in Chicago with a research plan in theory, but nevertheless endeavoured to remain flexible – entirely open to exactly how this would be realised in practice.

My aim was to work with a small group of homeless individuals who were interested and would hopefully enjoy taking part in the project. After a productive meeting, Julie Dworkin, Policy Director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), connected me with CCH Youth Attorney Beth Cunningham, who, along with her colleague, Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman, runs the H.E.L.L.O group. H.E.L.L.O stands for ‘Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles’ and is an activism-focused group for homeless and formerly homeless youth, meeting Tuesday evenings at the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) in Chicago’s Lakeview neighbourhood. Food and transit are provided for all who attend, and any young person between the ages of 12-24 is welcome. Along with CCH and the youth centre, H.E.L.L.O is also supported by Chicago-based organisations One Northside and The Night Ministry. Each week, the group participate in activities, ranging from arts, crafts, spoken word poetry, and yoga, to discussions around ‘rights’ when dealing with police, community safety and relations. During my time with the group, we also took day trips down to Springfield – Illinois’ state capital – to lobby for youth homeless services funding, as well as to the McDonalds headquarters in Oak Brook, IL to ‘Fight for 15’, demanding a raise in the minimum wage. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment!

HELLO exhibit 7

My own project involved the distribution of disposable cameras to a number of young people attending H.E.L.L.O, along with an invitation to picture places in Chicago that are meaningful to them. Once developed, the photographs formed the basis for group discussions, with a focus on perceptions of inclusion in and exclusion from city spaces. This is particularly relevant in Illinois, where since 2013 the Homeless Bill of Rights has formally legislated that homeless individuals cannot be denied access to public spaces solely because of their housing status. Five young people over the age of eighteen volunteered to participate, and chose a select number of photographs to be included in a community exhibition, which they entitled ‘This is My Story’. The exhibition took place in the BYC in July. The pictures were given titles and captions by the photographers and their peers, and these were displayed alongside the images, explaining the significance of each. The event was well attended by homeless and formerly homeless young people, community members, local and national organisations, CCH staff and Executive Director Ed Shurna as well as IL State Representative Greg Harris – a strong advocate for homeless services in Chicago. To see the full selection of participant images, and to read more about the project, please visit www.hellophotoproject.com.

HELLO exhibit 5

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with H.E.L.L.O and look forward to continuing a relationship with this group, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and partner organisations. It is my hope that my doctoral thesis and related work around this project will contribute to qualitative social research, specifically relating to youth homeless experiences of Chicago, in a way that will be valuable for all involved.

HELLO exhibit

*All photographs courtesy of Shruti Sharma, Photographer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Liverpool International Music Festival – celebrity-filled PhD research

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Post by Cat Wilkinson – 1st year PhD student

During last bank holiday weekend, I was granted backstage access at the Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF) and was able to rub shoulders with some of the U.K’s most coveted artists. Taking over from the highly celebrated Matthew Street Festival, LIMF focused on three things: celebrating greatness, discovering the new, and inspiring the next.

I received this perk in the form of a press pass from my CASE partner KCC LIVE, a local radio station targeting 10 – 24 year olds in Knowsley. I have been based at the station for the last few months conducting participant observation as part of my PhD research project ‘Connecting Communities through Youth-led Radio’. Being part of the team brings with it many exciting opportunities, such as this.

As well as being exciting, attending LIMF gave a window of insight into one key area of geographical thought, namely cultural regeneration. In particular, the festival, working with both the commercial and voluntary sector, brought to the fore the creativity in Liverpool by showcasing the talent of local, as well as global, artists – for instance the internationally acclaimed Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Liverpool legends The Christians, Connie Lush and Deaf School

My co-presenter Rob Tobin and I were allocated press passes which enabled us to watch the concerts, both at the Pier Head and Sefton Park from the area between the stage and the audience. We had an amazing view of the action – the only downside was that we kept being hit by flying objects, including jewellery and underwear, aimed at the A-list stars on stage!

Rob says:

“Being behind the scenes at such a big event was amazing. Casually walking past some of the most famous faces in world music was a bit crazy, and being so close to the stage when the artists were performing was fantastic.”

During the weekend we watched as the artists arrived in their tour buses or fancy cars, got changed in their allocated dressing rooms, had something to eat in the catering room, and then went out on stage. Our mission for the weekend was to get a quick photo with all of the artists at some point in that process, whilst keeping our avid listeners up to date with all the backstage gossip – and we did pretty well!

We met some of the U.K’s finest talent backstage, including X Factor favourites Little Mix (with a special mention for my favourite member Jesy), JLS, Union J, Diana Vickers, and Lucy Spraggan, Britain’s Got Talent’sThe Loveable Rogues, upcoming boy band The Vamps, girl groups The Saturdays and Stooshe and Radio 1’s Dev, amongst others.

Rob sums the weekend up nicely:

“The Pierhead and Sefton Park are both great live music venues and almost 40,000 people were there. Any job that involves meeting The Saturdays is a good one. Getting to go to events like LIMF to interview stars is definitely one of my favourite things about working in radio”

As well as having a fantastic time and getting to meet celebrities, I was able to see first-hand and collect important observations for my PhD research on the cultural impact that such regional sounds (or sonic geographies) have on Liverpool as a city. With LIMF scheduled to run for the foreseeable future, it is hoped that by encouraging local artists and nurturing such creativity, this will add to the wider regeneration of Liverpool. As part of this aim, the LIMF Academy are working to inspire young people (home grown talent) who are interested in entering the music industry, also important to my research as I work with a youth-led radio station. So overall, LIMF was successful in both celebrating Liverpool’s musical heritage and showcasing up-and-coming talent, and for me provided a fun and celebrity-filled weekend as well as important data for my research.

The festival events are running through until the 22 September – more information is available from http://www.limfestival.com/. You can listen to Rob and Cat on KCC LIVE on 99.8FM in Knowsley and Liverpool or online at kcclive.com every Wednesday from 10am to 1pm.

Exercising participant observation skills

Post by Cat Wilkinson – first year ESRC NWDTC CASE funded PhD student in Geography at the University of Liverpool with co-supervision at University of Manchester.

My PhD research project ‘connecting communities through youth-led radio’ looks into how a community radio station can connect communities in times of social, economic and political uncertainty.

My research involves 12 months of participant observation at KCC Live, a youth-led community radio station situated in Knowsley. Upon first entering the field-site I assumed that participant observation would involve sitting at a desk in the office, watching the everyday activities of the young volunteers and jotting down notes vigorously in my over-sized notebook. How wrong could I be! During the last few months that I have been based at KCC Live, participant observation has definitely involved participation as well as observation.

I have taken part in all sorts of activities, including a fundraising bag pack at Asda, a 12 hour ‘bowlathon’, and I have even undertaken broadcast training and am now co-presenting a weekly show on Wednesdays. However, my most recent contribution to the station really took my ‘participant observation’ to a whole new level.

As part of KCC Live’s Healthy Living Month the weekday morning presenters were set the task of producing a short fitness video, this was a competition in which the presenters would battle it out to get the most views. Myself and my co-host Rob decided to do a dance video – our own rendition of Eric Prydz ‘Call on Me’. We kitted ourselves out in headbands, leg warmers and took to the stage. You can watch our video here.

I hope other researchers doing participant observation also fully immerse themselves in the research setting! It’s certainly a lot of fun.

QWeCI Final Project Meeting – Barcelona

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Post by Andrew McCaldon

I am the Project Secretary for the EU–funded, QWeCI Project: Quantifying Weather and Quantifying Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries. The project is coordinated by Professor Andy Morse of the Department of Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool.

QWeCI held its final annual project meeting in Barcelona, Spain, from 16th–18th May 2013 and over 40 academics and researchers were in attendance. Speakers from across the 13 participating European and African institutions presented papers covering, not only the progress of the individual work packages, but the cutting–edge science that QWeCI had produced.

In addition, the project was glad to welcome a distinguished team of external reviewers including: Jan Polcher from the Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences; Laragh Larsen from Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Burgundy’s Nadège Martiny; and Nick Ogden of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Dr Larsen said, “I really enjoyed hearing more about QWeCI project” and Dr Ogden said, it is clear the “project has been well–managed” and the “highly qualified personnel will be a legacy of the QweCI Project”.

The meeting was a great success and an excellent opportunity to showcase the world leading science QWeCI has produced.

Science presentations can be found here and the conference programme can be downloaded here.

In the QWeCI Project, researchers across 13 European and African research institutions work together to integrate data from climate modelling and disease forecasting systems to predict the likelihood of an epidemic up to six months in advance.  The research, funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework programme, focuses on climate and disease in Senegal, Ghana and Malawi and aims to give decision–makers the necessary time to deploy intervention methods to help prevent large scale spread of diseases such as Rift Valley fever and malaria.

More information on the QWeCI Project can be found here and you can follow us on Twitter: @QWeCI_FP7

Valuable waterside real estate …

Post by Dr Pete North

The Liverpool Daily Post recently reported on the visit to Liverpool of what it billed as a world-leading urban design expert.   Canadian Professor Trevor Boddy argued that Liverpool has real estate “most cities would die for” in the form of prime land on the waterfront which would be a major draw for the Chinese market if it were developed into residential properties. Professor Boddy argued: “Waterside real estate, I don’t think in global terms you (Liverpool) realise how valuable that is, especially to Asian markets. No-one can compete with it.”

“Liverpool Waters” – Proposed plans for the redevelopment of the shoreline of the north of the city

I was thinking about this in the light of my Low Carbon Liverpool project, which is thinking about whether Liverpool has the policies in place to combine prosperity and social inclusion with what we need to do to avoid dangerous climate change – reducing emissions.  Despite my doubts about the possibility or desirability of Liverpool becoming ‘Shanghai on Mersey’ (look at the picture of Pudong below) my immediate thought was the incompatibility with reducing emissions with marketing proposed developments such as Liverpool Waters as pieds a tierre to the East Asian market.  Is this the best we can make of our world heritage waterfront?

Myself and colleagues in Pudong, Shanghai

Then this weekend I made a visit back to my old stamping ground, the Elephant and Castle, London.  Ten years ago I wrote a couple of papers recounting the experience of what was actually a creditable attempt to involve residents of a prime piece of real estate, the Elephant and Castle in large-scale regeneration plans focused on the redevelopment of a large local authority estate and the reconfiguring of a major transport interchange.  Using government SRB monies, Southwark Council formed a development board to oversee the regeneration which included local residents as directors. A significant amount of social housing was included in the plans: working people would still be able to live in the heart of a world city.  What was a laudable attempt at community engagement basically floundered due to the reluctance of officers to let go, to really involve the community in the plans – the gap between rhetoric and realty was too great, and the proposed developer pulled out.

10 years later a new development is in place, and the estate, the Heygate, is now empty and boarded up. A few hardy tenants and squatters are hanging on, with the district heating system switched off: it seems only a matter of time before they give up an unequal battle.  Nonetheless, many local residents and activists formed a group called Southwark Notes which continues to develop community-based visions for the Elephant.  Supported by the RGS’s Urban Geography Research Group and the academic journal Antipode they convened a conference on gentrification in South London. 

The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, London

I attended, and the trip enabled me to revisit the estates on which I expended a large amount of shoe leather ten years ago. Ideas there were aplenty, but this time there was no way for residents to influence the regeneration from the inside as there had been ten years ago. All there was were sporadic opportunities to be consulted on agendas set by the powerful, which those at the conference condemned as inadequate.

The Elephant of the future would not be a place for current residents. No social housing was now proposed.  Rather, receipts from the development of prime inner city and waterfront real estates would be recycled into council housing and leisure facilities away from the river, where you would get more “bang for your buck”.

Looking at a number of newspaper cuttings in the groups archive, the difference between ten years ago and now became clear, and Professor Boddy’s views began to make some sense in the Liverpool context.  Would it make more sense to market Liverpool Waters to international elites, and spend the receipts on the housing, leisure centres, libraries, developing job and business opportunities and the like that North Liverpool needs? Given the scale of the spending cuts that local authorities can expect over coming years, might this be an example of Liverpool acting as what David Harvey calls a ‘entrepreneurial city’?  Or should we be calling for more socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable approaches to the regeneration that North Liverpool so badly needs?

North, P. (2003). Communities at the heart? Community action and urban policy in the UK. In Urban renaissance? New Labour, community and urban policy. Edited by R. Imrie and M. Raco. Bristol, The Policy Press: 121-138.

DeFilippis, J. and P. North (2004). The Emancipatory Community? Place, Politics and Collective Action in Cities. In The Emancipatory City? Paradoxes and Possibilities. Edited by L. Lees. London, Sage: 72-88.

Combining dissertation research and work experience

Canary Wharf, London

Post by Astrid Tooms – Year 3, BA Geography student

In my first few months back at University in second year it dawned on me that I had better think about what I wanted to do after University.  I started browsing various graduate job websites such as Target Jobs and Prospects (these were both useful – if you sign up and indicate your interests both will send you regular updates of relevant job vacancies for internships and graduate programmes).

I decided that I would love to work for a large company with the potential to travel. After making this decision I started applying to many different financial companies, to try and get a place on a summer internship programme for 2012 (as it seems pretty common knowledge that the best way to secure a place on a graduate scheme is to complete a internship first).  After online applications, online testing, telephone interviews and an assessment day I managed to get a seven-week programme with a leading international bank, the hard work had paid off!

Towards the end of second year the word dissertation starting creeping more and more frequently into our lectures and tutorials and we were all beginning to think about what sort of topics we could cover. From the outset it was made clear to us that studying Geography allowed for you to research a really broad range of things! I spent several weeks trying to think of ideas about what to look at, but nothing really stood out for me. It sounds like a total cliché, but one lunch I was having a coffee with a friend and she just simply suggested that I should try and combine my summer internship with my dissertation. This was perfect! Especially due to the fact we had to complete the majority of our research over the summer, and I knew that I would be busy with my internship programme. After enjoying my Social and Cultural Geographies module, taught in the second year, I decided that I wanted to incorporate this into my dissertation. Therefore I focussed my topic on gender in the banking sector. This is something that feminist geographers have researched and written about.

During second year we had a lecture from people at the careers centre about the possibility of competing a work-based dissertation, this seemed like a good idea for me, and I contacted the relevant people to discuss the prospect of completing a dissertation like this. However there were a few complications, so I decided to carry on with my initial idea and complete a ‘normal’ dissertation and use my experiences working at the bank as a means of collecting my research. I would definitely recommend this path, as it seemed like a great idea and the people involved are really supportive.

Prior to starting at the bank, I did a lot of reading and contacted individuals asking them to complete interviews for me, this was a great experience and highlighted many issues and key themes that would later become relevant in the workplace.

Starting my internship was really exciting, however I was extremely nervous. I had never worked in an environment like this before, and the majority of people in the office were extremely experienced in their fields. During my first few days many people asked me about my University degree, and when I said I was doing Geography I think many of them were quite shocked that I had decided to work at a bank instead of being a weather girl or geography teacher! However the graduate recruitment team at the bank had reassured all the interns that they wanted a diverse mix of people, and they had looked for transferrable skills and personal qualities as well as academic subjects during the recruitment process.

From the start I really enjoyed my time working in the commercial banking centre and built good relationships with many of my colleagues, I learnt new skills all the time and I was given real responsibility from day one. Throughout my seven weeks I completed some of my dissertation research, I asked about completing participant observation with my work colleagues (this was fine, however obviously there were strict confidentiality regulations in place). Whenever something happened that seemed relevant I would scribble it down on a piece of paper, then every night I would copy up my notes and explain my experiences. I quickly learnt that its very easy to forget things, and I tried to write down as much detail as possible as you never know what you may need in the future for my dissertation! Recording things in this way also helped me towards the end of my internship when I had to prepare for my performance review, as I had a detailed list of things that I had done, seen or been part of.

Throughout the internship experience, I also got to meet other interns, we kept in touch throughout the process and met up regulalry for work related events and socials. There were two other interns who were from the University of Liverpool.  Towards the end of the internship we also got to visit the bank’s head office at Canary Wharf, which was a great experience! Being part of this community for several weeks was fantastic and I believe it has really helped me with regards to my dissertation; it has given me a better understanding and has helped me view situations from different perspectives. When I completed my interviews I was able to relate to people better as I had witnessed the environment they were used to working in.

Overall I would recommend combining your dissertation with something you are really interested in, it takes up a lot of your time so you don’t want to be stuck doing something that doesn’t benefit you. For me, being able to complete my internship and gather research data was fantastic, I think otherwise I would have struggled to fit everything in or my data would not have been so good. Furthermore, the company was really interested in what I was doing and it showed that I had a genuine interest in the Banking sector. Everyone I spoke to was really friendly and willing to help, and I made some great contacts. Even people who I just spoke to on the phone for an hour offered to help me with my career and gave me great advice.

After the summer I feel that I am in a good position to carry on with writing up my findings, also the bank has offered me a graduate job which is a big relief going into third year.

And most importantly I don’t hate the word DISSERTATION… yet!