Interdisciplinary Public Engagement Event with the Somali Communities in Bristol Focused on Young Somali Wellbeing

How can the University work with the Somali communities in Bristol to improve wellbeing and outcomes for Somali young people? How can a migrant community use research evidence to support their development?

Somalis are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Bristol, comprising of some 10-15,000 people (BCC 2014). The youth are the first generation to have come of age in the city and are facing particularly challenging circumstances including poor housing, poor educational opportunities, high-levels of unemployment and poor health including mental health. School dropout, substance misuse, gang membership and drug dealing are known by the community to be prevalent issues for teenage boys, but the recent criminal cases involving young men of Somali heritage have added sexual exploitation to this list. Somali girls meanwhile have seen a marked improvement in education outcomes and have also been involved in successful and lauded national campaigns against FGM.

A workshop was held at the University of Bristol in January 2017 in partnership with the Bristol Somali Forum, which is an umbrella organisation of 22 Somali-led organisations, bringing City Leaders together with community practitioners to further explore the issues. In his introductory speech, the elected Mayor, Marvin Rees, highlighted the cost to young lives, families and Bristol as a whole if the current situation continues. The workshop concluded with many participants calling for the University to take a lead in undertaking in-depth research on the issue.

What did the project involve? 

This project sought to further the discussions that had so far been brokered and to bring together academics across the University who were already working with the Somali communities in Bristol with representatives from the Somali forum and other key civil society organisations in the city (such as Black South West Network) to consider how they could move this agenda forward in the context of Bristol as a civic university. A small group of academics had already met to consider key strands that emanated from the original workshop prior to this project.

Drawing on the concerns of the Bristol Somali forum the researchers had identified the following themes for young people in the Somali communities which warranted further consideration and research effort:

  • Mental health and trauma of Somali parents who have migrated and impacts on children and young people
  • Identity, belonging and family
  • Young people’s educational underachievement and low parental literacy
  • Political participation and civic engagement
  • Criminalisation of young Somali
  • Youth transitions and employment
  • Gender
  • Environment, physical health and mobility in the city

A focused seminar was held to bring together interested civil society organisations and representatives to discuss these themes and to consider how a civic university can best work with the Somali communities to advance knowledge of these issues, identify barriers to social mobility and achievement for Somali young people that may be specific to the Bristol context, and to find creative ways to support addressing some of these issues in a research and public engagement context. The key questions during this seminar and workshop were:

  1. How can the University work with the Somali communities in Bristol to improve wellbeing and outcomes for Somali young people?
  2. How can a migrant community use research evidence to support their development?
  3. What methods/ approaches/ data are appropriate/ useful in this collaborative venture? How are these co-produced in meaningful ways?
  4. Are the themes we have started to identify shared with the Somali communities?

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Debbie Watson (Policy Studies, University of Bristol) is a researcher of child and family welfare whose interests understanding and improving the lives of children and young people, particularly those in adverse circumstances such as poverty and maltreatment. She utilises creative and sociomaterial approaches to research.
  • Therese O’Toole (Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol) is a researcher interests in the fields of ethnicity, governance, political activism and social movements. She is a member of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship.
  • Natasha Carver (Policy Studies, University of Bristol) is a researcher in international criminology, her research looks at the legal constructions of racialised and gendered identities and how these identities are negotiated by those who are subject(ed) to their force. She has been involved in multiple research projects investigating the harms of safeguarding policies relating to female genital cutting, inaugerated by her and her colleagues ground-breaking report When Safeguarding Becomes Stigmatizing.
  • Leon Tikly (Education, University of Bristol) is the Global Chair in Education at the University of Bristol. He also co-directs the Centre for International and Comparative Education (CIRE) in the School of Education. A key focus of his work is education in low income countries and in particular countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Christina Pantazis (Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol) is a researcher in zemiology and is Head of the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice. Her research focuses on two broad areas: social harm and criminalisation; and poverty, social exclusion and inequality, particularly concerning issues related to gender and ethnicity.
  • Angie Page (Public Health, University of Bristol) is a researcher whose interests include physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health outcomes. My research also focuses on the determinants of children’s physical activity and eating behaviour.
  • Eldin Fahmy (Policy Studies, University of Bristol) is a researcher focused on poverty and social exclusion in the UK as well as understanding the social impacts of UK climate change policies.
  • Frances Giampapa (Education, University of Bristol) uses linguistic ethnography through which her research focuses on the migration, language and identities nexus across multilingual contexts.
  • Esther Dermott (Policy Studies, University of Bristol) is a sociologist focused on parenting, especially fatherhood, intimacy, and personal relationships. She posseses valuable insights on current academic work and policy interventions around fathers and work-life balance.
  • Siobhan McAndrew (Philosophy and Economics, University of Sheffield) is a researcher of public health policy and her research interests span behavioural social science; the study of religion, culture and values in social and political life; and digital policy. Prior to joining Sheffield Methods Institute, Siobhan was QStep Director and Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Social Science at the University of Bristol.
  • Saffron Karlsen (Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol) is a sociologist whose work explores the ways in which ethnicity and religion inform group identities and experiences of inequality. It is motivated by the need for more effective engagement of marginalised groups in the co-production of research. Her research has been instrumental in establishing empirical evidence regarding the role of racism in the development of ethnic inequalities in health in the UK.

What were the results?

One of the primary outcomes of the project was a ESRC large grant application (with support from RED) of which this workshop was contributing in part to the planning for that.

Other important and productive outcomes were the boadening the engagement of a wider group of academics with the Bristol Somali Forum and other key civil society organisations. The continuing the dialogue with a key BAME community in the city to enable interdisciplinary connections to be made for future Brigstow and other collaborations to be made possible. Genuine consultation with community leaders and creative problem solving around how the University best identifies research agendas and develops methodologies that are acceptable within the Somali communities of Bristol. And the maintenance and further development of ongoing partnerships in the city between academics and civil society organisations.