Living Financial Resilience: A community research and design project with residents of Lawrence Hill.

What is lived experience of “financial resilience”? How can we create community-led and – centered services to support them on that journey?  

Shortly before the start of this project, the Financial Conduct Authority released its finding that the COVID-19 pandemic has left over a quarter of UK adults with low financial resilience (FCA 2021). The impacts of low financial resilience go beyond financial stress and negative economic outcomes – low resilience is also proven to be detrimental to mental and physical health which can create a vicious cycle of financial and health struggles. Understanding how we live well in the 21st century also means understanding how to increase financial resilience for the most vulnerable.

We know that resilience is multi-faceted: individual traits and experience matter, along with family, community and support networks as well as the macrosystem of social services, access to health care, and financial inclusion. However, our understanding of financial resilience is often solely focused on the “outcome” – the ability of an individual to buffer a financial shock – rather than on leveraging community understandings of resilience and focusing on how to strengthen enabling factors. As a result, individuals with low resilience struggle to access the public support that is available such as welfare benefits or social services and rarely receive holistic support that empowers and builds capacity rather than acts on their behalf.

What did the project involve? 

This experimental partnership brought together academics from the University of Bristol and members of Boost Finance. Boost Finance is a collective of advice agencies (debt, benefits, housing and employment advice) at the Wellspring Settlement set up to deliver services differently and with the mission to empower local people to take control both individually and collectively. In collaboration with Boost Finance, this research project took a community-centered and co-design approach to defining and supporting financial resilience. Working off the insights and lessons from previous collaborations between Wellspring Settlement and the university, the project sought to explore three important research questions:

  1. What is lived experience of “financial resilience”?
  2. How do the residents of Lawrence Hill – one of the most vulnerable and ethnically diverse neighborhoods of Bristol – frame, value and currently try to achieve financial resilience?
  3. How can we create community-led and – centered services to support them on that journey?

Together with five community researchers, the team first developed a framework of financial resilience based on lived experience, then co-designed and tested targeted community support offerings through Boost Finance, and ultimately shared their findings as a case study that both adds to our understanding of financial resilience and provides an example how to elevate participant voices, empower communities to take action and support them in living well in the 21st century.

The project was conducted in three main phases:

Understanding (April – May): The project sought to complement experience from the team and previous community surveys with original research to develop a framework for financial resilience as defined by community members. Using creative tools such as social network mapping and (financial) life narratives, community researchers explored the meaning of financial resilience with residents and get an in-depth understanding of the needs, priorities, and challenges for different groups and profiles.

Co-design (June – July): The team then used these insights to together design adaptations, improvements, or new interventions for Boost to support community resilience – targeted to the needs and capacities of their diverse client profiles. They used participatory design techniques to create a space where community researchers, residents and the project team felt comfortable sharing, reflecting and providing feedback on findings and ideas.

Prototyping and conversations (August – September): The team used their insights in two ways: Boost used the framework for financial resilience and the outcomes of the co-design process to test new or adapted services for its clients and gather feedback in real-time. In addition, the project sought to find creative and accessible ways to document their findings to share back with Lawrence Hill as well as a wider audience.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Daniella Jenkins (Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Bristol) is a researcher centred on Design Thinking and Innovation and an experienced participatory designer. Her focus is on creating financial services that reflect the working lives and patterns of women and her expertise sits at the intersection of design and delivery.
  • Lisa Dora (Boost Finance, Wellspring Settlement) is the Boost Finance Project Coordinator. As the person at the centre of Boost Finance, she contributes her deep insights into and relationships with the Lawrence Hill community along with her lived experience as a Lawrence Hill community member herself.
  • Sharon Collard (Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol) is Research Director of the Personal Finance Research Centre and has extensive experience in financial inclusion. She has led research with the Lawrence Hill community previously and over was involved in the co-creation of a community research project into the barriers to employment for the residents of Lawrence Hill, which also involved Boost Finance
  • Hari Ramakrishnan (Talking Money / Boost Finance) is employed by the local advice agency Talking Money to work on the Boost project as the Community Money Adviser. He is the frontline of debt, benefits and energy advice at Boost and has a thorough understanding of the financial challenges of Boost clients.
  • Anne Angsten Clark (Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Bristol) is a researcher with a focus on participatory design and financial resilience. She has extensive experience working on financial inclusion and community development in Sub-Saharan Africa and has served as a Boost Finance community volunteer.
  • Jenny Barke (The Young Foundation) is a psychologist whose research focuses on social connectivity and community research. She has been involved in several community research projects and has a particular focus on the training and co-creation with community researchers.

What were the results?

New or adapted community services: In line with its mission to empower local people to take control, Boost used the learnings and ideas from phases one and two to test new or adapted services for residents during phase three.

The team shared their findings in a way that was creative and accessible to the Lawrence Hill community as well as other communities, academics, and policy makers. They held a community open day as a way to both share our research back to the community and to implement some of the ideas that came out of the workshops. This was supported by additional funding from ERSC Festival of Social Sciences.

The team also released a paper with PolicyBristol called ‘Community-centred services support residents to build financial resilience’ that served as a concise summary of the project and a document to influence policy makers. Below is a small extract: