Once Upon a Hill: Follow on funding to support evidence-based policy making

How can previous research and engagement with local communities through participatory methods be implemented in designing policy around community-assets and community-led economic development initiatives?

What did the project involve? 

The project explored the role of Robinswood Hill, identified as a core community asset, in supporting the wellbeing of local people living in peripheral and deprived urban housing estates in Gloucester. The research team worked in collaboration with the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust (GGT), a local community regeneration charity funded by 3% of the sales income from Gloucester Services. Drawing on creative inquiry processes, the research casts light on the significance of the hill to local people as they negotiate the challenging impacts of the pandemic on their lives. The insight and materials created in the community workshops were then used by the GGT and their network of community partners to design interventions that aim to address health inequalities and economic insecurity, and build resilience in preparation for future socio-economic shocks.

The project sought to integrate the findings and impacts of this research into a range of community-led economic development initiatives that put people and place at the centre of local regeneration. As part of this the team opened dialogue with local anchor institutions and policy makers involved in the development of the following initiatives:

  • The Power of Three – a local economic plan for the neighbourhoods of Matson, Robinswood and Podsmead, shaped by local residents, the Local Authority, local enterprise, third sector organisations, commissioners of services, social housing providers and policymakers. This initiative also informed efforts to establish local community economic plans in other wards across Gloucestershire.
  • The Hot Spots Network – brings together Gloucestershire’s leading urban and rural practitioners of social enterprise and community building (i.e. Fair Shares Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire Community Building Collective, GL11 Hub and Grace Network).
  • The GGT and Gloucester Services’ evaluation of the socio-economic impacts of their work, which involved community surveys, workshops and a virtual visioning session with their community partners facilitated by Alice Willatt and Mary Brydon-Miller.

This project supported the GGT’s target communities in creating and delivering new economic plans post COVID-19 and enabled the rolling out of the process, outcomes and learning across community hotspots in urban and rural Gloucestershire. The team held a range of activities with key stakeholders working across the above initiatives, which aimed to strengthen community-led economic strategies and showcase their role to policymakers involved in local and national pandemic recovery efforts. The artwork produced in their research workshops, which captured residents’ relationships with Robinswood Hill, was displayed to elicit collective reflection on local assets, such as greenspaces and community hubs.

The activities were run across a four-month period (Feb-May) during the Gloucestershire City Council and County Council elections (held in April). A key objective was to build relationships between voluntary community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and newly elected local councillors. Stakeholder workshops and events were developed as part of a comprehensive policy engagement plan, supported by PolicyBristol.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Alice Willatt (Inclusive Economy Initiative, University of Bristol) is a researcher who brings together feminist theory and participatory research practice, her work explores themes around care, ageing, digital cultures, identity, place and solidarity.
  • Martin Parker (Inclusive Economy Initiative, University of Bristol) undertakes research and writing that widens the scope of business and management studies, whether in terms of particular sorts of organisations, or ways of representing organising. He is also interested in the philosophy of the concept ‘organization’, and how it can be understood in relation to social justice, digitization and distribution across time and space.
  • Mark Gale (Founder and Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Gateway Trust) is a former UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year, has previously advised the government on social inclusion, and been a national board member of the housing charity Shelter. Mark helped introduce community time banking into the UK and Europe and has worked within Gloucestershire Gateway Trust’s target communities for over three decades.

What were the results?

As a result of the project, stakeholder workshops were able to identify connections across the above initiatives and map assets to support engagement with local policymakers. This led to a policy briefing event for GGT and community partner network and the development of a short report for key stakeholders.

The project also resulted in a journal article entitled ‘The view from Robinswood Hill: a story of asset-based community development and a community-based participatory research partnership in South Gloucestershire’ about the research and engagement activities with the GGT.