Preston Connected Communities Project: A study of the social and community networks of residents of Broadgate and Hartington

Ridley, Julie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0879-308X and Morris, David orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7372-8084 (2018) Preston Connected Communities Project: A study of the social and community networks of residents of Broadgate and Hartington. Project Report. UNSPECIFIED, Preston. (Unpublished)

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National policy and practice increasingly emphasise the importance of recognising and harnessing the strengths and assets within communities. This report focuses on a year-long ‘Connected Communities’ study commissioned by Preston City Council (PCC) and conducted in Broadgate and Hartington during 2017-2018. Essentially, the study combined deliberative community engagement with social network analysis. The project comprised five key stages: 1) convening a project steering group involving local organisations and stakeholders; 2) recruiting and training residents as volunteer ‘community researchers’; 3) a community survey of residents; 4) social network analysis and wellbeing analysis; 5) a community playback or feedback event to present and discuss the findings with the community.

Project Aims
The overall purpose was to use a ‘Connected Communities’ approach to help develop strong, resilient communities that support people to enjoy happy, healthy lives for longer and to overcome barriers that get in the way of communities being more supportive. In short, the study aimed to:
• Work with community organisations and residents in one area of Preston to find out about local resources and identify community needs.
• Enable local organisations to understand what people value within the area; where they go for advice and support and to identify barriers that prevent greater connectivity in the area.
• Explore the opportunities for local organisations to work together to increase human/social capital.
• Raise the profile of Preston by its participation in a ground-breaking piece of research-to-action activity with national links and profile, through the university and the Centre for Citizenship and Community’s partnerships with the RSA and LSE.
In the context of the ‘Preston Model’, PCC sought to use the findings to reflect upon the potential within the area for developing co-operative initiatives to address identified community needs, and to consider the cost and savings of initiatives designed to increase community capital.

Profile of the Survey Sample
• In total, 205 individual residents living in Broadgate and Hartington area of Preston were interviewed between April - May 2018, a sample of approximately 5% of the ‘Riversway’ area population.
• Females were slightly overrepresented in the survey at 58% compared to the gender profile of ‘Riversway’.
• Similar to the age profile of ‘Riversway’, most respondents were adults aged 25-54yrs, with smaller proportions of under 25s (13%) and older residents over 65yrs (12%).
• English was the first language for 73% of respondents, followed by Gujarati (15%). Ten other languages were named, although none were reported by more than five respondents.
• The community survey reached proportionately more people from Asian communities - half of the sample described their ethnicity as ‘White’ (compared to 71% for Riversway), and a third (36%) were ‘Asian/Asian British’ (compared to 21% for ‘Riversway’). Six percent of the sample were of ‘Mixed/Multiple’ ethnicity.
• Most residents (83%) were living in households with others, including those living with dependent children and student households. 17% of the sample lived alone.
• Respondents tended to be established residents: almost two thirds (64%) had lived in the area for at least 10 years, many of these (42%) for over 20 years. Only eight percent had lived in the area for less than a year and 18% for 1-5 years.
• A majority (57%) were in paid work or were self-employed, and for most this was their main social role. A high proportion (39%) of those in work did not identify any other social or economic role.
• Half of the respondents rated their health as ‘good’, with one fifth rating their health as ‘excellent’. However, 24% rated their health as ‘fair’, and 6% as ‘poor’, a similar profile to ‘Riversway’ and lower than for other wards in Preston and the North West.
• Most did not describe themselves as disabled, however, 23% stated that an impairment or long-term health condition limited their social life to some extent;
• Average mental wellbeing scores were 24.1, which is slightly higher than the national average (23.6).
• Over half (57%) reported ‘hardly ever or never’ feeling lonely, while 36% reported feeling lonely ‘some of the time’, and 7% were ‘often lonely’. People living alone, or people whose impairment or long-term health condition affected their social life were the loneliest. Females and Millennials (those under 35yrs) were also slightly more likely to report loneliness.

Key Findings
Satisfaction and belonging
• Overall, Broadgate and Hartington residents were happy living in this area. Both satisfaction with this as a place to live and a strong sense of belonging were high -78% and 81% respectively. Furthermore, nearly three quarters of people (72%) felt that people in the area looked out for each other and 77% agreed that they could always find someone from the local area to help them.
• The ‘best thing’ about Broadgate and Hartington was its location or physical environment, including its proximity to the city centre, the river and to Avenham park. Some believed there was already a sense of community in the area with ‘friendly local people’ and ‘good neighbours’, and that people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds generally ‘get along well together’ – indeed 6% of respondents thought this was the area’s best feature.
• The survey identified a wide variety of ideas about how the area might improve. Some wanted to focus on the physical environment - cleaning up some streets and alleys, removing litter and rubbish, and environmental initiatives. Others wanted more localised facilities, such as, a cash machine, a supermarket, or better public transport. Increasing involvement with neighbours and ‘more community spirit’ were mentioned by some, along with a desire to redress negative reporting of events in the local BRAG newsletter.
• However, the two commonest areas identified for improvement were a) addressing problems with car parking (on Riverside and in Hartington streets), and b) tackling crime and anti-social behaviour from temporary residents and/or youth crime. Related to this, just under one in ten people thought it would be a good idea to have more places for children and young people to go to such as a ‘play zone’, youth friendly activities or a youth centre.
• There were mixed results on levels of trust: just over half agreed that ‘most people could be trusted’, with a quarter believing ‘you can’t be too careful’, and 19% were undecided. Interestingly, under 35s reported the lowest levels of trust. Those with ‘high trust’ tended to be Asian/Asian British, or male.
• Those who ‘definitely agree’ that people from different backgrounds get on well in the area had high trust. A lack of opportunity for people from different backgrounds to mix together, ignorance, prejudice, and racism were all proposed as explanation for people from different backgrounds not getting along well together.
• Those with ‘high trust’ were the most connected and able to obtain different types of support from local community groups/organisations and neighbours as well as their family and friends. There was little difference in accessing emotional support between those with high and low trust.
• Almost half of the respondents (44%) had been engaged in some form of volunteering activity in the past year, and many had multiple volunteer roles. Over a quarter (28%) had been local volunteers contributing an average of 1.7 hours in the past month, volunteering formally and informally with Broadgate Residents Action Group (BRAG), faith-based organisations (temple, mosque, or church), and the primary school.
• Females, those over 25yrs, people from BAME backgrounds, and more established residents were the most likely to volunteer. People who lived alone were less likely to volunteer. People with disabilities or long-term chronic health conditions were no less likely to have volunteered than non-disabled people.
• Those who engaged in volunteering were also those who were positive about this as a place to live and those with a strong sense of belonging to the area – 62% felt they belonged ‘very strongly’ compared to 29% of non-volunteers.
• Of note was that half of respondents stated they would like to participate in voluntary activities more often in the future, indicating valuable community capacity is currently untapped.
Social and community support
• For most people, their social support - especially practical and emotional support and engaging in social activities - was predominantly provided by family and friends.
• When they wanted help to find out what is going on locally or to change something locally, however, they sought the help of local community groups or organisations, public bodies, or turned to online sources.
• Two thirds spent time with some family member(s) every day in the past fortnight. There was less support from both relatives and friends when they did not live with them.
• For the most part, ties with neighbours were weakest. Certainly, these could not be described as relationships through which support and mutual interests could be exchanged and actively shared.
• The findings show a broad diversity of local resources in Broadgate and Hartington and the dominance of key resources particularly the ‘Church’ (mostly referring to St Stephens Church), the Preston Muslim Cultural Centre and the Gujarat Hindu Society (GHS).
• Aside from family and friends, faith institutions and GPs were named as the community groups/organisations that provided practical help and emotional support if residents needed it.
• By far the most commonly mentioned resource providing information about what was going on locally was the local BRAG magazine.
• State actors (Local Authorities, Police, School, local Councillors, etc.), along with faith institutions and BRAG featured most strongly in terms of supporting residents to make changes in the community. Those who had least access to change making resources were people aged 45-65 yrs and people living alone.
• Very few people mentioned connecting with local sports or social clubs in the area despite there being several large membership clubs offering bowling, cricket and other social activities.
Faith organisations
• Faith-based connections were a significant part of many respondents’ social support networks in respect of all types of support, with 53% of respondents having such a connection.
• They were particularly significant connections in that they could help change something locally: 87% of those with a faith-based connection had this type of resource, compared to 67% of those without a faith-based connection.
• Those from Asian/Asian British ethnicity (73%) were far more likely than those of ‘White’ ethnicity (37%) to have a connection to a faith-based resource.
• It appears therefore, that there are ‘small world’ networks based on connections with key faith-based institutions in the area – St Stephen’s Church, PMCC, the GHS and BAPS.
• Millenials (defined as those under 35 years of age for the purposes of this project) were found to have lower trust than older residents.
• There was little difference in the resources Millenials accessed compared to over 35s, except they were more likely to mention social media and online resources such as ‘Blog Preston’.

Next Steps

It would be beneficial to think of this project over a two-year period, enabling what has been achieved so far to translate into benefits of scale in the locality. In a second 12 months, subject to further funding being identified, an intervention developed by the community could be implemented and evaluated. Five key themes, not mutually exclusive, emerged from the findings as strands that could potentially become future work streams including:

• Increasing community capacity through better social connection
• Developing key community hubs and neutral spaces
• Targeting the experience of loneliness
• Improving the environment
• Increasing citizenship through volunteering

It is important to establish who (or which organisations) will take this agenda forward and whether the Project Steering Group or another group will continue to have a role. Residents, community organisations and public services need to continue to work together to identify different ways to build trust within the community and to develop and enhance community connections. Some initiatives that could be developed would benefit from the continuing and extended partnerships that have been set up in this Connected Communities project. Improved connections with Health would be even more beneficial especially in light of the national loneliness strategy.

The many limitations of the study are acknowledged, including that it neglects the experiences and views of children and young people, or those from specific groups such as Black, African and African Caribbean or Eastern European groups living in the area.

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