“The neighbours in our close have become a family unit,” said a resident from Basingstoke West. “I know I could knock on anyone’s door for anything from a friendly smile and hug to a hand with something around the house that I’m unable to do alone”.
Talk to others in the neighbourhood, and you’ll hear this sentiment – or a version of it – repeated again and again. People here feel a deep sense of belonging, and there are many people and places they want to celebrate. Which isn’t to say things are perfect. Residents are also very clear on what is needed to improve the area; more opportunities for young people to aspire to, better lighting in public spaces, and more funding for spaces that allow for community connection.
What does your community need to thrive, evolve, and adapt? This is the question I and my colleagues at The Young Foundation took to peer researchers in Basingstoke West, seeking insights that would go on to shape a Community Listening Survey. Residents highlighted the impact of losing support structures, including a treasured community space and a long-standing pub, which have both recently closed. They emphasised the value of such places and spaces – as well as the importance of change and leadership from local people, who are trusted because they know many of the residents, understand their specific needs, and stand to benefit (or lose out) personally from any changes – to bring the community together.
This project used a range of participatory research methods, including peer research, in which people with lived experience of the issues or areas being studied take part in directing and conducting the research. My colleagues and I worked with these residents, equipping five peer researchers the knowledge and confidence to connect with other local people, so they could understand the potential and imagine a new future. United by their shared experience, these peer researchers give a platform for diverse voices in the community – including those who may otherwise be hard to reach, or people who have been disillusioned by previous engagement attempts. It’s about amplifying less-heard voices.
Less talk more action
We believe that research should lead to action, and that change is an ongoing process that takes commitment and support. Through this consultation, many community members enthusiastically sought to engage in future planning, with 41% of survey respondents interested in joining the Resident Engagement Panel, and 59% wishing to stay informed about how plans develop. The Community Listening Survey identified clear opportunities for change, which can be realised through the power of participation.
This wasn’t an experiment, though; our work in Basingstoke West was informed by previous experiences and successes. In 2019, for example, staff at The Young Foundation joined forces with East London developers Barking Riverside Ltd (BRL) to launch a pioneering social impact project, Thames Futures. Central to this project is Thames Futures Community Vision, which sets out nine priorities that reflect residents’ concerns, and their hopes for the future of the area, with a clear structure and evaluation framework. The aim was not only to improve the area in line with residents’ vision, but also to develop trust and accountability between BRL and local people.
Peer research has the potential to help re-distribute power back from traditional decision-makers to communities, challenging traditional methods and processes through which ‘less heard’ residents have been muted, ignored or even silenced. One peer researcher shared that the Community Listening Survey has given residents “a platform for change in the community, an opportunity that we’ve not had since before 2020”. It’s been a positive experience for many. By amplifying community voices, we gain a greater understanding of how local people want to develop plans for their future – and we see and respect their role as partners in change.