UCL Grand Challenges


Understanding 'Left-behind' Places: Developing a Deep Place Study

Exploring social and economic change to develop a deeper understanding of place.

Sacriston road sign

13 April 2021


Grant: Grand Challenges Special Initiatives - Place
Year awarded: 2019-20
Amount awarded: £10,000


In a pilot project focused on the village of Sacriston in County Durham undertaken in conjunction with the Durham Miners' Association, this initiative developed an interdisciplinary, multi-annual, large-scale programme of ‘deep-place’ research and action to obtain a rich, historically-grounded understanding of the long-term trajectory of a so-called 'left-behind' place. 

The project developed networks with local actors and considered how new solutions aimed at improving social and economic conditions can be co-produced with local communities using expertise at UCL and elsewhere. 

To do so, the pilot explored methods for achieving a deeper and multi-faceted understanding of a particular ‘left-behind’ place rather than a generic understanding of a category of places. What has been the nature of social and economic change? Why have past policies apparently failed? How has change been experienced locally? How have local political attitudes been formed? What are the perceived needs and aspirations of the local community? How might expertise at UCL aid the co-production of new solutions to local problems? Addressing these questions requires insights from a range of disciplines, given the multi-faceted nature of concentrated deprivation.

The project involved engaging with the local community, conducting oral history interviews and convening focus groups. The findings were brought together in a report, Sacriston: towards a deeper understanding of place. 

A central conclusion of the project was that economics and social networks are closely linked: a strong local economy in the past was a key support for the development of strong community ties and institutions. Furthermore, a key task that emerged from this study is to consider further what kinds of social infrastructures could be created or adapted that would foster a process of reconnection, reduced isolation and create spaces for conviviality. 

The project noted the opportunity for UCL to assist local actors in determining what social infrastructures are likely to have the biggest impact on the wellbeing of the greatest number. This has led to the project team receiving follow-on funding of over £35,000 for work on Social Infrastructure for Community Development. 

Following the conclusion of the project, the Durham Miners’ Association have received a grant of £4.5m from the National Heritage Lottery Fund to refurbish Redhills, the Durham Miners’ Hall. Professor Tomaney has been appointed a Trustee of the new organisation which will oversee the development of the building. The collaboration continues to have significant impacts - a summary of work to date can be accessed.

Outputs and Impacts