Understanding 'Left-behind' Places: Developing a Deep Place Study
Exploring social and economic change to develop a deeper understanding of place.
13 April 2021
In a pilot project focused on the village of Sacriston in County Durham undertaken in conjunction with 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’s 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.
Outputs and Impacts
- Report Sacriston: towards a deeper understanding of place (UCL, 2021)
- Awarded £29,500 I&E ESPRC IAA funding for follow on project, Social Infrastructures for Community Development.
- Evidence submitted to UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee inquiry on 'Supporting Local Economic Growth'.
- Links built and existing ties strengthened between UCL and local partners, forming the basis for further research and action.
- Journal article, Political Quarterly (May 2021), 'Reopen the Coal Mines'? Deindustrialisation and the Labour Party.
- Journal article, Renewal (October 2021), 'Social and community infrastructure: Lessons from Co Durham'.
- Bartlett Planning Podcast: Researching cultural heritage and place in Durham.
- UCL Public Policy seminar: Up Close & Policy: 'Left-behind' Places, Community Engagement & Third Sector
- Creation of UCL Everyday Economy website.
- UCL Grand Challenges podcast: 'Levelling up' or 'Left-behind'?: Restoring opportunity in UK society - In conversation with Fiona Hill