Imagine was a five year Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project funded through the Research Councils UK Connected Communities programme. It ran from 2013-2017.
Through Imagine researchers from a range of disciplines worked with community partners to explore the changing nature of communities and community values over time, in their historical, cultural, democratic and social contexts. The research foregrounded the importance of community development, community activism, and arts and humanities approaches to civic engagement, and had a particular focus on socially excluded communities.
The project emphasised the idea of ‘co-production’. Research was done collaboratively with communities rather than to them. This allowed academic and community researchers to experiment with different forms of community building that ignite imagination about the future and help to build resilience and a momentum for change.
Discover more about Imagine through our co-produced booklet.
Read our submission of evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement.
Imagine was organised into four ‘work packages’, each focusing on a different context of civic engagement. Each work package involved a network of academics and community partners exploring a wide range of research questions using a variety of methodologies.
The Social Context (work package 1)
Coordinated by Angie Hart, Professor of Child, Family and Community Health at the University of Brighton.
This group looked at how community-university partnerships could bring people from very different backgrounds together to make better and more resilient collective futures. The work package also involved community partners and academics from Crete, Sweden, England, Wales and Scotland, including Boingboing. Together they explored how resilience-based approaches could help individuals and communities navigate stressful and challenging life situations while maintaining or developing their well-being.
The Historical Context (work package 2)
Coordinated by Sarah Banks, Professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.
This work package was based in Tyneside (Benwell and North Shields) and Coventry (Hillfields). These areas were part of the first British anti-poverty programme, the National Community Development Project (CDP), in the 1970s. This part of the Imagine project sought to produce snapshots of changing conditions and attitudes in these areas over time, from the different (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives of local people, community development workers, policy makers and politicians. Eighteen community-based organisations worked with academic staff from Durham and Warwick Universities to undertake creative projects to enable reflection on the past, present and future of the areas, involving a range of people of different ages, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The Cultural Context (work package 3)
Coordinated by Kate Pahl, Professor in Literacies in Education at the University of Sheffield.
This group worked with community partners to explore how arts practice can help communities to ‘imagine better futures’. It included collaborations with the Site Gallery, Sheffield, Museums Sheffield and the Hepworth, Wakefield. Projects included a revisiting of the modernist dream that is Park Hill Flats, using the timely moment of the redeveloped Park Hill to re-imagine the future through the lens of the past; a collaboration with the Hepworth Wakefield art gallery where local young people from a rent despite scheme where invited to examine archives and use landscape art to explore their community’s past; a project based in Standford Hill Prison on the Isle of Sheppey, which explored the ways in which offenders imagine their post-release futures and how engaging in fictional work can help them to imagine alternative futures; and a collaborative ethnographic project with women and girls in Rotherham, imagining better futures by inviting them to revisit histories with a focus on women’s activism and post-colonial literary texts.
The Democratic Context (work package 4)
Coordinated by Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History at the University of Huddersfield.
This work package explored what the democratisation of knowledge about communities means in practice. New forms of knowledge are emerging about communities and how they change, with opportunities opening up for voices to be heard that have previously been marginalised. Paul’s group was particularly interested in what community members think about how the future of their communities have been imagined (and how new technologies are making it possible for these views to be expressed). As well as looking at how visions of the future were created in past communities, work package 4 came to focus on issues of ethnicity in Britain. Ways in which different Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have been excluded from national narratives came to form a central part of the research. There are lessons here for our understanding of how some voices have been more prominent than others, and how the imagination of better community futures requires activism and agency to ensure BAME inclusion in national narratives in the past, present and future.
Community partners and collaborators
African Caribbean Organisation
Amaze supporting parents of children with complex needs (Brighton)
Art in Mind (Brighton)
Benevolent Society (Australia)
Birkbeck College, University of London
Blue Town Heritage Centre (Kent)
Boingboing, resilience-focused social enterprise (Brighton)
Building African Caribbean Communities (Huddersfield)
Cedarwood Trust (North Shields)
Centre for Community Based Research (Ontario, Canada)
Community Action Hampshire
Community Foundation for Tyne & Wear Northumberland
East Sussex Children’s Service
Foles Hillfields (Coventry)
Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO)
Grimm & Co (Rotherham)
The Hepworth Wakefield
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum (Coventry)
Hillz FM Community Radio (Coventry and Warwickshire)
Institute for Volunteering Research
Kent Library Services
Let’s Go YorkshireLiving History NE (Sunderland)
Meadow Well Connected (North Shields)
Remembering the Past: Resourcing the Future (North Tyneside)
Multi-Agency Resource Service (Stirling)
Patchwork Youth Project (Benwell, Newcastle)
Pendower Good Neighbour Project (Benwell, Newcastle)
Phoenix Detached Youth Project (North Shields)
Osnabrück University (Germany)
Riverside Community Health Project (Benwell, Newcastle)
Rotherham Children and Young People’s Services
Scottish Child Care and Protection Network
Search (Benwell, Newcastle)
The Site Gallery
Steve Pool, artist (Sheffield)
St James Centre for Heritage & Culture (Benwell, Newcastle)
St Peter’s Centre (Coventry)
Tassibee women’s centre (Rotherham)
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (Tyne and Wear)
University of Crete
The University of Edinburgh
University of Kent
University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
The University of Warwick
University of Westminster
West Newcastle Picture History Collection (Benwell, Newcastle)
Working Actively To Change Hillfields (Coventry)
Zahir Rafiq, Artist (Rotherham)
Zanib Rasool (Rotherham United Community Sports Trust)