Fourteen Coventry citizens have embarked upon a course of study on a groundbreaking collaborative project run by the University of Warwick and Coventry University, to enable local people to have their "voices heard" on Coventry's most pressing social issues.
The unique "Voices Project" enables communities to gather information on the needs of people living in priority areas, so action can be taken to improve the quality of local services and promote better health, education, employment, housing, and community safety. Lay-people are employed as part-time researchers on a University of Warwick accredited training course, so they simultaneously develop their skills and widen their own horizons while identifying the problems Coventry communities face.
The dedicated team of researchers include Yunus Kara, a 41year old taxi driver from Stoke Aldermoor and Sindy Butts, a 25 year old single mother with two children, originally from Longford.
Yunus has worked as a taxi driver for over 17 years and had no formal qualifications before undertaking the challenge of the Community Research Course, designed to equip students with the skills to carry out the research and ensure local voices are heard. He is now carrying out research into, and helping to tackle, prostitution and drugs in Stoke Aldermoor.
Yunus Kara said: "The project involves working with local residents to identify the issues that are important locally. It is set to make a real impact on social problems facing communities as it ensures local views are heard and acted upon by policy makers at strategic levels.
The project is empowering communities by giving people a stake in their future while assisting with regeneration. Also, I now feel that I am helping to really make a positive difference to the community I live in."
Sindy, who is focussing on the Longford area for the Voices Project, is juggling her research work with motherhood, and aims to use her research skills to drive her career forward.
Sindy Butts said: "So far I have studied essential social research skills and gained knowledge about research related to improving social problems. This has involved observing, collecting, analysing, and interpreting data - all at University level, with University credits."
"It has stimulated my interest in studying, and I now plan to return to education. When I left school I worked as a model, then in low-paid desk jobs that left me unfulfilled. The Voices Project has given me the confidence to forge a career in research and seriously consider undertaking one of Warwick's 2+2 degrees, especially designed for adults without formal qualifications."
This unique and visionary collaboration between the Universities of Warwick and Coventry is working with local communities in Canley, Hillfields, Longford, North Holbrooks, Stoke Aldermoor, West Radford and Willenhall Wood.
Stephen Handsley, from the University of Warwick's Sociology department who, along with Mick Carpenter, oversees the project, said: "The aim is to improve quality of life for those in priority neighbourhoods. Research on the views of local people is vital to improve communities, and the findings will be used to identify the need for local activities and services, and to effectively tackle significant social problems and inequalities. Problems differ amongst disadvantaged communities and range from drugs and prostitution to a lack of amenities and anti-social behaviour. Those most affected by these problems can now help to make a change."
The end result should see many of the researchers employed as professional 'community researchers'. The 'Voices Project' was initiated in April 2003 and is funded through Coventry City Partnership and the government's Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF).
The researchers, recruited in the summer of 2003, are mapping information already available about quality of life and local services, much of which has been taken from the Household Survey, and will collect additional information to provide further insights. The students' work will feed into 'Communities in Profile Reports' on each neighbourhood, which will identify needs which in turn will have policy implications, and which will be presented to the Coventry Partnership in autumn 2004.
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