Regional reward for community project

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The Girls’ Gang team

UCLan led initiative has been recognised for its work in Cumbria

A Cumbrian community project led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has won a regional award.

The Whitehaven based Connected Communities research project, which was created by a UCLan researcher, has received a Golden Apple Award for ‘Best Community Initiative’.

Girls’ Gang, a community research group composing nine 12-year-old girls, was nominated for the award by the Elected Mayor of Copeland, who was inspired by the girls’ passion and commitment to their local community.

The girls have been wonderful throughout this project and it’s great to see young people who are passionate about the area which they all call home.

Suzanne Wilson, Research Fellow in Social Inclusion and Community Engagement based the Centre for Citizenship and Community at UCLan, has been working with the youngsters since February 2018. Collaborating with Emma Williamson, County Councillor for the area and former UCLan student, she recruited them by going into local primary schools, she undertook workshops with the pupils and trained the girls in community research skills.

The youngsters decided they wanted to take action to help their local area, and led a number of social action projects including a litter campaign, bullying awareness film, fundraising activities and regenerating the community garden at St Peter’s Community Hall. They have also worked with colleagues at Copeland Borough Council to help develop their Children’s Charter, which is the council’s promise to ensure that children are at the forefront of decisions on policies that may impact on them.

The girls, supervised by the local police, also conducted door to door surveys and asked residents for their views about their community, their social networks, and their health and wellbeing. They presented their results at a number of local community events and also to the Head of Social Work at UCLan, in Preston.

Suzanne said: “I’m delighted the project has won this award because it recognises the hard work the girls and collaborative partners have all put in. The girls have been wonderful throughout this project and it’s great to see young people who are passionate about the area which they all call home.”

The results of the research project are now being used to inform a number of new local projects, such as Youth Connectors, where children and young people will design and deliver a number of connectivity projects for the older generations.

In his nomination, Mayor Mike Starkie praised the work of Suzanne and Emma. He said: “Emma and Suzanne have provided new and enriching opportunities for children in an area where almost half are experiencing poverty. Children growing up in areas facing these difficulties often miss out on enriching opportunities, and Girls Gang has provided these children with the chance accomplish things that otherwise would not have been able to.”

Girls Gang continues to meet and to take positive action to help their community. It now operates under West Cumbria Community Action Trust, a new charity set up to meet the needs of the community identified through the research.

Rachel Atkinson | 11 October 2019