Research at a North East university is aiming to provide a practical tool to help those most at risk of social exclusion – primarily older people – and will focus on the emotional impact of austerity in one of the poorest areas of Britain.

The University of Sunderland project will conduct one-to-one interviews to discover the issues people are facing, and produce a map of the available services with the objective of bringing together the community. Focusing on the areas of Byker and Walker in Newcastle, which fall into the 10% most deprived areas in Britain, the study draws on the findings of a recent BBC commissioned survey which positioned the North East amongst the regions least resilient to austerity cuts.

Austerity research hoping to raise fortunes of socially excluded

Andrew Dalton, lecturer in social sciences and lead-researcher, said: “Having worked previously, for several years, as a Volunteer Manager of St. Martin’s Centre in Byker and Walker, it was noticeable that older people in the area were becoming increasingly isolated and excluded.

“The centre developed volunteer led services to cater for older people as council budgets and public sector funding streams were increasingly cut back or under threat. As workers with little time and more demand for our services, we often lacked the full knowledge of provisions that were already in place from other agencies in the local area.

“This community research project aims to pull together a local timetable of these older people’s services through discussions with groups and organisations. We plan to talk to older people to highlight their needs and establish gaps in provision.

“This practical solution for the region, for older people and organisations to use, will hopefully help to combat the growing trend of social exclusion in Newcastle.”

Austerity research hoping to raise fortunes of socially excluded

A recent report, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, used Newcastle as an example to show that the most deprived areas of England have seen the largest cuts in funding since 2010.

Sally Young is the Chief Executive of the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Services, an independent registered charity that supports, develops, promotes, connects and represents the voluntary and community sector in Newcastle.

She said: “Newcastle CVS welcomes this research into social exclusion. Our work in Newcastle, in particular our study Below the Waterline in Walker last year, and our current work with local groups, supported through Byker Community Trusts, shows the level of needs in these areas.

“Many people in these communities have been affected personally by the impact of welfare reforms, as well as the loss of local initiatives and regeneration work as part of the reduction in public services. It’s important to speak up and out to show what is really happening.”

The research interviews will be conducted at the St. Martin’s Centre in Byker and Walker by Andrew and three second year students at the University of Sunderland, who have been involved with the project from the beginning as research assistants.

Funded by the Research Active Curriculum, a pot of money designed to enable University of Sunderland research to be embedded into teaching, it is planned to be conducted over the next two months.

“What’s the point of putting on my clothes?”

Case Study

Carol Grey from Walker in Newcastle retired in 2009 after working for 45 years. Previously suffering from social exclusion herself, she now helps others to become more involved in the community, and was named as North East Volunteer of the Year in 2013.

“After I retired it was the summer – the garden gets done, the decorating gets done, and then the winter comes and that’s when you feel down because you don’t want to go out; it’s too cold, your friends are all working, so you start feeling isolated and that nobody loves you, nobody gets in touch with you.

“I wanted to do something but I just didn’t know what. Most days I would be sitting in my pyjamas because I would get up and put the television on, get engrossed in that, and before you know it it’s dinner time, so you get your dinner and you’re still not ready, and then you think, what’s the point of putting on my clothes?

What’s the point of putting on my clothes

“It started going downhill because I wasn’t getting out and about and seeing people, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I did look at going to a school to teach the kids to read. The school gave me a CRB check and when I went back to ask when I could start, they said come along anytime but if we don’t need you then you would have to go back, and it’s a 40 minute walk each way.

“I went to another community centre, which is a day centre, but they wanted me to clean toilets and floors, and I have never been a cleaner in my life! So I was still looking for options and I joined the do-it.org.uk website for volunteers, and they came up with St Martin’s Centre. I went and I have never looked back.

“I’m quite a crafty woman – I can knit, sew, crochet, cross-stitch – so I was thrown into all the crafts at the Centre – I still run my own craft class. I have ladies who come in and enjoy it,

Find Out More About Andrew Dalton

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