Enhancing Community Resilience: The Gilesgate Project
Developing links with local residents forms an important part of academic activities at Durham University and makes significant contributions to bringing the skills and expertise of the University into local communities. These endeavours include action-research projects and other developmental initiatives. One of these is the Gilesgate Project which has been organised by Professor Lena Dominelli who holds a joint post in the School of Applied Social Sciences (SASS) and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR). It is part of a new programme of research at IHRR entitled 'Transcending Risk: Building Resilent Communities'. The Gilesgate Project builds on long-standing community involvement in this part of Durham, particularly amongst community and social work staff in SASS. The focus on responding to community-identified needs. These responses remain and include those of bringing residents, particularly young people, into the academy and providing important activities that encourage residents to follow their dreams in creating a better life for themselves, whatever the field they choose – sports, drama, music or science. However, a recent initiative has moved this Project in new and exciting directions, namely using scientific knowledge about energy and climate change to deal with pressing community problems like unemployment, fuel inequalities and marginalisation.
As a result of various discussions, residents on the Sherburn Road Estate have become involved in what has become known as the Gilesgate Energy Initiative. This has included several exhibitions where they could examine the relevance of renewable energy sources in reducing fuel poverty and providing job opportunities on the Estate. The free distribution of low-energy light bulbs, provision of energy audits for private homes, the creation of employment opportunities through the production of Inflector blinds are amongst the activities being generated by this Initiative. Its ultimate aim is to create investment in renewable energy sources that will, over time, enable the community to become self-sustaining in energy and thus enable a local action to contribute to solving a global social problem – the reduction of human reliance on fossil fuels and the contribution these make to climate change.
The Gilesgate Project involves a range of stakeholders in meeting these objectives. Alongside the local residents and community workers, these include representatives from private industry with GoSustainable taking a key role, housing associations owning properties in the local area, especially Three Rivers Housing Association, social and physical scientists from SASS, IHRR, and the Durham Energy Institute. The Project has been warmly welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Chris Higgins, the local MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods and employees of the Durham County Council.
Professor Philip Taylor (School of Engineering and Computer Sciences)
Dr Sandra Bell (Anthropology)
Professor Lena Dominelli (School of Applied Social Sciences)