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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Making ends meet: action on sustainable livelihoods

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


During 2006-7 Church Action on Poverty worked in partnership with Oxfam to conduct research with 50 households in the Stockton Borough (Thornaby and Newtown) using a ‘sustainable livelihoods’ approach . This involved trained local volunteers conducting in depth interviews with household members to record their financial, human, social, public and physical assets, their vulnerabilities, the inter-relationships between these areas of their lives and their strategies for surviving, coping and adapting. Graphic and detailed accounts were recorded of struggles particularly with debt, isolation, mental and other health issues. As a result of these studies, the Thrive project has developed two new initiatives, one to tackle financial exclusion (‘Financial assets and social capital’, one year, funded through Friends Provident Foundation) and the other to work on health issues (‘Thrive Community Health Project’, funded by North Tees PCT, two years). Both involve building on the sustainable livelihoods research by training local volunteers to work with local households (50 in total) to undertake further research on details of their financial and health issues and needs, and to act as advocates and signposters to provide intensive support for people to access services, specialist advice, ethical and sustainable loans, and to initiate community-based support and development groups.

The proposed study for which WRI funds are being sought is for an independent researcher to work in partnership with the Thrive project to design a small research element within these two projects, which will examine and write up the processes and outcomes of the work, placing it in the context of other research and action in the broad field of sustainable livelihoods, in the UK and internationally. The sustainable livelihoods approach, although widely used in international development for over a decade, has rarely been applied in a UK context. Having done some initial research using a modified version of the model (revised to fit UK circumstances), Thrive is now proposing to take the approach a stage further by implementing a small programme of action. This provides an ideal opportunity to undertake a small research study to test the feasibility of developing a larger UK-wide action research project, possibly in partnership with Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, on a sustainable livelihoods approach to tackling poverty. It also provides an opportunity for the University to develop new models of partnerships with people in local communities and projects as co-producers of research and co-participants in developing community-based programmes and projects to tackle issues of health and well-being. It could be developed as part of the work relating to the Beacon for Public Engagement (Higher Education Funding Council for England joint project, Durham and Newcastle Universities) and Durham University’s proposed Phoenix project.


To scope the potential for undertaking a large inter-disciplinary community-based action research study (funded by ESRC or similar) using a sustainable livelihoods approach in the UK. This will be achieved through first undertaking a small pilot piece of action research in partnership with a local community-based project, Thrive, based in Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees, during 2008-9.


A research consultant will be employed to develop the small research study in partnership with the Thrive project. Local volunteers (trained and supervised by the project manager) will undertake the data collection and preliminary analysis, with the consultant providing support and advice. The consultant will report to a steering group comprising the three applicants named above and representatives of the local community volunteers.

September 2008 – research consultant meets Thrive project team and works with manager and volunteers to develop a research strand within the two projects, including how to record and analyse material from interviews and interventions, plans for regular feedback, training for undertaking data collection and analysis.
October –December 2008 – research consultant in contact with volunteers and project manager, regular meetings, developing systems for data collection and analysis as material comes in. Review of literature on sustainable livelihoods and examples of other UK projects.
December 2008 – progress review with steering group from the community and University.
January-April 2009 – continuing data collection, ongoing analysis, making links with other UK projects and potential partners for larger project, including Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and other departments and research institutes in the University and Research Institutes such as Geography, Regeneration.
April 2009– progress review with steering group from the community, University and other potential partners.
May–August 2009 – further data analysis and writing up of findings of study. Outline scoping for larger research project.
September 2009 – short report produced by research consultant and University participants in partnership with Thrive project team on findings from this research and potential for larger study, outlining project partners and possible scope of research.


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