The Locality Research Programme had five key aims:
WISERD has sought to ‘grasp’ the social and economic geographies of contemporary Wales, in and through quantitative and qualitative data, and at micro, meso and macro levels, making along the way important interventions in academic and policy debates.
Locality’, like the equally ambiguous word ‘region’ before it, has been a heavily debated ‘key word’ in geography and the social sciences more broadly. Localities in the sense of autonomous sub-national social units rarely exist, and it is also misleading to use locality as a synonym for place or spatial variation. Locality provides a way of ‘framing’ social-spatial relations, in order to chart how geography is both imagined and experienced. Localities can be windows on, and bundles of, four distinct geographical concerns (recently coined ‘TPSN’): territories (borders and boundaries), places (individual and individualised social relations), scales (gestalt constructions), and networks (stretched out and perforated relations).
For locality to have analytical value it must have both a ‘material coherence’ and an ‘imagined coherence’. Material coherence refers to the social, economic and political structures and practices that are uniquely configured. Imagined coherence implies that stakeholders and residents of the locality have a sense of identity with the place and with each other, such that they constitute a perceived community with shared patterns of behaviour and shared geographical reference points. Both material coherence and imagined coherence are also important in fixing the scale at which localities can be identified. As such, whilst the locality research undertaken by WISERD is spatially-focused, it is not to be spatially-constrained, but prepared to follow networks and relations across scales and spaces in order to reveal the full panoply of forces and actors engaged in the constitution of the locality. To uncover these forces, research was focused around a number of questions.
To answer these research questions, a mixed method approach was deployed, combining cartographic and quantitative data on material geographies with qualitative evidence of imagined coherence and performed patterns and relations within the North Wales, Heads of the Valleys and Central and West Coast localities respectively. More specifically, the Localities Research Team has collectively undertaken: documentary policy analysis; secondary analysis of existing statistical indicators; an extensive interview programme; and data mapping.
Firstly, and taking each aspect of data collection in turn, the team collated and interrogated published secondary data relevant to each of the three case study areas. Including, but not restricted to: data gathered through the census; the annual population survey; claimant counts; and VAT registrations. An extensive number of statistical indices were incorporated within three baseline audits, which tested the material coherence of the three localities. These audits also included information on the scale, remit and boundaries of local authorities and other governmental agencies; the territories and provisions of economic development designations; the pattern and focus of strategic and policy delivery partnerships; and the fit of statistical units used to approximate socio-economic dynamics, such as travel-to-work areas.
Secondly, semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders working in a variety of public and private organizations, and across the eight broader policy areas of: health, wellbeing and social care; education and young people; language, citizenship and identity; employment and training; economic development and regeneration; crime, public space and policing; housing and transport, and; environment, tourism and leisure. The interview programme examined the significance of institutional geographies in shaping practice and to explore perceptions of imagined coherence, and brought attention to the varied narratives of engagement and day-to-day geographies employed by service providers working in each of the three case study areas.
The interview data, together with other secondary sources, provided evidence of the extended relational geographies of the localities concerned. In this way the team was able to cross-reference and contrast the material and imagined coherence of the institutional territories invoked through policy agendas and statistical models with first-hand narratives of engagement. As part of this process detailed GIS analysis techniques were used to reveal varied geographies of policy working and engagement.
The locality research programme carried out research in and across three localities. These localities were chose to give contrasting insights into the imagined geographies and area visions of the Wales Spatial Plan.
The Aberystwyth research team examined the Central and West Coast Locality, a geographical area extending from the Cambrian coast and its hinterlands from North Pembrokeshire to Aberystwyth and into Ceredigion. Corresponding with the Central Wales Spatial Plan Area, the economic drivers in this area are the administrative and service centres of Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest and Llandrindod Wells.
The Bangor research team carried out research in localities embedded in cross-border networks and movements along the A55 corridor itself, and beyond. This corresponded with both the North West and North East Spatial Plan Area. Three micro-localities were also selected to inform research: Wrexham (as it is just beyond the A55), the Isle of Anglesey (topographically detached and topologically connected), and Arfon (in Gwynedd and noted for its multiple deprivation).
The Cardiff research team was concerned with the Heads of the Valleys, and the definition of this in the ‘Turning Heads’ regeneration initiative, thus encompassing five South Wales local authorities, two fully (Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil) and three partly (Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly, and Torfaen).
A key aspect of the Localities Team’s work has been the dissemination of research findings to academic and policy audiences, and practitioner groups. This has included presenting papers at relevant conferences and attending workshops and meetings with key stakeholders. One important example of this work was a paper delivered to the Older People & Ageing Research Developing Network (OPAN) on the subject of service provision in rural communities as undertaken by the growing older population. Building on a mini-project undertaken by the Aberystwyth Localities Team, this contribution has laid the groundwork for ongoing communications between WISERD and members of OPAN and the Welsh Government’s Rural Health Plan Implementation Group. In this way, research undertaken by the Localities Research Programme has fed into the development of rural healthcare policy in Wales in the specific context of ageing.
Elsewhere, extending out of relationships developed with Local Authority workers through the Localities Interview Programme, WISERD research is informing the work of Ceredigion County Council. Members of the Localities Team attend meetings of the Council’s Research, Intelligence and Information Sharing Group (RIISG), and have given a number of presentations concerning project themes and findings. Notably, this has informed discussions regarding the Joint Needs Assessment as produced by Local Service Boards and councils, and the formulation of Ceredigion Council’s Strategy for Older People.
The Localities Research Programme has also engaged with a significant number of civil society organizations. The team has presented research findings, informing debates in the public sphere and responding to important political agendas within specified localities. A significant part of this agenda has been gauging the impact of the closure of the Anglesey Aluminium plant in North Wales. Undertaken by members of the Bangor Localities Team, researchers have been in dialogue with workers throughout the redundancy process. Giving voice to individual and collective experiences, and considering the impact of the closure on families and the wider locality, the study has been actively supported by trade union officials and has informed exchanges between the owners of Anglesey Aluminium (Rio Tinto and Kaiser Aluminium), the Welsh Government, the Local Authority and local community groups.
Following on from the Locality Research Programme, a series of mini-projects have been developed. These projects build on existing research and enable further analysis of key themes and issues identified during the first phase of the WISERD research programme. More information about these projects can be found here.
As part of the WISERD Civil Society Seminar series, Tom Jones OBE presents an insider’s perspective on the role of civil society organizations in policy-making in Wales, the UK and Europe.
As part of the WISERD Centre for Welsh Politics and Society Seminar Series, Dr Taulant Guma from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University presents emerging findings from the WISERD/Civil Society project on ‘Migrants, Minorities and Engagement in Local Civil Society’.