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Growing up in Mexico City, Associate Professor Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans saw first-hand the effects of poverty and inequality on development. This sparked a lifelong interest in how communities grow and survive, and inspired her career in geography.

After completing a PhD in Development Geography, Sally worked in Mexico and Trinidad, exploring issues of community development. She built up extensive experience undertaking participatory research and outreach development work with local community projects ranging from informal micro-enterprise and youth training to gender, migration and social exclusion.

She began to study issues of development in the UK, applying her research skills to examine local questions around poverty and deprivation. Sally believes in co-producing research with local people and breaking down barriers using participatory methods, which empowers local communities and allows projects and their impact to be sustainable long-term.

Sally successfully works to bridge the gap between attitudes to development in the global South and local communities in the UK.

“My work is about using participatory research to empower communities to act for social change... I believe in helping people to undertake research that enables communities to tackle policy issues from the grassroots.”

Fighting social exclusion from a community perspective

In 2014, Sally was approached to facilitate a community-led research project to tackle social exclusion and mobility in a local community in Reading.

One of the the project's aims was to understand travel needs in Whitley and identify transport barriers that could be addressed.

Sally is part of the Whitley Big Local initiative in Reading. This is funded by the National Lottery's £1 million grant to 150 disadvantaged communities in the UK, which empowers them to help themselves and build close community ties.

Sally worked with local residents to create a community research network, the "Whitley Researchers", training the residents in participatory research methods to empower them to conduct the research themselves and take ownership of projects.

Whitley Researchers, a partnership between the Whitley Community Development Association, local residents, researchers and student interns at the University work together with Reading Borough Council, Reading Voluntary Action and community groups to identify critical issues facing local people, and use co-produced research to find practical answers.

Visit the Community-based Research website

The output from the research was a report on transport issues in the area in 2015.

The report led to immediate change for the community. The research group took the results to local transport authorities and worked with them to change the service provided to include bus routes through the Whitley area, to allow residents better access to local services such as schools, work and the hospital. 

The researchers gained new skills and have continued to work on developing their community, including establishing the "Whitley for Real" partnership with Reading Borough Council and leading the community research strand for Reading Place of Culture.

In June 2018 the Whitley Young Researchers were established with funding from Reading Borough Council, the Whitley for Real partnership and Study Higher. The team of Year 9 school children at the John Madejski Academy (JMA) explored how young people's aspirations are affected by school and family relationships.

Their research findings were published in October 2018 - Aspiration in Whitley: improving the collaboration between schools, families and the community. The recommendations were developed with local communities and the youth programme expanded to new schools in 2020.

Read more about recent research projects in our June 2020 newsletter

“To collect research for the Whitley project, we conducted participatory research, including focus groups, questionnaires and interviews, using grassroots methods and techniques I learned throughout my degree. I was also able to use the analytical skills I gained from my dissertation to help interpret our findings.

"I have always been interested in communities and this project reinforced this interest. I was fortunate that Sally gave me a lot of responsibility and guidance, which meant I gained lots of skills and knowledge from this internship.”

Beth Kingdom

BSc Human Geography graduate and former intern with the project

Research that feeds into teaching

Sally's passion for community development feeds directly into her teaching.

Her third year module Global Justice, Labour and Development uses real-world examples that engage students to debate key global issues such as child labour and precarious work. Sally is co-author of a number of textbooks in development geography and in 2013 she received a Reading University Student Union's award for Best Lecturer in Science.

The Whitley project is used as a case study in her second year module Cultural Identity and Place, and each year of the project advertises paid internships via both the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) and the Reading Internship Scheme for students to get involved directly in the research.

So far around 20 students have taken part in these placements. The internships allow students to shape real-world research, inform their understanding of the issues addressed by the project, and improve their career skills.

This close partnership with the community also has benefits for widening participation, helping to change local attitudes to higher education. The contacts and connections built up through the project has led several geography students to conduct their dissertations in the community, working with real-life service providers and residents.

“The whole project was really relevant to my degree, and brought to life many of the issues and research methods we studied. I gained insight into working on a community development project and was able to apply the research methods I learned throughout my degree.”

Beth Kingdom

BSc Human Geography graduate and former intern with the project

Public Engagement with Community Research fellowship

Sally, in 2020, became the first holder of a Public Engagement with Community Research fellowship. The new fellowship has been created to recognise the important role that working with members of the public in research plays in understanding issues that matter to local communities.

She will be leading on the University of Reading's strategic commitment as a civic university, working for and alongside the town of Reading.

“I'm delighted to have the opportunity to take on this new role and expand my work with the Whitley Researchers and other partner organisations. Research has the power to make a demonstrable difference to communities, by understanding local needs and providing clear evidence for a need to change.

"I'm keen for our students to take a key role in leading this engagement work and I'm working with Reading Students' Union, UROP, Careers and our new Student Community Champions to support local communities.”

See how you can take part in life-changing research while on undergraduate placements