Evaluation by Chris Ford Nov. 2016


Sustainable Sunderland Community Led Research Project Report



This document reports on the process and findings of a small participatory research project undertaken between April and October 2016. The aim of the project was to contract to carry out additional evaluation activity to augment the findings of the more comprehensive programme evaluation. The Programme aimed “to increase awareness and understanding of climate change and develop activities that promote behaviour change and inspire individual and collective actions that will help the community to adapt, and mitigate, its impact on the local and global environment” (Partnership Agreement) within the target areas of Southwick, Millfield, Pallion and Hendon.

The four project volunteers who were recruited through local agencies and networks had an early influence on the research approaches. Training and support was provided throughout the fieldwork, with a workshop organised to review and analyse the data.

The project used two approaches to generating data. Eight semi- structured small group discussions were organised with five organisations in the programme area and an additional group being run with Washington residents. The discussions explored people’s understanding of environmental sustainability and climate change, awareness of the programme and views on future priorities within the City.

Secondly a questionnaire was circulated and completed by the volunteers and through the East Area Childrens Centres and Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project as well as attendance at a family fun day organised by Back on The Map. A total of 126 usable questionnaires were returned: 73 questionnaires were completed by residents of the programme area and 53 by other residents of the City. This document reports finding from residents of the programme area, however both sets of data are submitted to accompany this report.

A big “Thank You” to the project volunteers for their involvement and enthusiasm; all those who participated in the research; the Community Involvement Worker for the East End Childrens Centre  and Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project for helping with the distribution of questionnaires; all the organisations who hosted the group discussions; the Sustainable Sunderland team and the Big Lottery Fund.

Whilst there have been best endeavours to ensure the accuracy of this report (by coincidence there were 53 participants in discussion groups and 53 questionnaires completed by City residents that lived outside the Programme area!), all errors remain the authors.


Chris Ford

November 2016



Understandings of Environmental Sustainability

Participants were asked, “What does ‘environmental sustainability’ mean to you?” In addition to a few people who stated that they did not know, and a range of more specific issues recorded in the appendices, some broad definitions were suggested:

  • Taking care of the environment.
  • Different ideas about how to sustain society and run our community. Also about the air around us, green grass and parks. How do we sustain all this in how we live? The(se) two aren’t separate. The link is in the broad meaning of environment.
  • Balance within the environment… Looking after and using nature in sensible proportions.
  • A balance between what we need and what we have is essential…
  • Making the most of resources… Caring for the environment around you. (It’s) about our descendants having enough… Using not abusing resources.
  • Individuals living within resource we have on an ongoing basis, living with our means…


The particular perspectives of participant groups were also visible. The Childrens Centre conversation along with one of the ICOS sessions, where all the participants were women, included a domestic focus specifically around food packaging and children’s toys. At the Bangladeshi Centre it was recorded that “In 30 years half of Bangladesh will be under water. A real focus for people about how to deal with this. Lots of work currently going on.” The discussion with Visual Impaired People noted issues around hazards in the streets such as dog dirt (“We are trained to pick up after our dogs, but other people don’t.”) street furniture and pavement parking, and uneven paving stones.


Views on Climate Change

The discussions around climate change generated a diverse range of comments and views. In addition to specific observations, recorded elsewhere in this report, these can be categorised into what people think and what we need to do.



  • A hit and miss subject; there are different opinions; it is, or isn’t happening…. It’s so vague and with different opinions so don’t trust what being told. The foundations are not there; don’t learn about it at school except if you’re doing geography or if you go and find out about it. If it is happening, it’s not clear how important behaviour is. Maybe humans are having an impact, but we’re not going to stop it. Some people have the mentality; if it’s just me that does it (change behaviour), it’s not going to make a massive difference, so why do it?
  • Lots of professionals cannot make up their minds about it.
  • They’ve changed their minds about diesel cars; was told it was good.
  • Sceptical about whether its humans or natural change; it has changed so much over the centuries.
  • … cleaner emission from cars help. But it is cleaner compared with the coal fires 30 years ago.
  • We have to think about the next generation.
  • Two conflicting points were raised: It is too late to stop the damage, and It isn’t too late. The divided opinion produced the following: technology can be used to slow down or prevent damage to the climate – but is it too late or it could be too late. It was said that some people denied that climate change exists.
  • We cannot do anything about it.
  • Yes it’s definitely happening; we don’t have seasons any more. Others say not changed that much.
  • There have been fires and floods in different countries just this week. We hear about it more, but it’s happening more.



In most discussions the need for education about climate change particularly in schools was raised. Beyond this there was little consensus:

  • Better education, knowledge and awareness of the consequences of our actions: Knowledge and awareness does not necessarily lead to a behavioural change.
  • Some people do not care about environmental issues.
  • Some people can’t or won’t change.
  • Change in behaviour is too much like hard work…. Historically everybody cared about the big issues. It’s not true now. We just accept or ignore.
  • Peer pressure: being different can be a social barrier (so there’s an) unwillingness to change due to peer pressure from others who do not share your belief and behaviour.
  • Need people at the top to be giving a better example.
  • Need to give people more choices to be environmentally friendly.
  • We all have to take responsibility.
  • Being rewarded would help: (the example of a European city where residents earn vouchers for recycling), while in Sunderland people are paying for it.
  • Plastic bags. This worked; the combination of cash and an underpinning principle. But many people were not happy.


The following more specific areas were raised:

  • We need to have planning policy that helps to address this.
  • More money is needed to invest in climate issues.
  • Choice of holiday destination.


Awareness of Programme

Participants had not heard of the programme prior to the discussion being organised, although it emerged in a few groups that several people had taken part in programme-funded activities either delivered by individual partners or through wider local community events.



Priorities in Sunderland

A wide range of issues were identified when participants were asked “What are the priorities for work in this area in Sunderland over the next three years?” These are summarised below using the thematic headings and descriptors of One Planet Living principles, with illustrative examples of responses gathered. Additional comments and a fuller outline of the One Planet Living approach can be found in the appendices.

During the analysis two further themes emerged. The first was around the need for a focus on increasing people’s knowledge and understandings. Although most comments related to education in schools, a need for broader information, awareness and education of local residents was also identified across the discussions. Secondly there was a complex issue around roles in addressing issues of environmental sustainability, with a lack of clarity as to people’s individual responsibilities as citizens and the role of other organisations.  Beyond the Local Authority, which was regularly referred, the influence of the private sector was also visible.

  • It’s about being aware of stuff. The essential starting point.
  • … There is a need for more work in the areas of awareness and education. It is a duty of all partners. The Local authority needs priorities, a clear focus. There is no clear agenda from the Council. There is a group that meets and does some policy things, but there does not seem to be any delivery.
  • In Sunderland, there’s a mentality, people are judgemental, you get called for doing (for example) a litter pick. The City of Culture provides a moment for getting some of the stuff going locally … A good community, stick together so if someone does stuff others follow… If you have a good idea there’s a lack of funding and it’s not clear how to find like-minded people.
  • Primary schools as starter, kids are more impressionable. More time to do practical stuff. young kids listen more and learn by doing… Need more practically focused learning eg science through growing plants… Need for training for youth workers.
  • The quality of eco education taught in schools is mixed.
  • It’s important… not about us but for future generations. It’s for other people to do. I disagree, it is something for us to do… There’s thinking about it, but also doing it – both at work and at home… There’s things pushed from a corporate level … We have to learn how to push back by not buying the lifestyle, as well as materials… It’s now more expensive to make your own clothes.
  • Education in schools; this needs to be constant rather than current one-offs. Needs to be in the curriculum… Need to learn how to push back against corporate pressure… Social media is an area we can use to our advantage…
  • Council and other public buildings to encourage reuse: make people think about stuff.


Zero waste : Reducing waste, reusing where possible, and ultimately sending zero waste to landfill. A wide range of comments on recycling were recorded focused around domestic waste – refuse, recycling, green waste and bulky waste collections – and on-street bins.

  • The recycling bins aren’t emptied regularly enough so people land up putting stuff you could recycle into landfill.
  • Naming and shaming of litterbugs and fly tippers…

Sustainable transport : Reducing the need to travel, and encouraging low and zero carbon modes of transport to reduce emissions. Beyond a focus on public transport particularly bus services, a small number of comments on cars, roads and bicycles were recorded.

  • Public transport is too expensive.
  • Making better connections between what there is.

Land use and wildlife : Protecting and restoring biodiversity and creating new natural habitats through good land use and integration into the built environment. There was an emphasis on public parks, with comments on other open spaces and allotments also recorded. 

  • Use of green spaces is very important.
  • Public parks are beautiful but unkempt at the moment…

Equity and local economy : Creating bioregional economies that support equity and diverse local employment and international fair trade A range of broadly-focused comments were made concerning the level of investment in the City and the need to sustain the City centre.   

  • (It’s) about the amount of money that comes to Sunderland…

Local and sustainable food : Supporting sustainable and humane farming, promoting access to healthy, low impact, local, seasonal and organic diets and reducing food waste. Comments on consumer awareness, packaging and local growing were recorded.

  • More encouragement needed to grow own food.
  • Problem with amount of packaging in supermarkets…

Zero carbon : Making buildings energy efficient and delivering all energy with renewable technologies. Wind farms and solar panels were identified as specific issues.

  • Wind farms were said to be ideal for energy production but were deemed unattractive.
  • More street lighting in some areas: Feeling of increased safety offset by environmental cost: (Need for) Street lights powered by solar panels and wind power.

Culture and community : Respecting and reviving local identity, wisdom and culture; encouraging the involvement of people in shaping their community and creating a new culture of sustainability. Comments on Sunderland as a multi-cultural city and the importance of community centres were recorded.  

  • … recognising that Sunderland is a multi-cultural city… recognising we are part of the majority as well as a specific community.
  • … If there’s nowhere to go you don’t talk with others… It’s about mutual help and support and sharing information…

 Sustainable water : Using water efficiently in buildings, farming and manufacturing. Designing to avoid local issues such as flooding , drought and water course pollution. Poor drainage was noted on two occasions:

  • Flooding: the drains don’t take all the water; council are not cleaning the drains out; new buildings impact on this as well as on the wildlife. They’re not dredging the rivers.

Health and happiness : Encouraging active, sociable, meaningful lives to promote good health and well being. A few broad comments were recorded although not during the discussions on local priorities.

  • It’s (environmental sustainability) about better child care, hospitals, and education.

Sustainable materials : Using sustainable and healthy products, such as those with low embodied energy, sourced locally, made from renewable or waste resources. Issues identified included, toys, domestic cleaning products and industrial pollution.

  • McDonalds plastic toys: I don’t pick them up as they go in the bin


Questionnaire Results


[Please note that Sunderland BME Network does not have the resources to provide copies of the original report]

The findings of the 73 questionnaires completed by residents of the programme area can be found in the original report’s appendices. The full data in Excel from these questionnaires along with the 53 other Sunderland residents that completed the questionnaire are submitted along with the original report.

The sample appears to include an over representation of residents who are female, white, heterosexual, and those with caring responsibilities. Older people (60+) and those with disabilities appear to be under represented. The sample also seems likely to be weighted towards those who are concerned about environmental issues with all but one of the respondents stating the environment is important or very important to them.

In broad terms the findings align with other research both the qualitative research undertaken as part of by this Project and other Programme funded work.

Through a review of the data, the project team identified some areas of particular interest. These are illustrated below:

1) Transport. The level of walking or public transport use was surprising.

2) Growing Food. This was seen to indicate an important area of future work.

3) One Planet Living. A surprising level of awareness was recorded, although it was noted that Gentoo have used a comparable framework which may explain this result.

4) Climate Change. The findings presented below reflect the complex range of perspectives recorded in the project’s work as well as other programme findings.

 The following additional comments were recorded on the questionnaires:

  • Climate change and impact needs immediate action for the benefit of the earth. Thanks.
  • Just wish people would take responsibility for their actions and look after the planet. Every little helps.
  • Eating less meat or being vegetarian or vegan should be promoted as a method to cut down on climate change.
  • Just a natural thing what’s happening.

One researcher noted during a discussion with someone completing a questionnaire that they had asked their landlord to undertake energy efficiency measures, but they had declined.


The project was undertaken in three phases.


The project was framed through brief discussions, face to face and by phone, with partners and Leeds Beckett University. With the support of the programme manager, the opportunity was promoted through a number of routes including partner meetings and networks particularly VCAS’s mailing and Sunderland University Students Union web portal. Additional strategies including via the National Citizenship Service, Exchange and Change, and organisational ‘door knocking’ were considered and for different reasons not pursued.

Four volunteers were successfully recruited, one having limited input during the field work and analysis phase. Four further volunteers withdrew during the early stages of engagement as a result of health issues (their own or family member) and/or work (paid or student) commitments. With one person a questionnaire for distribution using the Survey Monkey platform was developed but not used. The necessarily extended recruitment phase limited the use of specially prepared training materials, although participants had a direct input into the content of the qualitative research.


The research adopted, with minor changes, a questionnaire used in 2014. This approach was used to allow future comparisons between the two sets of data. The questionnaires were distributed through researchers on an ad hoc basis (family, neighbours), at community events, street work and cascaded through Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project and East End Childrens Centres. A total of 132 questionnaires were returned; 73 were completed by residents of the programme area, 53 by residents in other areas of the City and 6 who either did not provide an address or lived outside the City.

The qualitative data was generated through seven ‘focus groups’ with a total of 53 participants. Six of these were with residents from the programme area (Bangladeshi Centre Management Committee, Visually Impaired People Self Help Group, ICOS (2 groups), Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project, East Sunderland Childrens Centre Volunteers), with an additional discussion held with Gentoo’s local area focus group in Washington.

Ongoing support and ad hoc training was provided through the fieldwork.


Community researchers participated in a facilitated session to analyse the data and reflect on their experiences which was supported by the programme manager. Some of the volunteers have reviewed and provided feedback on two versions of the report.

Throughout the project there have been focused conversations with volunteers focused on the value to them of their participation in the project. During the induction process their particular interests were identified. A review of achievements was undertaken at a mid-point, with a final conversation reflecting on their experience held during the reporting phase with three of the volunteers. In summary the volunteers stated:

  • I enjoyed talking to people… I love doing questionnaires with people, I would like to do that again… Not interested in the analysis.
  • The project went really well, very smooth. There were no hiccups. I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do… a good little research project… I don’t think it could have been better… all the objectives I want to achieve have been achieved.
  • It was good. I was confused at the beginning… I learnt a lot about myself. Not the skills, I had them any way but putting them into practice. How I keep myself back from people. I’m ok on a one-to-one and if people approach me, but I’m not as confident in starting conversations… The project made me more aware… I would give myself more preparation. The analysis session; I was totally out of my depth with that but learned a lot from it. I got a bit of understanding about how to put the analysis together. … A realisation of myself; oh my god I talked to that person and they listened to me and found me interesting.



This small piece of research appears to reinforce the findings of other local research.

In summary:

  • There are diverse understandings of the idea of environmental sustainability.
  • People are concerned about climate change, but also not trusting available information and confused, being unclear of appropriate responses. There is a lack of clarity as to what local residents can and should do, and what are the responsibilities of a range of agencies. The need for education was highlighted.
  • There is little recognition of Sustainable Sunderland as a programme of work, including amongst those who have participated in programme-funded activities.
  • The wide range of generic priorities for future work within Sunderland was identified, although there was a focus around waste disposal/recycling and transport issues.

The participatory research process adopted by the project was identified by volunteers as having both strengths and weaknesses. In summary:


  • Volunteers are from the grass roots. We know the community.
  • Able to talk to diverse people from the (location of the) research: from the street, at home, at community events.
  • Participants can identify with interviewers.
  • We have an interest in the process of research.


  • Local residents can get too involved, it can become personal, and so biased. But it hasn’t.
  • The time/resource of the logistics.
  • The recruitment of volunteers. Perhaps this is about people’s history of volunteering. People often have not had a good experience.
  • With this project not knowing what end game was; not clear why doing research, who would read the report.





The following appendices were provided as part of the original report.  [Please note that Sunderland BME Network does not have the resources to provide copies of the original report]


1 Small Group Discussion Topic Guide

2 Small Group Discussions Additional Findings

4 Questionnaire Results 

5 – One Planet Living