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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


The wheels on the bus do not go round and round

By Laura J Hirst, on 16 April 2012

Transport and social exclusion project in Newham Borough

Linking theory with practice is something that the DPU prides itself in – recently the students of the MSc Social Development Practice had an exciting opportunity to work in conjunction with the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the London Borough of Newham to explore the constraints faced by high school students when using the local bus network.

Although Newham now enjoys excellent transport links which bring people both in and out of the Borough, bus travel for local residents within Newham remains difficult.  To date, mobility studies tended to focus on quantitative operational data and important issues related to the social aspects of mobility by bus, especially those related to social identity and which can lead to social exclusion, are often ignored.  The brief specifically required the investigation of barriers in relation to bus travel in Plaistow to get to and from school and access educational opportunities within Newham.

A number of interviews and focus groups were conducted with a diverse range of students aged between 13 to 18, using participatory methodologies where possible. These included 24 hour mapping and drawing activities and visioning exercises.  Other important stakeholders were consulted, a focus group with Newham Young People’s Board was held, as well as interviews with bus drivers and dedicated school Youth Safety Workers.

The research highligted that safety is a huge issue for young people travelling by bus. Young men feel vulnerable to muggings and bullying on buses and the presence of postcode gangs is believed to exacerbate this problem. For young women, travelling in the dark in the winter months is a particular safety concern. At one school, several students with disabilities face major difficulties in getting to school due to limited spaces on a council-provided bus service. Uneasy relationships between young people, bus drivers and other bus users were also cited as an issue, giving rise to feelings of insecurity on all sides.  Young people feel they are subject to negative stereotyping and discrimination on the grounds of age, gender and ethnicity whilst bus drivers experience a general lack of respect from young bus users.

Findings and recommendations based on the evidence collected were presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Team and other invited stakeholders. Recommendations were grouped under the general theme of a stakeholder engagement campaign, seeking to address the tensions which were identified between real and perceived safety concerns.  Such a campaign could go some way to dispelling stereotypes and facilitating broader community dialogue and participation on student safety issues related to bus travel within both Plaistow and the Borough more generally.  More specific recommendations were:

  1. Increased contact between bus drivers and students through the incorporation of school visits into bus driver training;
  2. A school and youth based education campaign to make students aware of their rights and responsibilities related to bus travel;
  3. A community travel forum bringing together local residents, the council, Transport for London, and young people to address security concerns

Not only did the research provide invaluable first hand experience of ‘practice’ for the UCL students,  but the results of the work have since been taken up by Newham Borough Council and are reflected in the recently published  ‘Report of the Regeneration and Employment Scrutiny Commission’s Review into Regeneration and Transport in Newham’.  In addition, student mentoring opportunities have been created, and there are plans for a potential student-led public engagement campaign, hopefully building ongoing connections between UCL and the community.

Laura Hirst is a student of the MSc Social Development Practice (SDP) at the DPU. She has sent this post on behalf of the SDP group. Photos in this post by the SDP student Ignacia Ossul.

Latest Update 6th Sep.2012

As follow-up to the presentation of findings and recommendations to Newham Council, SDP students shared these results with Newham Young People’s Board (NYPB), one of the project’s stakeholders. The feedback session reminded students of the importance of the ongoing process of evaluation and reflection of the practitioner’s role in representing voice(s), particularly those of young people in social development research.
Time and practical constraints meant it had not been possible to fully involve young people in the research process and gain feedback from them prior to reporting back to the council. The NYPB were not satisfied with how their input had been represented in the final document produced by Newham Council; they felt that language used should be more youth-friendly and that their recommendations needed to be more accurately reflected. Recognising these concerns, a group of SDP students applied for and were successful in receiving funding from the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s Train and Engage programme to work with the NYPB to facilitate one of their recommendations; a community forum on the issues raised in the research. The SDP students will work collaboratively with the NYPB to facilitate a series of community forums on youth and transport issues, involving a range of local stakeholders (e.g. bus users, young people, Newham Council, local service providers), to improve the relationships between them. The forums will culminate in a final meeting where agreed ‘asks’ will be publicly presented to service providers and local institutions.Heidi Chan, Laura Hirst, Emma Shilston