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Queen’s Communities and Place – Lasting Solutions for Local Challenges

Kathryn Higgins
Professor Kathryn Higgins
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work
Gavin Duffy
Dr Gavin Duffy
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work
Brendan Murtagh
Professor Brendan Murtagh
School of Natural and Built Environment
Tony Gallagher
Professor Tony Gallagher
School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work
QCAP people standing by a wall

Queen’s Communities and Place (QCAP), launched in 2021 by researchers from Queen's and the Market Development Association (MDA) in the Market area of South Belfast, is a community-academic partnership combining joint perspectives, expertise and resources to find better solutions for tackling disadvantage and improving outcomes for children, young people and communities. The project reflects the University’s ongoing engagement within the community, and a commitment to supporting its continued empowerment.

Research Challenge

Driving change through place-based initiatives 

This work focuses on a ‘place-based’ approach to create knowledge on how to close inequality gaps, tackle poverty and deprivation and empower communities to generate effective local solutions.  

Through existing national and international partnerships QCAP draws on the experiences and lessons learned, from a wide range of children’s and community initiatives, aiming to create a more durable model of community and place-based working tailored to the communities we work with, to bring long lasting change.  

Our Approach

A Holistic approach in studying communities  

Children's lives are shaped by complex ecologies in which a series of 'systems' (which include family, school, neighbourhood, social and cultural) interact in the context of place to directly and indirectly affect outcomes. Interventions that address only one aspect of these ecologies will have limited impact. By contrast, holistic, area-based approaches are required to make sustainable improvements to outcomes. The origins of this research emerged through engagement with the MDA on a community response to the Covid-19 crisis. Follow up engagement has broadened our research agenda to integrate pre-covid concerns identified by people in the Market community with other impact areas common to many communities and include education and employment opportunity, young people’s mental health and sustainable, economic development. 

There are three programmes of research within QCAP: 

Growing Up in the Market  

This qualitative longitudinal study will capture the lived experience of children and young people from the Market community at key transition points through education to the labour market, highlighting key enablers and barriers affecting the routes followed and offer insights into potential interventions for change. This will provide deeper insight into processes that appear to promote sustainable positive change. Our focus on transitions is based on the principle that one route to better futures is through improved options – by enhancing enablers (e.g. professional leadership support) and mitigating barriers - at these key transition points.  

Social Economies and Community Wealth  

This programme focuses on the plural ownership of the economy; making financial power work for local places; fair employment and just labour markets; progressive procurement of goods and services; socially productive use of land and property assets; and locally owned economies that provide services and facilities. The programme broadens the role of universities as anchor institutions beyond employment, spending and procurement to evaluate their contribution to community wealth. We also see value, especially working with intermediaries, to explore the scale and impact of the social economy in a range of spatial contexts.  

Knowledge Economy  

The MDA have already engaged with several growth sectors and related labour markets, including multi-media, information technology and biotech, and are currently exploring the feasibility of working with key industry partners.  The core aim of the Knowledge Economy Programme is to ensure the community can skilfully adapt and thrive in future economic realities. 

‘Guided by our Social Charter we will commit the resources of the University to work in partnership to find lasting solutions that tackle disadvantage and improve outcomes for children, young people and communities.’

What impact did it make?

Evidence based solutions for timely interventions 

The lived experiences of young people, together with research evidence from broader programmes of work in the community, will help the initiative think progressively about how we can make better use of potential evidence-based interventions for positive change. Through partnership working and participatory action research, QCAP hopes to capture feedback on possible solutions in real time, so that interventions for positive change can be identified and actioned more quickly. The programme team will then seek to test the model in other sites across Northern Ireland, expanding into other urban, small town and rural settings to explore the transferability, sensitivity and suitability of the approach. The aim is to create a more durable model of community and place-based working tailored to communities, bringing long lasting change. 

VC and guests outside the Lanyon

Key Facts
  • The Market Development Association is the central community group in the Market Community of inner South Belfast 
  • MDA activities range from helping residents with day-to-day issues such as housing repairs and benefit advice, through to large scale strategic regeneration initiatives such as the Market Tunnels Project. 

Our Impact

Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.

  • SDG 10 - Reduced inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and well-being
  • UN Goal 10 - Reduced inequalities
  • UN Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
  • UN Goal 03 - Good Health and well-being

Impacting in Countries/Regions

Impacted Regions
Impacted Countries

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Sub-themes
  • Peace, identity, conflict and social sustainability