People seeking asylum have been amongst some of the hardest hit by the pandemic lockdown; as people living in an already hostile and precarious situation faced an array of new challenges on top of their existing exposure to suffering and destitution. In this blog piece I reflect on some of the questions and challenges of carrying out participatory research with people seeking asylum and with refugee status during this extremely challenging time.
We wanted to understand the changing realities in Covid19 of children and families in the North East in order to inform schools and children’s services by listening to children. But could we find a safe and inclusive research method? We are the charity Children North East and researchers from Newcastle University and we have been working together for a number of years. At a time when many researchers are understandably turning to digital approaches, in this blog post we discuss the advantages of paper-based methods.
Stress. Anxiety. Concern. Looking back to mid-March 2020, these three words sum up how we felt. What would life be like in a pandemic? When would the lock down end? What would happen to our participatory research on the Children Caring on the Move (CCoM) project?
Before the pandemic, I had a plan for my research, it involved focus groups, with individuals coming together to share their experiences and create visual research pieces, whilst sharing food, drinks and conversation. On the 23rd March 2020, I saw that plan go sailing royally out of the window. Never fear, I thought to myself, Boris Johnson has a plan and we will be out of all this in twelve weeks’ time and everything can go back to how it was before. I joked at the start of the pandemic about how frustrating it would be if we were still in restrictions for my birthday, my birthday was a few weeks ago and the restrictions continue. Restrictions which are harsher than most, due to living an area where there are greater lockdowns due to high numbers of cases.
_This blog was originally posted on Transforming Society_*
Thrive Teesside works tirelessly to ensure the voice, skills, knowledge and expertise of low income communities is respected, listened to and afforded the opportunity to work alongside others to affect positive change. The current pandemic has highlighted some specific barriers to meaningful participation, but I hasten to say, that none of these issues are new but are merely amplified.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the use of online video conferencing software has been revered for its capability of bringing people together. The widespread organising of pub quizzes, family catch-ups and work meetings has led video-conferencing host Zoom to become a household name. But can Zoom be used for social research? As an MA student researching the undergraduate student experience of food insecurity, the current context of pandemic caused me to refocus my data collection from face-to-face interviewing to online methods. Reflecting on my experiences of using Zoom, I highlight the pros, cons and necessary adjustments I’ve made to maintain data quality and ensure ethical standards.
When the aim of your research is to engage with lived experiences, what happens when a global pandemic means you can no longer share the same physical space as your research participants?
The repeated claims that COVID19 has revealed social inequities in the UK is irritating. Like the ‘left behind_’ narrative it gives people permission to think (if not say), “whoops we didn’t see that before”. This is clearly not true! The pandemic and responses to it are exacerbating inequalities, speeding up the passage from poor lives to poor health and, for some, premature mortality. But social inequalities and their impacts – with their intersecting dimensions of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, age, etc - have always been on public display: in the dramatically contrasting neighbourhoods in cities; the makeshift “beds” for homeless people lining our streets; the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell Tower fire, the burgeoning food banks and now ubiquitous food collection boxes at supermarkets. They are present in schools, the NHS, housing agencies, job centres and other public services. They have never been _invisible just deliberately unseen.
The coronavirus storm and its economic slipstream has caused unprecedented damage at lightning speed to people’s livelihoods, pulling many families under. The social security system has a vital role as an anchor in stormy times and the Government swiftly strengthened it with a £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit’s standard allowance.
I’ve seen this sentiment across social media: we’re not working from home right now, instead we’re at home during a pandemic trying to work. The saying articulates the position people find themselves in, as personal and professional life ebbs into one another. In many ways this mingling of the ‘personal’ and the ‘professional’ is not a new conundrum for qualitative researchers, and in particular for participatory research. Research of this nature is already highly personal for those involved in it. Nevertheless, a global pandemic throws up an entirely new context to navigate these blurred boundaries. I want to use this blog to reflect on The Commission on Social Security, led by Experts by Experience, a participatory research project that has pivoted to working totally remotely.
Jed Meers, Simon Halliday and Joe Tomlinson
Very soon after the reality of the pandemic hit home, research councils and other social science funders began to issue rapid response calls for research on the social and economic impacts of Covid-19. My first response to this was mixture of defensiveness and frustration: “The impact? It’s going to be shit! We know it’s going to be shit! Why do we need more research telling us how shit it’s going to be?!”