Living in your research: Researching parent and toddler groups in my local community in the pandemic

Sep 24, 2020

Aimi King
PhD researcher, University of Huddersfield

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.

Having felt repeatedly angry at the pandemic for ruining my research plan, I have now settled on doing socially distanced one to one interviews. There seemed to be an increase in the encouragement for research to be completed online, however I felt that wouldn’t work for the research I was completing. Partly because there are no guarantees that those I am interviewing have access to the technology or internet speeds required to complete online interviews, secondly because I am interviewing parents of toddlers and I felt that locked-down toddlers might not be so willing to give their parent a window of thirty minutes in which to complete an interview.

My research is a case study by triangulation and therefore I am interviewing parents who attend parent and toddler groups, those who attended parent and toddler groups as toddlers and are now adults and practitioners and volunteers working or volunteering for the two organisations I am researching. I had hoped to interview the parents first and present the findings to practitioners and volunteers to reflect their thoughts. Due to ongoing lockdown measures I am now interviewing practitioners first and waiting on the parental interviews to see if the situation settles down first. My one advantage is that I live and work in the area that I am researching, so through my work, in which we have been making and offering packed lunches free of charge to the community since the start of the pandemic, I have at least been able to maintain my connection to those I am hoping to interview. The area in which I am researching is a social housing estate, considered an area of high deprivation which has meant that we have seen a greater need for our foodbank and the provision of emergency support during the pandemic.

This brings me to my next point, having recently attended the Covid Realities webinar looking at researching within the pandemic, there were considerations discussed regarding interviewers coming into an organisation to research and then leaving again, with particular discussion on those living in poverty. I realised that, as a researcher, I was potentially unusual in that regard, having worked full time within one of the organisations I am researching and working in partnership for a number of years with the other, whilst completing study part-time, and then moving to a PhD full-time, having been offered a fees scholarship by my University.

I feel that having lived, and continuing to live, on a social housing estate, as well as working at community projects in the area, brings a unique positionality to my research. During one of the modules for my PGDip (before I completed the dissertation module which made the qualification an MA), I was spending my Saturday afternoon reading for an assignment (not unusual when working full-time and studying part-time), when I heard some police sirens outside, which is not unusual for the area where I live, they often become like background noise. A few minutes later, it sounded very much like twenty or so other police cars had joined them – this happens slightly less – at which point I considered myself disturbed and went to see what the source of the commotion was. There was quite a large incident and therefore quite a number of the local community turned up and spectated from my street, and I wondered how many of those currently stood outside my house had been required to break off their study from a PGDip to come and spectate at the incident, I think as a PhD student, I am even more in the minority in terms of others within the community reading for a PhD. This is not to say that I consider myself better than others for being in my position, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to study for a PhD, just that I am doing so surrounded by life on an estate which can have a wonderful sense of community but also times of challenge and difficulty for those who live here.

I have lived and worked in the area I am now researching since I was born, and I was recently watching a documentary on Tottenham Hotspur, with one episode looking at a player called Japhet Tanganga, who had come through the youth team on the squad, playing for Tottenham Hotspur since the age of nine, and having the opportunity to play for the first team. In describing his journey, the manager Jose Mourinho comments that ‘when a player comes from the youth pathway and grew up in the club having a dream, I think these kids when they come to the first team, they have something, they have passion’. This suggests that there is a level of passion that comes with continuing to work within an organisation that you have lived within, that can’t be taught in coming from outside. That is not to say there is not a value in gaining a wider breadth of experience, however as a researcher, I would say that having lived those experiences alongside those I am researching, brings an understanding and passion which is difficult to get from reading a book.

Bio:

I am currently a PhD researcher at the University of Huddersfield, researching parent and toddler groups in churches and how the Christian ethos of a church makes a difference to how the parent and toddler group is run. My Twitter is: https://twitter.com/aimi_walton.

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