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Manchester Urban Institute

A group of visitors at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre

Space and place

Our research focuses on the inequality of unintentional and deliberate policies that affect our space and place.

As researchers, we seek to understand the world within which we live, and directly change it for the better. To achieve this we focus our research on the uneven relationships between society, economy and the environment. We aim to influence and engage with the wider community, including Greater Manchester.

In the Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory we use a variety of innovative methods to analyse large datasets and web-based interactive visualisations to influence and change the way organisations such as local governments monitor their spatial planning policies. 

Through the Manchester Urban Institute we are committed to increasing our understanding of urban environments past, present and in the future. We draw on the city of Manchester’s unique place and engage a wide range of stakeholders to study and change the world.

Our Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity is concerned with understanding changes within ethnic groups and their external relationships and position in British society. We are committed to making the evidence we produce, and the data we use to generate that evidence, accessible to all.

Challenging segregation myths

Is Britain really becoming more divided?

The challenge

Debates on racial diversity and segregation across the UK, including Greater Manchester, have up to now been dominated by myths. Discussion has been largely reactive to events, for example surrounding racial tensions or the rise of far right politics, rather than being informed by evidence.

Our research

Our research provides a key resource for non-governmental agencies, political parties and the wider policy community involved in the production of evidence-based policy. In particular, it presents policymakers with alternative, better-informed evidence on ethnic diversity and its effects within the UK. It challenges the current focus on simply managing the negative influence of cultural diversity and immigration.

More specifically, our work addresses ethnic segregation and local ethnic group population change in areas such as Greater Manchester. We have generated innovative methods for estimating neighbourhood ethnic group population change. We are currently analysing census and survey data in order to provide a direct and critical challenge to widespread myths about segregation and diversity.

The impact

Our research has provoked debate and challenged established views. It offers local authorities and other non-governmental organisations a more informed understanding of race, segregation and diversity. Through an explicit strategy of ‘myth busting’, we have also informed and shaped policy debate within government, improved public understanding of segregation and transformed thinking around ethnic and neighbourhood diversity. 

Many common assumptions about race, migration and segregation are myths. For example, we found that Greater Manchester has become increasingly diverse over the last two decades, whilst at the same time residential segregation has decreased. Indeed, the proportion of people living in multiple ethnic group households has increased in all districts in Greater Manchester.  Eight out of ten of the most diverse wards in the Greater Manchester region are in Manchester. Within these wards ethnic minority groups have grown, but they also live in more ethnically mixed residential areas. Despite this increase in ethnic diversity Manchester is not becoming less British. 

We also identified that natural change (the difference between births and deaths) is the main driver of local population change for many areas and ethnic groups. 

The evidence base we have generated shapes the practices of prominent race equality organisations, such as the Runnymede Trust, in campaigns promoting alternative frameworks for understanding race, segregation and migration. Our work continues to challenge public concerns regarding integration.

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Key people

  • Dr Nissa Finney, Hallsworth Fellow, Cathie Marsh Institute, School of Social Sciences
  • Professor Ludi Simpson, Honorary Professor of Population Studies, School of Social Sciences

Housing and neighbourhoods

Understanding the interaction between housing and neighbourhoods

The challenge 

In a climate of economic recession, researchers from the Centre for Urban Policy Studies (now the Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory) with colleagues from Glasgow and Ulster, were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to develop a UK-wide Housing and Neighbourhood Monitor.

A new resource was developed to understand the issues of housing supply and demand to influence government policy and address the neighbourhood needs in areas like Greater Manchester.  

Our research 

In developing the Housing and Neighbourhood Monitor (HNM), we brought together key spatial statistics to provide a longitudinal overview of contemporary changes to the UK's housing and neighbourhoods.  

Our study focused on how housing issues interacted with wider neighbourhood characteristics at both a neighbourhood level as well as across the UK. We also identified major policy outcomes of housing and neighbourhood change and highlighted key policy implications.

From this we developed a set of indicators and an analytical framework – the HNM - that truly reflected the changing trends and issues in housing and neighbourhoods.

The impact 

Our research showed tensions between local neighbourhood policies, such as neighbourhood renewal, and UK-wide housing policies. Often the latter dominated. We highlighted the need for policy-making to take better account of area characteristics, notably how local housing markets function. In England, the concentration on building houses on previously developed land (known as brownfield) had an effect on housing and socio-economic change across the most deprived neighbourhoods, including parts of Greater Manchester.

Our neighbourhood indicators also demonstrated that urban areas such as Greater Manchester had a shortage between housing supply and demand. The economic downturn had halted an upward trend in housing supply, but affordability problems were likely to persist with a projected increase in household numbers.

In classifying neighbourhoods, we developed an index of housing pressure and neighbourhood quality that was mapped against different areas of the UK. Our analysis revealed different patterns. For example, Greater Manchester was characterised by a lack of affordable housing largely due to high deprivation levels and low household income. There was also serious housing stress and high homelessness.

To complement our research reports, we developed The Housing and Neighbourhoods Monitor Spatial Portal. It provides detailed interactive mapping enabling you to examine a wide range of information on localities, including housing supply, affordability, new build rates, educational attainment and economic activity. 

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Key people

Nudging citizens

What makes people give time and money to good causes?

The challenge

Across the UK, including Greater Manchester, citizens have to make hard choices about whether to give their time and money for various social initiatives and causes. We consider how positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion, known as nudge theory, might encourage informed decision-making and promote positive civic behaviour.

Our research

We ran eight ‘real world’ experiments in Greater Manchester, and elsewhere, to show whether people would donate goods, money or their time if they received the right messages. 

The project used a variety of techniques to test the most effective ways citizens could be encouraged to develop positive civic behaviours such as making charitable donations, recycling waste or volunteering their time for community groups.

The impact

Our research raised charitable donations and improved recycling rates within Greater Manchester. It led to recommendations on how to ‘nudge’ citizens towards positive civic behaviours. These have subsequently informed government policy at the local and national levels. 

Firstly, as a result of our experiments 1,000 Manchester households donated 7,000 second hand books to children’s libraries in South Africa, through the charity Community HEART. This was fostered through a pledge-drive, alongside a public recognition of individual efforts. Secondly, a 5% increase in recycling rates was recorded following door-to-door canvassing of over 6,500 households in Old Trafford. Thirdly, feedback cards delivered to more than 9,000 homes in Oldham increased participation in food waste recycling by 6%. Fourthly, participation in an online debate on antisocial youth behaviour and interracial relationships produced marked improvements in tolerance. Our research shows that as well as incentive based ‘nudges’ to change behaviour, citizens also wanted opportunities to think and reflect upon key social problems before taking action.  

Many organisations in the UK already have a strong interest in using nudges.  Several, including central and local government, have used our research as part of their assessment of whether and how to deploy such techniques. 

A further series of experiments, around whether information about other peoples’ donations of time affect the willingness to give time themselves, are currently underway. 

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Key people

Children's communities

Addressing the multiple inequalities faced by children in deprived areas of Greater Manchester

The challenge

Manchester has a higher than average child poverty rate compared to the UK average. This is a particular issue in geographical pockets of the region including North and East Manchester. It is well known that children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds fare less well in terms of their outcomes. For example, they are more likely to become involved in criminality and have poorer health and employment outcomes than those from more privileged backgrounds. Evidence from Manchester confirms this and there are clear health, education and employment inequalities that become more apparent in the most deprived geographical pockets of our region. However, the relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and outcomes is inherently complex. The issue for policymakers is that standalone initiatives are not enough to tackle this and multi-strand approaches are more effective.

Our research

We have worked in partnership with Save the Children (an international children’s charity) to put forward ‘children’s communities’ as a way of addressing socio-economic disadvantage for children living in deprived areas of England. Children’s communities include a partnership between various organisations and agencies in the community (e.g. schools, health services and local government) to ensure the ‘right mix’ of initiatives are used to tackle the specific inequalities facing children in the local community.

Recent developments include a partnership with Save the Children to set up four pilot initiatives across England including two in Greater Manchester. Our responsibility has been for the long term evaluation of these activities and we have employed a ‘theory of change’ approach. This requires the careful planning of the outcomes with the community partners from the outset, and then decisions are made about the mix of interventions that will be required to achieve these.

An example of one of these pilot initiatives is a children’s community set up in Collyhurst in Greater Manchester which is characterised by high rates of unemployment, a loss of a sense of pride in the area and isolation of residents from opportunities in other areas of the city. As such, community partners decided on a strategy to change the image of the area and to instil a sense of pride among young people and residents. An extensive publicity campaign was run which highlighted the positive aspects of living in the area.

Although at an early stage in the evaluation process, initial findings lend tentative support for the impact of children’s communities on socio-economic disadvantage. However, tensions and ambiguities have been identified and the evaluation process has allowed for these to be addressed as they unfold.

The impact

The findings of the research formed a report for Save the Children (an international children’s charity) which will impact on people, organisations and agencies with an interest in socio-economic disadvantage for children and ways to address this. There has also been an authored book reviewing the history of and evidence for area based initiatives and developing a theoretical and practical model to inform their future development. 

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Key people

  • Professor Alan Dyson, Professor of Education, Manchester Institute of Education
  • Dr Kristin Kerr, Senior Lecturer in Education, Manchester Institute of Education