Coastal communities at the heart of research

The University of Hull’s commitment to working with, and to the benefit of, local and coastal communities continues with new projects bringing creative community engagement to people in Skipsea and Cowden.

This forms part of our wider objectives to work more closely and collaboratively with other organisations, partners and communities who already live and work in coastal areas. This includes highlighting and sharing the important and often overlooked life stories and experiences of those living along the East Riding coastline.

Working with partners from the newly funded East Riding Coastal Transition Accelerator Project (CTAP), academic researchers and PhD students from the Energy and Environment Institute organised two informal drop-in workshops in November 2023. Local residents were invited to share their experiences of coastal change, putting their stories onto large-scale printed maps, and sharing photographs and memories of the changing local coastline. 

In doing so we built on the ‘learning histories’ approach we previously utilised in our Risky Cities project. By drawing on individual experiences and collective histories we are able to generate discussions that drive climate awareness, action and resilience. 

Coastal communities pic 1
Workshop participants overlay their stories and local maps

Building on the legacies of previous projects in Withernsea and Skipsea, we wanted to better understand what people’s stories could tell us about how communities can be supported by academic researchers working on coastal change. By putting community needs at the start of the research design process we hope to better serve our local communities as part of our University-wide commitment to being a positive civic organisation in the region.

We wanted to hear and amplify the voices of those who are seldomly heard, who are most exposed to the effects of coastal erosion and who have tried to overcome the challenges by building on the knowledge that has been shared over generations. As academic researchers this also makes our work more likely to have real-world impacts, which is something that we are deeply committed to at the Energy and Environment Institute and in our partnership with the Yorkshire & Humber Policy Engagement Research Network (Y-PERN). From our previous work on the Risky Cities project, we know that building strong, lasting relationships with communities is really important for delivering research that makes a difference. It is also important for the Coastal Transition Accelerator Project that local voices inform their work to increase community resilience.

Coastal communities pic 2
Workshop participant looks through local photographs

Participants shared testimonies, images and family albums they have kept over the years. They told us their stories and what matters, worries them, and what they have learned from their experience of living along the coast. From years of neighbours watching parts of the coastline change and houses, shops and farms come and go; to memories of walking dogs along the beach and increasingly difficult access to the shoreline as entryways are washed away; to a cow falling over the cliff edge and walking up the beach to be rescued further north.

These stories highlight the social, historical and physical impacts of erosion and how experiences of change, loss and hope are encountered at an everyday level. They express a need to remember and support the voices of those most affected, with many participants expressing their frustration those who had lost the most were often those also having to pay for demolition of unsafe properties.

Coastal communities pic 3
Workshop participants review historic aerial photographs

We plan that these creative workshops will form part of our continued engagement with partners and communities on the east coast – as we scale up our community engagement work across East Riding and continue to develop community led knowledge of the coast.

Originally posted on the University of Hull