Collaborative research into people’s resilience and community engagement led to a Blackpool-based resilience initiative creating 40 jobs and five training apprenticeships, the launch of a new branch of a social enterprise and key input to the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Audit and the Women’s Empowerment Fund.


  • The resilience research from the Imagine project formed the basis of HeadStart, a £10.4 million Big Lottery Fund grant that has created 40 jobs. HeadStart is developing the 'Resilience Revolution' – resilience-building ideas and practices co-developed with young people through schools and local community initiatives, as well as workforce training in Resilient Therapy throughout Blackpool.
  • The research led to the set-up of a new branch of the Brighton-based social enterprise Boingboing in Blackpool, headed by Imagine co-investigator Angie Hart. Boingboing works with children and families to help them build resilience.
  • In preparing the Race Disparity Audit the Cabinet Office consulted Imagine researchers about their work. This input was "fundamental to shaping the Race Disparity Audit", according to the Cabinet Office.
  • The research team provided important evidence to the former Department for Communities and Local Government for the development of the department’s Women's Empowerment Fund. The research evidence led to the inclusion of arts-based approaches and cross-community work in the fund’s remit.

About the research

The research project 'Imagine – connecting communities through research' was a five-year ESRC-funded project (2013-2017) that brought together academic researchers from a range of disciplines with various UK community partners to study people’s involvement in civic life. It explored the changing nature of communities of place, identity and interest, different forms of community-building and activism, and the use of arts and humanities as a means of engagement.

A key feature of the work was the co-production of research by academics and community partners to create new knowledge and understanding. A wide range of partners participated, including museums and galleries, charities, national organisations and local community-based organisations.

"Co-producing research has enabled us to develop methodologies that include voices and perspectives that uncover different forms of engagement, whether this be with groups of Muslim women, young people, people with complex needs or diverse groups within community settings," says Professor Pahl. "Community research teams are an essential part of this way of working, as they're able to set priorities that are important to them."

The researchers focused on four areas of civic engagement: social (people from different backgrounds coming together to explore resilience-based approaches to cope with challenging life situations); historical (exploring changing conditions and attitudes in three local communities over time); cultural (using arts to help communities explore their past and develop a vision of the future); and democratic (using emerging knowledge about communities to provide a platform for ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups).