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Young people positive about Merthyr Tydfil

27 January 2016

 teenagers infront of graffiti wall

Research reveals perceptions of stigmatised locations

Young people in Merthyr Tydfil feel much more positively about their area than recurring negative media representations would suggest, according to new research from Cardiff University.

The research team – consisting of Dr Eva Elliott, Professor Emma Renold, Dr Gareth Thomas, Professor Martin Innes (all Cardiff University School of Social Sciences), and Professor Gabrielle Ivinson (Manchester Metropolitan University) – carried out a collaborative project with young people to map their feelings and experiences of health and wellbeing, place, and regulation in their community.

As part of the project, young people were encouraged to discover important issues in their community and turn those issues into actions that bring about change.

In a new paper, Dr Gareth Thomas explores how young people in Merthyr perceive their own health and wellbeing whilst growing up in a stigmatised location.

Dr Thomas said: “Outside of Merthyr, there is often a stigma attached to the town, thanks largely to problematic government policies and negative media representations promoted in outlets like the recent television documentary Skint. This means that the positive powers and assets of young people frequently go unrecognised. We wanted to work with young people in Merthyr to explore their own broad sense of health and wellbeing with this backdrop of place-based stigma”.

The paper is based on interviews conducted with 14-15 year olds in Merthyr. It highlights that many young people urge for a more balanced account of life in the town, describing the many benefits of living in Merthyr including the activities on offer, the close-knit community, and a strong sense of belonging.

Dr Thomas said: “The young people we spoke to were mostly very positive about their lives in Merthyr and some scorned the media and others for presenting negative images of their hometown. Many of them discussed their positive sense of health and wellbeing by pointing to the public resources available, friendly residents, family alliances, the town’s rich history, and the open landscape.”

However, Dr Thomas also argues that place-based stigma may still affect the health of young Merthyr residents in various ways. For instance, being stigmatised may be stressful and detrimental to the life chances of young people whilst also affecting their access to resources to counter that stress. He claims that place-based stigma can also weaken progressive social policies by countering efforts to challenge inequality and by limiting access to material resources that can improve population health.

He adds: “Merthyr’s council is being urged to save £15.3m over four years [from 2014] by cutting services such as education, transport, youth centres, and social care for older people. These cuts are shaping policies and practices in ways that may worsen young people’s health, both in the near and distant future.”

This research is part of the Productive Margins programme. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, it involves community organisations and social enterprises in South Wales and Bristol, and academics from Cardiff University and the University of Bristol. 

Working with academics from different disciplines, community partners, and artists, the programme aims to release the creativity, knowledge, and passions of people often at the margins of decision-making and power to co-produce new forms of research, engagement, and decision making.

“‘It’s not that bad’: Stigma, health and place in a post-industrial community” is published in the journal Health & Place. It is currently available on open-access from the journal’s website here.