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University works with young people to improve community

28 April 2015

Young people from Merthyr Tydfil dressed in zebra onesies

Young people from Gurnos in Merthyr Tydfil have put forward ideas to improve their community as part of a project involving the University.

They want to ensure that they can walk safely to school, access local amenities easily and socialise with friends.

An action night was organised by participants from Bishop Hedley School and Forsythia Youth Project in which they met senior police and local politicians.

The young people are taking part in a research project, Productive Margins: Regulating for Engagement, and youth leadership programme run by the University and Citizens Cymru Wales.

They are encouraged to discover important issues in their community and turn those issues into actions that bring about change.

Patrycja, 12, of Forsythia Youth Project and a leader of the campaign, said: "I am proud of myself and of the local community for speaking out to these important people.  And it seemed like they really listened and want to help."

Caitlin, 12, also of Forsythia Youth Project and another leader of the campaign, said: "This is the first time I have spoken up in public. I took this step because we are trying to improve safety on a path that my friends and I use every day."

The dignitaries were taken on a tour of the area and shown a subway littered with broken glass and drug paraphernalia, a poorly-lit path used by young people and the dangers of a busy local road.

The participants, who call themselves Gurnos Zebras, told personal stories explaining how they sometimes felt unsafe in their community and why their three-point action plan would help.

The action group is calling for a new zebra crossing, better lighting and the closure of a subway.

Alun Michael, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, was one of those who took part.

He said: "At a time when we hear so many negative things about young people, it is good to see young people from Forsythia Youth Project and Bishop Hedley School taking responsibility for identifying problems and coming up with solutions. They are an inspiration. 

"We listened carefully to what they had to say, and will support the next steps of their campaign."

The issues emerged from dozens of face-to-face conversations with other young people, interviews by University researchers, digital mapping of safety concerns, and a neighbourhood walk to pinpoint local problems.  

The Productive Margins programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, comprises 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.

Dr Eva Elliott, of Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Wellbeing at the University, said: "This action provides a totally different perspective of a community that is often the subject of sensationalist media programmes and stories where the positive powers and assets of people and places go unrecognised. 

"We have a long-term ambition to bring about positive changes in the environment, the economy and public services, led by communities themselves. 

"This longer-term work will be supported by one of Cardiff University's flagship projects, Strong Communities, Healthier People."

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