Dr Jo Birch

Jo Birch PhD

Research Associate

Room 10.08 Floor 10, The Arts Tower

email : joanna.birch@sheffield.ac.uk
Blog: sola-blog.com
Research Cluster: Place, Inclusion and Equity
Twitter: @_JoBirch



I am an interdisciplinary researcher with a passion for learning about people, space and place interactions, especially in the context nature or natural environments. My work is not bounded by a single academic tradition but draws on disciplines and methodologies which best serve diversity and inclusivity.

Dr Jo Birch


Beginning as a geographer, I have worked within and across many disciplines exploring how people’s lives are spatial, material and place-based. I studied for a BA(Hons) degree at The University of Warwick, then worked as a teacher before completing a PhD at Durham University in Environmental Education. Through the course of my research, I have come to view relationships between people and the natural non-human world as important in their mutual wellbeing. My aim is to bring these relationships to the attention of those working within academic, professional and community contexts.

Currently, I’m Research Associate with Clare Rishbeth on a project headed by Anna Jorgensen: Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (2016-2019) Joint UK Research Councils. My role attends to how urban residents from diverse backgrounds (especially differentiated by age, gender, ethnicity and mental health service use) narrate their own histories and values of contact and connectedness with nature and health and wellbeing.

Research Interests

  • Urban nature
  • Wellbeing
  • Experience and construction of place and space
  • Spatial Co-Design
  • Children and young people
  • Life course
  • New Materialism
  • Qualitative and creative research methods.

Threaded throughout my research interests is a curiosity in developing qualitative, ethically sensitive and creative research methods. I am interested in how personal story and narrative can complement other sets of data to influence action and change.

I have worked with a wide variety of stakeholders including fishermen, paediatricians, architects, teachers, wildlife conservationists, asylum seekers and people with mental health difficulties. Much of what I do involves of children and young people. I seek to understand the spaces they need and value, to recognise them as agents of their own lives and of wider social change.

Funded Research

As Research Associate/ Senior Research Associate:

Urban Nature and Wellbeing
IWUN. Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature: integrating green/blue infrastructure and health service valuation and delivery. (2016-2019) Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, The Arts and Humanities Research Council. Principal Investigator Anna Jorgensen. Co-Investigators for Work Package 2: Clare Rishbeth, Brendan Stone, Sarah Payne. University of Sheffield

Children and spatial design
Children Transforming Spatial Design: Creative Encounters with Children (2013-2016) Leverhulme Trust. Principal Investigator: Rosie Parnell. University of Sheffield

Children and health care spaces
Space to Care: Children’s Perceptions of Hospital Spaces.
2005-2007) Economic and Social Research Council. Principal Investigator: Penny Curtis, Co-Investigator: Allison James. University of Sheffield

Livelihoods and environmental perception in wetland environments
IMEW. Integrated Management of European Wetlands. EU Fifth Framework Project. (2001-2004) Principal Investigator: Sandra Bell. Senior Research Associate on a cross cultural study carried out in four countries: Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Romania. University of Durham.

Environmental education
Commissioned Review: Education Work of The Wildlife Trusts (1998-1999) Principal Investigator: Joy Palmer-Cooper. University of Durham

Environmental Education and the NGO: a case study of The Wildlife Trusts (1998-2003) funded postdoctoral research. University of Durham.

As Research Assistant / Consultant:
Young immigrants’ perspectives on the health impact of migration (2016)

Using historical material to explore health professionals’ perceptions and experiences of issues surrounding childbirth and health University of Sheffield (2016)

Cultural and Arts-Based Approaches to Enhancing Inter-Generational Relations, University of Sheffield. (2011)

Funded research awards

ESRC Festival of Social Science Feeling Good in a Green City: public engagement fund University of Sheffield £1000 (2017)
Researcher Development programme, Think Ahead Programme, University of Sheffield (£3500) (2015)



  • Birch J & Palmer J (2004) Geography in the Early Years. Routledge. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles


  • James A, Curtis P & Birch J (2007) Care and control in the construction of children’s citizenship In Williams JM & Invernizzi A (Ed.), Children and Citizenship London: Sage Publications Ltd. View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Birch JC & Palmer JA (2005) Changing Academic Perspectives in Environmental Education: From Within and Outside the Field In Johnson EA & Mappin MJ (Ed.), Environmental Education or Advocacy: Perspectives of Ecology and Education in Environmental Education (pp. 114-137). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. RIS download Bibtex download