Cooperation for survival: residents’ perspectives on mutual aid to meet their basic needs in two low-income, post-industrial British neighbourhoods

Katherine Blaker
Katherine Blaker
PhD student
Planning, people and place, Urban inequalities and social justice
Katherine's research explores responses to austerity through cooperation and collaboration in low-income, working-class post-industrial neighbourhoods.

Supervised by Dr Andy Inch and Dr Lee Crookes

This research explores how residents of two low-income, working-class post-industrial neighbourhoods in the north-east of England, respond to and resist the slow crisis of austerity through cooperation and collaboration to meet their families’ basic needs.

Collaboration with community workers and resident co-researchers enabled a participatory action research approach to this work. Their situated knowledges and expertise are shown to be critical for designing and delivering effective research activities, analysing and interpreting data and creating research outputs of meaning to residents, practitioners and the wider community.

This thesis critically considers the role of the two community centres in influencing local cultures of participation; promoting kindness, empathy and trust as a foundation for acts of mutual aid, and supporting the engagement of residents in this research.

The gap between the liberatory and emancipatory ideals of participatory action research and the realities of everyday survival are explored. The degree to which mutual aid is thought of as a politically-informed act of resistance to the forces of austerity, individualisation and neoliberalism by residents is considered.

The intentional building of cultures of participation, practices of mutual aid and the role of participatory action research are discussed as potential people-based strategies to prepare for future crises.

Katherine is an experienced community development worker. She has enjoyed working with and for many different communities across the UK; some place-based, and others communities of interest, such as people living with dementia, young people experiencing mental ill-health and refugee and asylum-seeking communities.

Katherine studied for her undergraduate degree in International Relations, at the University of Hull where she first got involved in community volunteering with newly arrived asylum-seeking children. A sabbatical year as Vice President of the Student Union led to a role leading the national student network, STAR (Student Action for Refugees) where she led on coalition campaigns with Amnesty International, Save the Children and UNHCR for refugee rights in the UK and internationally.

Katherine led a programme of organisational change for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, increasing the participation and visibility of experts by experience in the Foundation’s action research, grant-making and media work.

She is an active member of several community groups in her neighbourhood; managing a public park and campaigning to influence a major brownfield development site.

This PhD is a collaborative study supported by the Town and Country Planning Association and funded by the ESRC.