Participatory appraisal in South Tyneside neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood appraisal and action planning in South Tyneside: piloting a participatory appraisal approach


South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council is collaborating with Northumbria University on an innovative programme of neighbourhood appraisal and action plan development. It is piloting a participatory appraisal (PA) approach to this work in three neighbourhoods.

Participatory appraisal is a community-based approach to consultation. It prioritises the views and attitudes of local people, as experts in their own neighbourhood. The developing approach and ‘model' is designed to enable local people to identify solutions to issues facing the community. It provides a mechanism for them to establish positive relationships with key service providers. It allows them to remain actively involved in the planning, delivery and monitoring of these solutions.


South Tyneside is a metropolitan district in Tyne and Wear in the northeast of England. It has a population of 152,785.

The area has an extensive deprivation problem according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004. Of 71 residential neighbourhoods, 19 are among the most deprived 10 per cent super output areas in the county. South Tyneside has a combined community strategy, neighbourhood renewal strategy and local area agreement (April 2006). This sets out a commitment to cover all of these neighbourhoods with an action plan or neighbourhood management initiative by the end of 2008/09.

South Tyneside is eligible for:

  • Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF)
  • Safer and Stronger Communities Fund - neighbourhood and ‘cleaner, safer, greener' elements

Key issues/problems

The programme of neighbourhood appraisal and action planning responds primarily to the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. This indicates that an area's broad neighbourhood renewal strategy should be backed up by detailed action plans at the neighbourhood level. Relevant government reports include ‘Firm foundations: the Government's framework for capacity building' (2004) and ‘Citizen engagement in public services: why neighbourhoods matter' (2005). These have highlighted:

"the role that local action plans can play in involving citizens and community groups and giving them confidence to influence their quality of life and shape the services that affect them".

In 2003 the council established an area coordination team to develop its approach to area and neighbourhood working. The council believes neighbourhood working will:

  • improve coordination of services and partnership working by encouraging cross-service approaches
  • improve the quality of decision making by using the skills and expert knowledge of the people who know the neighbourhood
  • provide targeted services that are based on the different needs within neighbourhoods rather than a ‘one size fits all' approach
  • help focus on those neighbourhoods that require most attention
  • increase value for money by pooling resources, reducing duplication and promoting greater cost effectiveness

In 2004 the council and local strategic partnership (LSP) agreed to pilot neighbourhood action planning in six priority neighbourhoods. An NRF grant was secured to pilot a participatory appraisal approach in three of these. The neighbourhoods were Horsley Hill, Biddick Hall and Lukes Lane.

All neighbourhoods are in the worst 10 per cent for deprivation. Two members of the team attended training arranged by Northumbria University's Participatory Evaluation and Appraisal in Newcastle upon Tyne (PEANuT) project. A partnership involved the council, PEANuT and the South Tyneside Resource for Initiating Development of the Economy (STRIDE). This partnership developed the proposals for taking forward the pilot work.

What the council did

Participatory appraisal

The pilot programme was based on the principles and practice of participatory appraisal. This is one of a growing family of participatory approaches recognised as taking a 'whole community approach' to action research. It has been widely used in the southern hemisphere for working with rural communities in developing countries. In the northeast, participatory appraisal has been used to look at issues including:

  • drugs
  • crime
  • barriers to employment
  • graffiti
  • financial inclusion
  • education

Participatory appraisal starts from the position that people are experts in their own lives. Developments should respond to the needs and preferences of the people changes will affect. The end point is putting into action a set of solutions identified by local people.

So participatory appraisal moves away from the problem frame - how bad it is for the community - to the solution frame - how the community would like it to be. This approach produces more motivation and desire for change.

Participatory appraisal uses visual and flexible tools such as maps, spider diagrams and charts. The process is interactive which enables people from all backgrounds and abilities to get involved.

The pilots involved recruiting, training and supporting teams of people who were predominantly residents. In each neighbourhood the team undertook a community appraisal. They worked with other stakeholders to develop a neighbourhood action plan.

The process has a number of phases, which are:

  • preparation, recruitment to the participatory appraisal team and orientation - teams were a mixture of residents and patch-based workers, for example community health workers, estate housing officers
  • training - a mixture of learning and doing, and learning by doing - focused on the background and philosophy behind participatory appraisal, and how to use tools and techniques
  • phase 1, street work (data collection) - the team went out to locations, such as local shops and schools, and asked residents for their likes and dislikes and what they would change
  • phase 1, clustering - sorting the information collected into themes
  • phase 2, training and street work planning
  • phase 2, street work (solutions collection) - the team went out again to ask the community for solutions to issues identified
  • training and planning for stakeholder events
  • stakeholder events - telling all stakeholders about the findings of the appraisal work
  • pre-action planning training and planning
  • action planning meetings - facilitated meetings between residents and stakeholders to discuss solutions and identify possible ways forward
  • neighbourhood action planning based on this work

PEANuT trains the participatory appraisal team. Training takes place at several stages of the process.

A primary aim of the process is to produce realistic and deliverable neighbourhood action plans. These should be based on a strong understanding of the needs and aspirations of residents. They should also have the buy-in of all stakeholders.

Key outcomes

Participatory appraisal has proved to be a powerful methodology for engaging residents in neighbourhood appraisal and action planning. Residents have gained in confidence and their ability and skills to participate in neighbourhood renewal. Residents from the pilot areas are now helping the council to encourage residents in other areas.

The project engaged with:

  • two existing residents' groups
  • a number of residents experiencing worklessness and social exclusion such as single parents, asylum seekers
  • older people and people suffering from poor health

In the first year of the project 36 people took part in the training.

The methodology has enabled us to access the views of a very diverse range of people in communities, including hard-to-reach groups. A substantial amount of data on the three pilot neighbourhoods has been collected in a database. This has given the research an essential robustness.

The neighbourhood action planning process has now been completed in one of the pilot areas - the Horsley Hill Estate. The neighbourhood action plan for Horsley Hill sets out key targets and actions on a thematic basis. It is due to be launched in September 2006. A formal neighbourhood partnership is being established for the estate. This includes ward members, representatives from the residents' association and service providers.

Interim reports have been produced for the other two neighbourhoods. These set out the key findings of the neighbourhood appraisal work. Action plans are due by the end of the year.


Horsley Hill Case Study

The Horsley Hill Estate has a population of 1,600 people. It consists of 660 houses which are 71 per cent council-owned. The 2004 Index of Multiple Deprivation shows that the super output area that covers most of the estate is in the most deprived 2.5 per cent in England.

The participatory appraisal process started in the area in March 2005. The team carried out over 600 resident interviews and over 1,400 responses were received and analysed. The residents involved contributed more than 1,300 hours of volunteer time to the project. The participatory appraisal group identified 12 vision themes which have formed the basis of action plan development.

The community appraisal was published in early December 2005. The neighbourhood action plan was developed over the first six months of 2006 and is about to be launched. The overall period - from initial training to action plan completion - could be reduced to about a year months. Planning for the rollout of neighbourhood action planning in 2006/07 is based on this assumption.


While the action plan for the estate has only recently been finalised, many improvements have already been made as a result of the appraisal and action planning process.

A community safety action group was established and there has already been a marked decrease in anti-social behaviour.

Some important quick environmental wins have happened, including:

  • improvements to the maintenance of gardens of empty properties
  • the removal of wheelie bins from empty properties
  • the replacement of brown shutters with clear plastic
  • a noticeable improvement in the cleanliness of the estate
  • Groundwork South Tyneside is delivering a low-cost gardening project

A local community group, Spirit in the Community was supported to secure £7,000. This enabled them to run a weekly term-time club for 5-11 year olds at Cheviot School for 12 months.

Citizens Advice Bureau and the Credit Union is to offer outreach services from the housing office.

Residents involved in the project have grown in confidence since the outset of the process. They recently received the Best Community Group Award in the LSP's annual ‘Pride of South Tyneside' Awards.

Local councillors have found the whole initiative beneficial. Relationships with the residents association have improved. The work undertaken has given councillors more information and leverage to be advocates for the neighbourhood. Councillors have been involved in working groups. They will sit on the formal neighbourhood partnership that is now being established.

Communication with residents has improved as a result of regular neighbourhood newsletters, for example. The council and the estate has benefited from excellent local and national publicity as a result of this work.


The total cost of the project in 2005/06 was just under £120,000. This covered:

  • project coordinator
  • PEANuT training
  • beneficiary
  • project support
  • video production
  • Flexible Training Fund
  • insurance for volunteers

Who was involved?

South Tyneside contracted PEANuT ( ) to provide participatory appraisal training to residents and facilitate each of the pilots.

The council's area coordination team coordinated the project. The council employed a full-time project coordinator to manage delivery. Area partnership coordinators have worked with residents to ensure effective delivery of the programme. They are responsible for drafting the neighbourhood action plan. They also get agencies to engage in the action planning process. Other patch-based workers have also been important.

STRIDE were involved in the project steering group. Some of their staff worked with the participatory appraisal teams.

Ward councillors fully supported the work and at times provided practical assistance. For example by:

  • supporting Community Area Forum Grant applications
  • communicating residents' views to directorates
  • helping to resolve problems that have arisen on the ground

Barriers and how were they overcome

Securing buy-in across services and partners to neighbourhood working has required significant effort and is ongoing.

Critical success factors

Support from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund paid for:

  • specialist trainers from PEANuT
  • a neighbourhood appraisals coordinator
  • beneficiary costs

The area partnership coordinators played an important role in supporting resident involvement and securing involvement from agencies in the action planning process.

The multi-agency steering group has been useful to oversee the process. It has added value to the project. An example of this is that the University has conducted an evaluation of the project.

Implementing quick wins has been important in maintaining resident enthusiasm.

It is important to ensure local councillors are kept informed and are supportive of the process is important.

Choosing the right areas for the participatory appraisal approach is essential.

Important factors for success include:

  • existing resident involvement, for example through an effective resident group
  • a local base, such as a community house
  • previous community development work and pre-existing relationships between residents and council officers

It is necessary to consider the timing of the work because the research phases involve extensive street work.

How could it be done better?

PEANuT evaluated the pilots and flagged up issues which should be taken into account in the rollout of this model to other neighbourhoods. For example, more extensive preparatory work - including community development work - is needed in neighbourhoods before the process begins.

A community development partnership has recently been established in the borough. This is made up of the council and various voluntary sector organisations. It has secured funding to employ a team of community development workers. They will focus on neighbourhoods where action planning is taking place or planned.

A DVD highlighting the Horsley Hill participatory appraisal project is available from the council's area coordination team.

Key contact

Alan Richardson
Area Coordination Team Leader
Neighbourhood Services Directorate
South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council
Town Hall and Civic Offices
Westoe Road
NE33 2RL

telephone: (0191) 424 7573