Developing the role of community groups in local climate resilience: final report of the Urban Heat project

Funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the Urban Heat project examined the potential role of the local voluntary and community sector (VCS) in the development of local climate resilience.

The project focused specifically on urban heatwaves or ‘excess summer or hot weather deaths’ as a key risk that is likely to increase under climate change. This was a novel move in the context of the dominance of research and policy action on flooding, as a climate change issue, and on ‘excess winter or cold weather deaths’, as a public health issue. The project employed an innovative design, based around participatory action research with VCS groups and local policy stakeholders in three London boroughs, complemented by ongoing policy engagement and independent evaluation. The work sought to build capacity and links between VCS groups and local institutions (particularly local authorities) who have a role in addressing heat, and to identify lessons which could be applied more generally.

The final report from the Urban Heat project provides:

  • A compelling, evidence-based analysis of the untapped potential of the VCS to contribute more fully to local planning and practice in climate resilience and emergency planning;
  • A snapshot of the UK ‘heatwave planning’ and ‘community resilience’ national, regional and local policy and practice landscapes;
  • A critical analysis of the current challenges in these landscapes, most importantly: the national policy disconnect between the heatwave planning and community resilience policy domains; a relatively narrow framing of ‘community’ in national community resilience approaches, which tends to underplay the potential of the VCS; a vision of ‘community resilience’ that is over-reliant on the characteristics of floods; and, a worrying lack of attention to long-term spatial planning and adaptation to manage the impacts of climate change across these policy landscapes;
  • An analysis of the ways in which these national challenges are reflected in local practice;
  • Recommendations for change that respond directly to these challenges (including a novel proposed description of community resilience for use in policy and practice);
  • A comprehensive description and critical analysis of the features of the participatory action research, with a focus on what ‘worked’ and what did not;
  • Meaningful evidence of the value to policy stakeholders of participatory, action-based and community-based approaches, and reflections on the ways in which the benefits of such approaches might be better appreciated in policy domains.

The Urban Heat project was implemented by a team led by researchers in Policy Studies Institute, supported by community-action experts in Age UK (East London), South West London Environment Network and Transition Town Tooting, and was evaluated by Resources for Change. The project also benefitted hugely from contributions from our programme manager at JRF, a project advisory board, JRF’s programme advisory network and our sister project in the Scottish Borders.

Urban Heat resources

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Article for the i paper by Dr Kevin Burchell: As the world gets hotter, we need to combat the hidden problem of heatwave deaths, 18 January 2017

Related paper: Heatwave planning: community involvement in coproducing resilience, Ben Fagan-Watson and Kevin Burchell, Building Research & Information, Vol. 44 , Iss. 7, 2016