URBAN HEAT: community-led resilience to urban heatwaves

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Local climate resilient futures: action research and evaluation programme)


January 2015 to June 2016

PSI researchers:

Kevin Burchell

Ben Fagan-Watson

Tom Watson

Background, summary and aims

This project is now complete and the final report was published on 1 February 2017. For details of the findings and to read the full report, executive summary, bibliography and other resources, click here.

Due to climate change, UK heatwaves are expected to become more frequent. Owing to its location and size, London is particularly vulnerable. The notion of ‘community resilience’ – an ongoing process of communities working with local resources and expertise to help themselves and others to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies – has recently been adopted in national and local heatwave plans. However, the roles of community and voluntary groups, and residents, in developing and implementing community resilience are not well articulated in these plans.

Within this context, the aim of URBAN HEAT is to support and inform transformative strategic development in the context of UK resilience to heatwaves in urban areas. The objectives of URBAN HEAT are:

  1. To directly develop local resilience to heatwaves, particularly among the most vulnerable, by creating bridges between community groups and local institutions, and by integrating community-led and institutional responses.
  2. To examine the ways in which existing local social networks – for example, those relating to older people, disabled people, sustainability, faith, residents’ associations – can support this development.
  3. To draw conclusions (including a tool kit of key guidance) that can create long term impact or legacy, informing transformative strategic responses and specific actions in this domain at local, regional and national scales.
  4. To further develop the concept of community-led resilience, with emphasis on: the similarities and differences between resilience to heatwaves and other hazards; relationships with concepts such as social networks and social capital; and, the ways in which community resilience might be measured (e.g. building on measures of social capital and vulnerability).
  5. To draw upon the community resilience to heatwaves literature in other country contexts.

Project design

URBAN HEAT will be led by Kevin Burchell (Senior Research Fellow) and Ben Fagan-Watson (Research Fellow) in PSI. The project draws on action research, emphasising: literature review, action and research, mutual learning, change, and disseminating conclusions that can be generally applied. Maximising the latter, the project will consist of three case studies, all focusing on areas of London in which disadvantage is relatively high and sizeable ethnic minority populations are present:

  1. Inner London (Dalston, Hackney), working with Age UK (East London).
  2. Between inner London and the outer suburbs (Tooting, Wandsworth), working with Transition Town Tooting.
  3. Suburban London (Ivybridge housing estate, Hounslow), working with South West London Environment Network.

Five work packages will be replicated in each of the three case studies.

Work package 1: Local and regional institutional scoping and relationship building
Work package 2: Developing approaches to community-led resilience.
Work package 3: Interviews with vulnerable people.
Work package 4: Integrating community-led approaches with institutional responses.
Work package 5: Implementing actions, creating impact and legacy
The project consists of two further work packages:
Work package 6: Analysis and report
Work package 7: Independent evaluation by Resources for Change.

Importance of the research

URBAN HEAT is potentially transformative for UK policy and practice because it appears to be the first UK project to specifically focus on community-led resilience to heatwaves and to draw on international literatures in this domain. Policy and practice relevance will be maximised through: early scoping and relationship-building with local and regional (London) institutions, the three case-study approach, work to support long-term local impact and legacy, and the production of a policy- and practice-focused final report and summary. The research will also be the subject of an ongoing independent evaluation by Resources for Change.

Reflecting this, during development of the project, more than 25 local community groups agreed to participate in URBAN HEAT, as well as the relevant teams in the London boroughs of Hackney, Hounslow and Wandsworth, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Defra, DECC, the Greater London Assembly, the London Climate Change Partnership and Public Health England.

Further information

For any enquiries about this project, contact Kevin Burchell.

Related publications / project outputs

Heatwave planning: community involvement in co-producing resilience