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Projects will explore integration and resilience

Published: 10 August 2022 at 11:30

River and hills

ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute to look at impact of nature on integration

A new study co-led by Dr Davide Natalini of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) is exploring the role of the natural environment in the integration of migrants into UK communities.

The two-year project brings together evidence from previous studies, integration initiatives and creative practice, alongside innovative new place-based research in urban, peri-urban, and rural sites across the UK. It will result in the creation of policy and practice tools that support engagement with the natural environment as a resource for developing inclusive, connected communities.

The Nuffield Foundation, in collaboration with the British Academy, has awarded £1.1 million to six research teams that will inform policy and practice on how communities can improve social well-being across the UK. As part of the Understanding Communities Scheme, £199,350 was awarded to deliver the project, entitled Nature-based integration: Connecting communities with/in the natural environment.

Dr Natalini of Anglia Ruskin University, Kingston School of Art’s Dr Azadeh Fatehrad, and Dr Caitlin Nunn of Manchester Metropolitan University will conduct the study in collaboration with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, and other local and national partners.

Dr Azadeh Fatehrad said the idea for the research had, in part, been inspired by the Covid pandemic and the vital impact green spaces had on her while in partial lockdown. Dr Fatehrad said:

“Collectively, as a nation, we realised during Covid just how important the physical environment around us is to our wellbeing and sense of place.

“We wanted to explore how we can use parks, woodlands and rivers as areas of integration, focusing on the various processes of interaction and adaptation when migrants arrive and begin carving out a new life in a different country.”

The research team will first create a framework of existing knowledge, then, working with communities in three case study locations, produce deep maps – a multi-layered mapping approach that involves capturing the contextual experience of a place – of nature-based integration for each site.

Anglia Ruskin University academic Dr Natalini said the project had been developed with interdisciplinarity and co-production at its heart. 

Dr Natalini, of ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“The project is built on our individual strengths, and, most importantly, shared passion to support community development and the natural environment. Our collaboration will yield novel insights on how nature can support integration.”

With 14 percent of residents born overseas, including the project team, migrants comprise a significant portion of UK society. The natural environment can offer valuable opportunities for establishing belonging in local places and communities and improving health and wellbeing. The research project aims to evidence and support this.

Dr Caitlin Nunn of Manchester Metropolitan University emphasised the importance of the natural environment. Dr Nunn said:

“It is a powerful resource for migrant integration, with the potential to foster connections to places, practices, and communities. While this is increasingly recognised in research and practice, it is yet to be realised in UK policy.”

Dr Natalini will also take part in a second project as part of the same programme, funded by the Nuffield Foundation in collaboration with the British Academy called “Rural assets: policy and practice insights from the devolved nations”, looking at how the administrations in England and the devolved nations develop and apply policy targeting rural areas. 

This research will bring together policymakers, practitioners, and rural communities to share best practice across the four UK nations and help develop effective policies to respond to challenges and strengthen rural communities. A particular focus will the way in which the acquisition of local assets, such as land and buildings, is promoted as a means of community empowerment.