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Health and wellbeing

Three key learnings from our pride in place and identity seminar

The latest event in Local Trust’s series of research seminars, ‘Pride in Place’: Why is identifying with the place you live important?, saw three academic researchers come together to discuss how people identify with and take pride in the places where they live. Here Steven Barclay, policy researcher at Local Trust, shares three key takeaways from the seminar.

The government has made improving pride in place one of the ‘missions’ of their Levelling Up agenda. However, there is a lively debate ongoing about what exactly we mean by pride in place and identity, especially in more disadvantaged areas. 

We brought together the academics Mhairi Bowe (Nottingham Trent University) who works in the field of social psychology, Michael Howcroft (University of Glasgow) who works in urban studies, and Khalilah Zakariya (International Islamic University of Malaysia) who works in landscape architecture, to discuss their thoughts and findings. 

Please note, we recognise that pride in place and identity are different terms for similar concepts in different disciplines. They are largely used interchangeably throughout this article. 

Here are three key learnings from the event. 

1. Pride in place is a powerful force – but it is difficult to measure

Michael Howcroft told us about the results of his research into residents’ feelings about the places where they live, carried out in a number of locations in the UK. Feelings about a place are mixed and nuanced, and difficult to objectively measure.  

Michael argued that some of the measures proposed for pride in place by the government such as the percentage of people who perceive anti-social behaviour as a problem, or the percentage of the local population engaged with cultural, heritage and sport activities, don’t really get to reflect what people feel.  

Michael found that people in the Southampton estate of Harefield, which was one of the places he studied, did not like the idea of civic pride. They associated it with the city of Southampton, which they did not feel part of. 

In Hull, following its year as the European city of culture in 2017, Michael found that there was a kind of ‘negative’ pride in place. Residents to some extent embraced and bonded over the stigmatisation of their town. They saw part of their identity as rebellious and renegade and were proud of it.  

But, in general, Michael found that the residents living in the places he studied did not really understand or agree with the idea of pride in place or civic pride, very much calling into question the possibility of having a universal measure of it. To illustrate this further, the film ‘How Proud?’ was made by Annlin Chao and Ella Frears as part of the same project, exploring the complexities of pride in place in the context of austerity. 

Michael and his colleagues have launched a policy brief series. They recommend: 

  • issuing guidelines for people to define pride for themselves 
  • that we understand pride from within places 
  • that we have a holistic understanding of people’s collective experience. 

2. Identities of redeveloped places can change – but can retain a sense of community

A place gets its identity from the meanings that people give to it. Khalilah Zakariya researched residents’ feelings about ‘Heroes Field’ in central Melaka. This place has changed its function several times over the centuries, from a fortification to a training ground, to the site of Malaysia’s declaration of independence in 1957, to a place for street sellers and recreation.  

It was recently redeveloped, with commercial developments built and the open area raised. Khalilah found that as the way people used the space changed, their feelings about it also changed, but traces of its historical importance were still tangible to people. 

Another case Khalilah investigated was the renovation of the Pasar Payang market in Terengganu, which was a 1960s market building well used by its residential community.  

The community had a sense of emotional commitment to the market, based on familiarity and interaction with the stall holders, some of whom had been there for many years. Stall holders looked out for their customers and for each other, and were part of an ecosystem serving local restaurants.  

Khalilah found that, despite the renovation, because the stall holders were the same, the market was still able to fulfill the needs of the community, and its meaning to them did not fundamentally change. 

3. Engaging with your community is good for your health

Mhairi Bowe uses human geography and social psychology to understand how the social dimensions of a place relate to health, wellbeing and behavioural outcomes. Her message was that the centre of people’s support networks are places and communities. 

It has been demonstrated in a number of contexts that being a member of a group is important for health and wellbeing. Mhairi found that people who volunteer to take part in groups identify more with their community. In turn this predicts pro-social behaviours and social support more generally, and it has a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes.  

People’s motivations for joining groups were not necessarily place-based – groups were usually based around interests (shared values or activities) rather than just places. However, volunteering usually entails a place-based element and people justified their volunteering by referring to their community in general.  

Mhairi also looked specifically into loneliness – a problem increasingly understood to be a serious public health issue. In Nottingham, Mhairi and colleagues found that loneliness was linked to mental ill health and to increased GP visits and use of primary care. It was more common in people who were socio-economically marginalised.  

When these people were socially prescribed volunteering in local groups, they gradually built confidence, and these good experiences led to more engagement.  

A reduction in loneliness would ease pressure on primary care services. Therefore, identifying with a community is crucial for service delivery, sustaining pro-social behaviour and for health interventions and their success.  

Pride in place and Big Local

Pride in place, in its complexity, its ability to change, but also its importance to health and wellbeing, is a vital issue and one which the Big Local programme prioritises.   

Local Trust has explored aspects of pride in place and identity in its research, including in the independent multimedia evaluation Our Bigger Story. You can also: 


About the author
Steven Barclay

Steven Barclay is a policy researcher at Local Trust