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Current Projects

Participatory Research Innovation and Learning Lab.

This project involved a series of workshops during March-June 2022 for Durham University researchers and members of community, voluntary and other organisations. The aim was to enhance learning about participatory research (PR), share experiences, pursue innovative ideas and practices and consider how university systems and procedures might need to change to facilitate PR.  A report has been produced outlining the process of the workshops and identifying areas of good practice and recommendations for improved institutional systems at Durham University to support participatory research. A toolkit is under development offering guidance about specific innovative methods and approaches developed by participants in the Lab. 

Summary report of the PRILL project:

Durham Community Research Team (2022) Realising the potential of participatory research at Durham University and beyond: Piloting a Participatory Research Innovation and Learning Lab (PRILL), CSJCA, Durham University, Durham, UK

Ethical challenges for social workers during Covid-19 and beyond

Sarah Banks (Durham University, Coordinator), along with fellow members of the Social Work Ethics Research Group, worked in partnership with the International Federation of Social Workers to conduct an international survey on ethical challenges for social workers during Covid-19. The survey was conducted in May 2020, and received 607 responses from 54 countries. A small grant was received for this work from Durham University (UK) ESRC Impact Acceleration Account. Presentations and workshops have been held worldwide (online) to discuss this research (from New Zealand to Iran). Members of the group are now looking at ethical challenges post-Covid-19, and the group is involved as a partner in planning a people’s summit, Co-building a new eco-social world: leaving no one behind, to be held online, 29 June-1 July 2022. For further details of the research contact:  Various publications have been produced from the research, including:

International outputs

UK outputs (based on analysis of the UK survey responses, in partnership with British Association of Social Workers)


Empowering Social Workers in Challenging Times: Learning from Best Practice during Covid-19

Sui Ting Kong, Deputy Director of CSJCA and Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Durham University, has received ESRC IAA funding (£9590) for a collaborative project between academics from the CSJCA and practitioner-researchers from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) (who has also contributed £5000 to funding the project).

The project aims to identify best practice and ethical and practical challenges facing social work during covid-19 through collaborative work. The project set up the first BASW UK Practitioner Research Network (the Network) in August 2020 to collaborate with academics from Durham University in analysing the data collected from BASW’s Ongoing Survey on Social Work during COVID-19 (link, referred to as ‘BASW survey’ hereafter).

Sui-Ting Kong co-leads this project with Jane Shears, Head of Professional Development and Education, from BASW. A total number of 14 social work practitioner researchers have been recruited to the Network, and 6 of them (Angelica Quintana, Cherryl Pharoah, Diane Wills, Kerry Sildatke, Wendy Roberts and Vyomesh Thanki) worked very closely with Durham academic researchers (Catrin Noone, Evgenia Stepanova, Helen Charnley, Roger Smith, Sarah Banks and Susan Hawkes) to produce a timely report on social workers’ experience during COVID-19 and their challenges and best practice. They have also produced evidence submitted to the parliamentary inquiry on supporting the vulnerable during lockdown. Catrin Noone and Evgenia Stepanova are our project researchers who have been supporting the development of the training and the preparation of the data for collaborative analysis.



Figure 1 cover of final report

As part of the ESRC IAA grant, the first phase of the project included structured training sessions on social work practitioner research, co-production and collaborative analysis. In those sessions, social work practitioner researchers talked about their training needs and expectations for the next phase of practitioner-academic collaboration.

In the second phase of the project, practitioner researchers teamed up with Durham academic researchers to co-analyse the 2222 responses collected from the BASW survey. They formed small working groups to co-produce the final report, a practice toolkit and a discussion paper to

  • enable learning from best practice for tackling professional ethical and practical challenges;
  • advocate for better protection, recognition and support for social workers; and
  • explore the professional future that social workers envision at the transition to post-COVID-19 society


The project group contributed to two national webinars organised by BASW to talk about the human rights issues arising from social workers’ practice during COVID-19 and the report findings.



The project is now entering its third phase which will focus on the evaluation of the collaborative learning model that the project has developed. We are keen to learn together and seek ways to make social work knowledge production practically grounded and research-informed. To reach this goal, we need a model of collaboration and co-production that brings practice and research closer to each other that enables constructive dialogues to transcend differences into diversity in strengths.

For further information please contact ; and if you are interested in joining the BASW UK Social Work Practitioner Research Network please contact

Youth engagement and skills acquisition within Africa’s transport sector (gender)

For further information contact: Prof. Gina Porter

Women in Africa face substantial discrimination in the transport sector, both as transport users and as transport sector employees. This affects their wider access to work, education and training in every sector. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional pressures on women’s mobility have further exacerbated these constraints. Relevant skills acquisition, at an early age, is essential if women are to break through such barriers.

This research project, “Youth engagement and skills acquisition within Africa’s transport sector: promoting a gender agenda towards transition into meaningful work”, aims to explore and help address these challenges. It is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund [GCRF] and was awarded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC]. The grant runs from 1st December 2018 to 30th November 2021.

The study focus is on young women and girls of low socio-economic status living in less accessible locations of three cities: Abuja (Nigeria); Cape Town (South Africa) and Tunis (Tunisia). In each city region, our field research is focused principally on one peri-urban neighbourhood and one city-connected settlement beyond the city boundary. Through the research (which encompasses diverse modes of transport, including walking as well as non-motorised and motorised vehicles) we aim to produce gender-sensitive transport/travel-related skills guidance and make this available to governments, the private sector, NGOs, and academia working at local, national and international levels.

Find out more about Youth Engagement and Skills Acquisition Within Africa’s Transport Sector (Gender)

Rethinking bidi (leaf cigarette) rolling as a livelihood in Vellore, South India

For further information contact: Prof. Andrew Russell

Principal Investigator: Prof Sushil John (Low Cost Effective Care Unit, Christian Medical College, Vellore)

Andrew Russell, CSJCA Co-Director and Professor in Durham University’s Anthropology Department is co-investigator on a Global Challenges Research Fund networking grant administered by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

As part of the work on the grant, 33 people, including 11 bidi (leaf cigarette) workers attended a workshop held in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, South India from 18-20 December 2019. The workshop was jointly facilitated by Mary Robson of Durham University’s Institute for Medical Humanities and CSJCA’s colleagues Stanley Joseph and Pradeep Narayanan of Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices, who generously gave their time on a pro bono basis.

In the preceding six months, Stanley had overseen the participatory methods training of six community health volunteers who work for the D Arul Selvi Rehabilitation Trust in Tirupattur, about 70 miles from Vellore. Both Vellore and Tirupattur are important centres for bidi rolling in northern Tamil Nadu and the network aims to investigate current and possible alternative livelihoods for those employed in this exploitative and unhealthy occupation using participatory methods with bidi workers themselves.

As a result of this pilot research, we have testimony from over 50 bidi workers concerning their conditions, livelihoods and aspirations for the future. These were presented at the workshop where the bidi workers who attended gave further feedback and analysis, with Tamil-English-Tamil language translation provided by a local volunteer, Mrs Padmanabhan. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first workshop ever held where academics, practitioners and bidi workers came together as equal partners. “I have worked in tobacco control for 12 to 13 years without ever meeting a bidi roller” said one network collaborator. “Please help us in getting our children out of this bidi rolling profession” exhorted one of the bidi rolling participants.

Mr Paul Dass (ProVISION, Bengalaru) is a physiotherapist who has set up a social enterprise that provides training in papier maché and other crafts. Following a presentation at the workshop, Sushil John invited him to run alternative livelihoods training sessions for bidi and other disadvantaged workers at the Low Cost Effective Care Unit. 31 bidi rolling women attended a practical demonstration of different craft activities in February 2020. Further work has had to be put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Academy of Medical Sciences has generously provided a no-cost extension to the project until March 2021.