On this page we suggest some basic and quick steps you can undertake a community audit, and gather information about a particular neighbourhood in Britain or Northern Ireland.
contents: introducing community audits and profiles · quick statistical profile · census material · local authority statistics and other material · crime · other searches · your local library and agencies in the area · further reading
Community audits are basically mapping exercises. They help us to understand the resources there are within a neighbourhood or area, the possible needs of local people, and the responses or services we might be able to offer to address gaps or develop community life.
There are three basic ways of undertaking a community audit or profiling exercise.
• Desk-or kitchen table-based research.
• Walking the streets.
• Talking and listening to people. This might include using questionnaires, knocking on doors and chatting with people and holding meetings or group sessions to explore different issues.
Here we focus on the first of these. The best and easiest starting point with regard to data about the community you are interested in profiling or auditing is the web. Most of the basic statistics and background you need can be obtained by a few keystrokes (hopefully!).
Below we set out the first steps you need to take. From there we go on to look at the sort of paper information that might be available in your local library and via local agencies.
For a quick statistical community profile or audit
For a quick start try Checkmystreet. Just add in the postcode and you get details of closest bus stops, train stations, sold prices, crime rate and broadband speed.
Streetcheck is one of the best UK-wide local area community audit and profiling sites at the moment. It uses material from government databases, including census information and Land Registry data, and other sources including market research statistics. As well as data on housing and employment, the “people” section includes material on social class (rather curiously described as ‘social grade!), gender, relationship status, age groupings, health and education and qualifications. There are also figures for ethnicity, religion and so on.
Streetcheck is accessed through postcodes – and it is important to click on the ‘summary’ tab once you have the results to check what areas are actually covered. The figures are initially based on the last census collection. Each group of postcodes should contain at least 100 people (50 in Scotland). The summary should show what postcodes are covered by the results.
UK Local Area takes you straight to statistics about deprivation and crime in local communities and neighbourhoods. It rates areas on housing, employment, income deprivation, barriers to services, health etc. Their Help/FAQ area gives a useful brief breakdown of their terms and sources.
FindaHood is great if you want to audit or profile a neighbourhood or community in England (it is gradually expanding its reach). It provides a breakdown of school results, age of residents, family structure, crime results, occupations, religious affiliations and some details about gardens and green spaces.
Nomis is a good source for local statistics in England and Wales. Look first for the local area report. There is a search box on the front page (but the local area report will take you to a separate search box). At the bottom of the results are links for the local authority area and the ward you are looking at. Results are organized under three headings:
- Who we are
- How we live
- What we do
The obvious problem about census material is its age. That said it can still provide useful data. On the Nomis page, you can also look at Census data – but this is not for the faint-hearted. Look for Census information. In the Table Finder section choose what you want to know about – there is a long list – and at what level you want to look for – e.g. local authority or ward.
statistics.gov.scot is the go-to site for auditing or profiling communities and neighbourhoods in Scotland. On the front page, there are a number of easy access guides etc. You can get a feel of the site by just typing in a relevant postcode and you can get key facts on:
- Economic Activity
- Children, Education, Training
- Community, Crime, Justice
These are available, usually, for the electoral ward and the local authority area. As well as this there are links into more specialist data.
ninis is the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service. This site works differently to the Scotland, Wales and England systems. Basically you choose an area of interest e.g. crime and then you can either click on a table or download a spreadsheet that contains the data. Each usually covers the whole of Northern Ireland and you then have to scroll down to find the area that you want.
GOV.UK is the somewhat misnamed place to find your local council. If you are in England and Wales – just enter a postcode and off you go.
mygov.scot is the much better named local council search in Scotland.
nidirect takes you to Northern Ireland councils.
You will be able to examine different aspects of the council’s work such as housing, social services, planning, education and so on. You can also usually search the site for information about particular areas and examine the minutes of different committees. They may even have produced profiles of different communities/neighbourhoods.
If you want a quick snapshot of what is going on in an area head for UK Crime Statistics. You can enter a postcode and get an overview.
It is now also possible to get information on crime and antisocial behaviour on neighbourhoods in England or Wales via PoliceUK. Just click on Find Your Neighbourhood.
In Scotland you can go to the Scottish Government Crime and Justice Statistics for the overall situation – local routes into statistics are limited. You can get some stuff via UK Crime Statistics and your local authority site may give some help.
In Northern Ireland just head for the crime and statistics section in the ninis website.
For a view from the air or the street go to Google maps (http://maps.google.co.uk/maps), enter the place or postcode and then press ‘satellite’ in the map/image area. Zoom to the view you require.
For pictures of the area a search on Flickr (www.flickr.com), the photo-share site, can often yield interesting results.
Take a look at the property sites such as rightmove.co.uk. This gives a good idea of the non-social housing rental market and sales.
The secret with searching is to include some qualifying words e.g. Bermondsey+history, Rotherhithe+health. This should pick up some useful material. For hints on Google searching go to the essentials of Google search.
Much of the material available on the web might well be found in a good local library. What they may also have pre-internet material – and this can provide information that helps make sense of current developments and issues.
An often invaluable resource is the reports and materials held by other agencies. Frequently, they will be in a pretty unorganized state, but ploughing through what has been chucked in a box file or document box can sometimes yield gems.
Hawtin, M., Hughes, G. and Percy Smith, J. (2007) Community Profiling. A practical guide. (Revised edition) Maidenhead: Open University Press. 256 pages. A practical guide with an annotated bibliography detailing UK examples of community profiles.
Chapters on the nature of community profiles; planning; involving the community; making use of existing information; collecting new information; survey methods; storing and analysing information; collating and presenting information; using your findings.
Community audits for churches – https://www.london.anglican.org/kb/community-audits/
Community audit – food mapping – https://www.sustainweb.org/foodcoopstoolkit/communityaudit/
Auditing community participation – https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/jr082-community-participation-assessment.pdf
Auditing your community assets – https://www.ourcommunity.com.au/management/view_help_sheet.do?articleid=9
Acknowledgement: Photo – Scoot by parr2012. Flickr ccbyncsa2 licence.
© Mark K. Smith 2001-2009, 2019
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