Tackling disadvantage in rural areas? : studies of the community-based voluntary sector in County Durham
This thesis aims to add to the qualitative understanding of the nature of community based voluntary action. It does so through a close investigation of the organisation and impact of community-based voluntary sector projects which seek to tackle disadvantage in rural areas. This exploration illustrates some of the challenges faced by community groups, and supporting voluntary sector agencies, as they aim to address different forms of disadvantage. The thesis examines the contextual background in which community-based projects operate. This includes debates over the nature, extent and measurement of disadvantage in rural areas, but also the increasing interest amongst policy-makers and practitioners towards community-based approaches to tackling disadvantage. This is argued to amount to a 'community turn' in public policy. The empirical research undertaken for the thesis involved a collaborative link with a non-academic voluntary organisation, the Durham Rural Community Council. Research took the form of an intensive and extended ethnographic interaction with several case study projects operating in different rural areas of County Durham. Analysis of the case studies highlights three qualitative dimensions of the dynamic process of organising community-based voluntary action. Firstly projects operate within a semi-enclosed, and deeply contested 'field' in which individuals, groups and organisations act as differentially-positioned and insecurely-resourced participants in pursuit of scarce resources to preserve or advance their position. Increasingly at stake in this 'field' is how resources are allocated over time, and how long it should take to make a difference' in relation to disadvantage. The temporality associated with community-based projects thus forms an illuminating second dimension examined in the thesis. Finally, the scale at which projects are organised provides a third dimension explored through the case studies, illustrating the challenge in rural areas of remaining 'close' to users and participants whilst generating a viable scale of activities over large areas with dispersed populations.