A socio-psychological study of neighbourhoods and resilience amongst youth in London – insights of a research project conducted by Mario Washington-Ihieme

I am a recent Masters graduate of Social and Cultural Psychology and have been interning with Partnership for Young London for a few weeks with the research team, and collecting data sources for upcoming projects. I was interested in the organisation due to their work in understanding the attitudes and views of young people, and giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on certain topics. This approach to research aligns with my recent master’s project, that focused specifically on young people who live within the inner neighbourhoods of the city.

My project sought to examine whether differences exist between young people who live in certain neighbourhoods in London and the levels of community and individual resilience, self-esteem and place attachment. Two neighbourhoods were investigated – Tottenham and Brixton – as a result of background research of the history of the neighbourhoods and its presence within London today.

This project lasted around six months, and during this time I conducted interviews with thirty 11-25 year olds in local youth clubs in these areas. The conversations surrounded the positive and negative experiences of living in their area, and their opinion of living in London as a whole. Additionally, 200 surveys were distributed to these neighbourhoods that measured place attachment to the neighbourhood and to the city, individual resilience, community resilience and self-esteem. Resilience is a dynamic process defined as the ability to bounce back after living in adversity, which is comprised of the individual and communal level through looking at the collective processes in the environment in response to adversity.

The results of the survey indicated no differences in levels of individual resilience and self esteem between Tottenham and Brixton. This was later expanded in interviews, with the emphasis on the importance of social support as a contributor to the levels of self esteem expressed by young people for example their family being the first people they turn to for help. Self esteem and individual resilience have been interpreted through young people’s narratives and have since been expressed through positive experiences in living in these areas, for example through taking part in local activities and youth clubs.

Findings also showed that young people living in Tottenham have a greater attachment to their neighbourhood than those living in Brixton. Moreover, 10-16 year olds have a greater level of community resilience compared to 17-25 year olds. It can be suggested that the presence of social capital and social structures within a community strengthens the feelings of belongingness and enables community cohesion from a young age at a greater magnitude. Additionally young people in the Tottenham sample display a greater attachment to their city compared to those in Brixton, with attachment being less prominent. This can be attributed to Brixton’s history of gentrification and the marginalisation and segregation of the community, masked by its merge with the rest of London.

What stood out in this research was the importance of place in defining young people’s experiences of living in their neighbourhood, and how it has impacted their everyday interaction within the city. Subsequently, to address and solve the issue of social inequality and marginalisation in London, the life experiences of the community members must be acknowledged and understood. By incorporating a socio-psychological approach to understand the geography of London and its effect on its inhabitants, this can aid the understanding of life experiences and perceptions of young people living in inner neighbourhoods in comparison to the rest of the city. Consequently, I am grateful to be interning with Partnership for Young London who’s interest in the lives of young people are aligned with my future career goals in providing a greater accessibility of opportunities to young people in the city.