“It opened my eyes” – group reflections on our experiences of the community research ‘Living Financial Resilience’ project

Last year, we collaborated with Boost Community and local community researchers to investigate lived experience of financial resilience in Lawrence Hill. One of our aims was to reverse the usual top-down structures of research, by making sure that people from the local community were at the forefront of the project throughout data collection, analysis and dissemination.

While co-design and collaborative projects are becoming increasingly popular in research, thus far few studies have evaluated the experiences of all stakeholders who participate in this type of project (Pallesen et al., 2020).  We therefore felt that on top of writing about our own experiences of taking part in the project, (which you can read about here), it was also vital to hear reflections from our community research partners about their role in the process.

Therefore at the end of the project in November 2022, we gathered together a focus group to reflect on our experiences. Attendees were representatives from the University of Bristol, Boost Community and community researchers. We spoke about our feelings during and after the project, evaluated what went well and what could have been better, and discussed the learning that we would take forward. Here we will explore some of the key reflections that arose from the group.

“We came together as a group”

A theme that came up frequently during the focus group was the importance of relationships. This project took place over approximately six months, and we had frequent meetings and workshops to discuss what we had learned and reflect on the interviews conducted so far. As well as allowing us to analyse data together in real time, this meant that we also had the chance to get to know one other. The meetings were something that we all enjoyed and as we became more comfortable with one another, the community researchers also became more confident in voicing their opinions. We also planned in time for group social events, including a boat trip round the harbour. We reflected that for this type of project, the importance of having time to build relationships and trust cannot be overstated.

Find the person who... a) has the most children?
b) has lived in Lawrence Hill the longest?
c) Knows the most about music?
d) Is the best cook or baker?
e) Has the most interesting hobby?
f) Has volunteered for Boost or the Settlement before?
g) Is married to someone from a different country?
A ‘getting to know each other’ activity from our first workshop

We also benefitted from the existing relationships that Boost had with the community researchers. During the initial recruitment period, the team at Boost selected clients that they felt may be interested in taking part and got in touch with them directly. The fact that this initial contact came from someone they already knew was important in convincing the community researchers that it was a worthwhile project.

However, despite the positive relationships we built, we still struggled to maintain momentum and keep community researchers engaged. Having started with six community researchers, we saw people drop out along the way, and just two attended the final focus group. During the session we reflected on why this might have been and what we could do differently next time. We reflected on the fact that for us at UoB, research is our job, while the community researchers had to find time to participate alongside other life commitments. We discussed whether a more formalized job role for the community researchers may have encouraged more people to take part.


“You’re gonna help your community”

Community researchers spoke about how the project provided them with the opportunity to give something back to their own local community. We spoke about the outcomes of the research that we were proud of, such as holding a community open day to share our findings in a way that was accessible for people living in Lawrence Hill. Boost commented that the recommendations for their organization were helpful and achievable, and that the findings confirmed their own experiences of how and why people use their services.

However, participation in a community-based project is not without its challenges. Some of the final recommendations that we came up with as a result of the research would require higher-level, structural change that is not achievable with limited time and resources. We reflected on the difficulty of conducting research and not feeling able to immediately bring about the change that the findings recommend. Despite this, we also discussed the importance of doing this type of research, in order to raise the profile of the local community and highlight their financial experiences.

Community researchers also reflected on the personal challenges they faced when gathering data within their own community. For example, they described difficulties in recruiting and engaging participants for interviews. Some participants dropped out at the last minute, some were reluctant to share many details, and some expected a greater incentive than they were offered. We discussed whether some of these issues may be related to the fact the community researchers already knew the participants, and whether participants who were strangers may have been more willing to share personal details.

We also discussed the emotional impact of listening to their neighbours’ and friends’ financial struggles. Of course, hearing the stories of people in vulnerable positions is a challenge for any qualitative researcher, but with their additional role as ‘insiders’ perhaps the data gathered were closer to home for the community researchers. We were aware of this possibility during the course of the project and held one workshop specifically focussed on self-care and reflection, where we went out for a walk together and talked over the feelings that had arisen as part of taking part in the project. On a more positive note, the community researchers also spoke about how hearing other people’s experiences had reminded them of what they were grateful for in their own lives.

Walk and talk Activity1. choose a pair
2. Go out for a walk for 10 - 15 minutes
3. Talk about: a) one thing you have enjoyed about doing the interviews, b) one thing that has been difficult about doing the interviews, c) one thing that helps you to manage when things are difficult.
A screenshot of the slide from our ‘walk and talk’ self-reflection activity during one of the workshops 

“I’m feeling confident”

A final theme that came up frequently during the focus group was how the project had contributed to personal growth and development for each of us. The representatives from UoB and Boost spoke about the change they had witnessed in the community researchers throughout the project. As they grew in confidence, those who had been reticent during the first workshops became key contributors to data analysis and discussions in later workshops. Community researchers spoke about their initial nerves when conducting interviews, but how as time went on they felt their skills had improved.  They were also optimistic about the future as a result of taking part in the project, with one community researcher commenting that they would be able to talk about the experience when applying for future jobs. Those of us from UoB also spoke about how much we had learned from taking part in the project, for example we reflected on the inaccessibility of many of the systems and the language that we use in academia.

Both of the community researchers who participated in the focus group were mothers of young children, and described how the project had given them the opportunity to get out of the house, meet new people and prove that they could challenge themselves and do something different. We reflected on ways that the project team had been able to facilitate their involvement. For example, meetings were scheduled at times when children were at school and childcare was provided for younger children when needed. Where community researchers were unable to attend because of other commitments, they were given the opportunity to catch up on what they had missed via telephone. By being flexible and adaptable, we were able to benefit from the involvement of talented community researchers, who provided us with new and inspiring perspectives.


Through this project we set out to develop ideas about how to support financial resilience in the Lawrence Hill community, as set out in our policy brief. During our reflective focus group, community researchers described how they had given back to their local community and raised awareness of financial difficulties. As well as the community impact, they also discussed how they had built positive relationships with their co-researchers, and described making gains in personal confidence and skills. Our project therefore highlights how co-design research has the power to produce important research findings, while also impacting positively on participants’ and researchers’ lives.

One of the community researchers, Moustapha Ahmed, in a joint workshop with a team from the Great Western Credit Union
One of the community researchers, Moustapha Ahmed, in a joint workshop with a team from the Great Western Credit Union