Paul Ward and the retro sound system

Imagine – connecting communities through research

Imagine logo

From reggae beats and Bhangra drums to modern day interpretations of historical art and urban regeneration, the Imagine programme brings together academics and community groups from across the UK and Europe to influence positive change in communities through research. It includes four work packages which explore social, historical, democratic and cultural contexts.

A collaborative approach

Imagine is a collaborative five-year project running from 2013 to 2017. With around 30 academics and 30 community groups working together, it includes a diverse range of community-based research projects.

Funded under the Connected Communities programme it has received £1.8 million from the ESRC (European and Social Research Council). Imagine is led by principal investigator Professor Kate Pahl from the University of Sheffield who also leads on the cultural context. Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History at the University of Huddersfield, is one of Imagine’s four key leaders heading up the democratic context.  Professor Sarah Banks from Durham University and Professor Angie Hart from the University of Brighton lead on the historical and social contexts respectively.

Does a sense of history encourage civic engagement?

As well as leading on the democratic context, Professor Ward provides historical and historiographical knowledge for the Imagine project. He considers whether a ‘sense of history’ encourages civic engagement and community participation and his work includes the following Imagine projects:

Sound System Culture

This community project that Professor Ward is working with is an arts and heritage project. In the 1970s and 1980s it was possible to see international reggae stars performing live in Huddersfield. The influence of sound systems on British music is well documented, however, Huddersfield’s role in this culture had been largely overlooked. As part of Professor Ward’s research, a book ‘Sound System Culture: Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems’ has been published which captures the influential role of Huddersfield on musical culture during this time.

Celebrating our past – preserving our future

Bhangra Renaissance celebrates the origins of Bhangra as a historical dance form and its contribution to a more diverse view of British culture. The University of Huddersfield co-produced the book ‘Bhangra: mystics, music and migration’ authored by former Master’s student Hardeep Singh Sahota, who studied Drama and History. Rather than the traditional text-based research outputs, this project produced ethnographic research, oral history interviews, performances, photography, story-telling and community activity.

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(Image: Hardip Singh-Sahota)

Connecting people in Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield Gallery attracts visitors from far and wide, however, those visitors do not necessarily come from the local community. Imagine has been exploring ways in which the people of Wakefield can become connected to the gallery and feel a sense of civic identity. One aspect of this research involved working with a group of young homeless women who interpreted the collections at the gallery. As a direct outcome of this work there are now two PhD students studying at the University of Huddersfield researching community interpretations of historical art and urban regeneration. Their research will continue to explore these areas as part of the Imagine project.

A radical approach

By taking a radical approach and co-researching with communities, Imagine aims to break down potential barriers between academia and society with community-based academics. The potential impact of co-producing research doesn’t just impact on people’s lives but also on policy, developing new knowledge to deliver services and improve community cohesion.


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