At first interview, respondents were asked to prioritise problem issues. Problems most frequently cited as highest priority were: crime (26 people), money (24 people), work (14 people), traffic (14 people), litter (11 people), local services and facilities (11 people), and housing (8 people).
Crime remained a concern for many at second interview, although perceptions of change varied. The majority of respondents reported no change or a worsening crime situation and, as in early interviews, listed petty crime, drunken street fighting, vandalism and antisocial behaviour - mostly linked with young people - as their highest priority problems. Residents reported that a new CCTV system had been installed locally to address fear of crime and they welcomed a temporary initiative to increase beat police but criticised it for being short term. Rumoured plans for a permanent local police presence were treated cautiously.
"is it going to stop the crime?" (R6)
Perceptions of change relating to money also varied. Many respondents linked money issues with work. Some reported changed personal circumstances, impacting on the importance of financial worries e.g. leaving work because of illness or no longer seeking work because of childcare commitments. Confidence about employment was low with respondents expressing concern about the lack of available work, much of which was seasonal or short-contract, and recent large-scale job losses.
"A few people get some good work for a few months and then it's back to nothing again. When they talk about here as a deprived area and that there's funding for this and funding for that, it would be nice for something to actually exist." (R24)
With regard to the problem of traffic, there were different views between communities. In community 1, more than half of respondents reported no change and maintained strong criticism of volume and speed of vehicles even though they knew that speed cameras had been installed to reduce pedestrian safety worries.
"I don't think it's made much difference." (R27)
However, respondents in community 2 identified improvements relating to traffic, some praising a new one-way arrangement on a large estate.
Changes related to the problem of litter were reported in both communities. A council clean-up of dumped household items around community 1 was praised but also criticised for being a one-off event. In community 2, almost all respondents described an improvement, listing a new kerb-side recycling scheme, regular street sweeper and more recycling bins locally, although dog fouling remained a problem.
Some improvements in local services and facilities were noted e.g. the opening of a new skateboard park, although others had closed e.g. children's football club. Desire for activities across the age range was expressed. Overall lack of facilities, particularly for young people, continued to be a concern.
"Where are these kids going to go? They're going to be wandering the streets, they've got nothing to do." (R36)
Housing, raised as a priority issue in community 1, was noted to have changed although views were mixed about how much had improved. Availability of housing was reportedly better but local authority properties remained an eyesore. Some external painting had brightened up the area and the litter and household items still dumped in gardens and lanes were now cleared away more quickly. New street lighting, fencing and a new recycling scheme were praised. But it was reported that the social problems linked to estate layout still existed and nothing had come of estate redesign proposals.
"Nothing's happened. There's still loads of houses on this estate. They said they would knock them down, they haven't." (R14)
• Impact of HLA process on community HLA participants
Community researchers said the interview process had raised their awareness of the complexity of their communities. While they disliked the term 'deprived' to describe the place they said they called home, they also understood that hardship could make a community invisible and saw the interviews as giving a voice to people,
"to have their views heard...because normally they are never listened to " (CR2)
They reported having gained qualifications, skills and opportunities through involvement with the HLA project, which they said boosted their confidence and in some instances changed their outlook. One said the experience had led to her obtaining a new job; another had become actively involved in her community as an office-holder on two committees. Respondents reported that family members, friends and colleagues had seen a difference in them.
"Without the project I don't think I would have done those things." (CR1)
"It has given us credibility." (CR4)
Forum members felt their groups had been strengthened by the new experiences gained through the HLA.
"We know what we are about now so we know how to tackle it...we've all highlighted that." (CF2 6)
Data from interviews with residents had confirmed some issues but challenged other opinions, for example changing the approach of one forum member who was also a local councillor.
"People have got different perceptions of what their priorities are...so it's changed my mind." (CF2 2)
Forum members said they felt empowered and optimistic. They believed the action planning process had strengthened their case for changes on the ground and believed that the action plans were being heard by those in power. They listed specific changes resulting from the HLA as evidence of progress: the re-establishment of a youth club "thanks to SHARP" (CF1 3), extra street lighting; CCTV and proposals for improvement of a housing area with particular problems. Forum members were positive about the potential for further impact, with the action plan having been adopted by the government-initiated 'Communities First' programme in Community 1.
Individuals from the community forums who had found the language and format of joint meetings intimidating and unclear said they were slowly gaining the confidence to participate.
"I was just a little bit put off. It was a bit heavy...They were talking a different language to me. You know, I just didn't get in there at all." (CF2 4)