INSECURE: Capturing Intergenerational Narratives of Coastal Change

A research study aiming to understand how children and young people living in areas at risk from coastal erosion can be prepared for the challenges of climate change.

University of Hull's story

One important impact of climate breakdown in the UK is growing coastal erosion. The East Yorkshire Holderness coast has long had some of the most rapidly eroding coastline in the world, due to its soft boulder clay cliffs. This erosion, now several metres per year in places, is accelerating in response to the changing climate, particularly stronger storms and rising sea-level, which is increasing wave loading.

Withernsea High School stands just a few hundred metres from the encroaching seas. Over 60 of its Year 8 Geography students recently took part in the INSECURE project, which used a mix of participatory research methods to explore how young people engage with and understand coastal change, within the context of their communities.

Led by the University of Hull Energy and Environment Institute (EEI), the research aimed to show how understanding the lived experiences of children and young people and their evolving relationship with their environment, and building intergenerational conversations about this, can help to shape a more resilient and engaged community, prepared for the challenges of climate change.

The project involved participatory sessions for the students covering climate change, coastal erosion processes and related hazards, detailing how communities like Withernsea would be impacted into the future. Collaborating with adult members of their community, the pupils researched stories of Withernsea's past and how coastal change has a long and interlinked history with the town's development and its residents’ lives.

They explored coastal change and climate impacts through the use of empathy and community mapping – placing themselves into the wider community. This participatory approach also included training in storytelling and research techniques.

The pupils chose to present their findings in a range of creative ways, writing poems, short stories, alongside videos and pictures they had taken to represent what they had seen and heard. The film above is one example what these young people have collectively created as part of their journey. It was nominated in the Climate Emergency category of the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Research in Film Awards (RIFA) 2021. Following this nomination, EEI’s project leader, Katie Parsons, arranged for it to be shown and took part in an online debate at COP26 on the topic "Can films save the planet?”, which explored how filmmaking can be used to inspire and mobilise present and future generations to adapt and change to help save our planet.

Useful learnings from the University of Hull

Making the project highly participatory maximised pupil engagement.

Building intergenerational conversation into the project from the beginning helped to ensure the widest engagement and education beyond the school, helping to shape a more resilient community, prepared for the challenges of adapting to the specific local impacts of climate breakdown.

Collaborating with adult members of their community, and setting this forward-looking project in the context of Withernsea's past, helped the students to give all of their creative output, including the film, maximum impact.

It was important that the project methodology left all participants with a range of skills to enhance any future contributions relating to this vital topic.

University of Hull's metrics

Engagement of students and community members in the project.
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Still from "Insecure" film.