Being a Child of Walsall - Walsall Ethnographic Research

Every year, as in other local authorities, Walsall Council’s Director of Public Health produces an Annual Report. To bolster/inform the 2020 Annual Report which looks specifically at children and young people, Walsall Council wanted to hear from the children and young people of Walsall themselves about what it is like growing up in the Borough. This valuable insight would also help to inform the development of the Walsall Best Start 4 Life Strategy (BS4L) which highlights and addresses the issues that young people face growing up in Walsall.


M·E·L Research were commissioned to research and produce up to 10 detailed qualitative ethnographic studies of children and young people living in Walsall, to explore the realities and lived experiences of growing up in the Borough and gain young people’s views as to what they recommend is set in place to support themselves, their peers and other children and young people across the Borough.

In order to gain a breadth of insight and experiences, a total of nine children and young people were recruited for the study (via local gatekeepers) in September and October 2020, from different areas, with different educational needs, and from different religious, cultural and socio-demographic backgrounds. Discussions were then conducted with them via Zoom due to Covid restrictions which meant face to face interviews were not possible (with the exception of one which took place via telephone) and each discussion lasted between 25 and 60 minutes. They were asked about their experiences so far of growing up in Walsall, the challenges they have faced, their hopes, dreams and fears for the future, and to think about what support they have used versus what support they feel they need and would help.

By hearing about the lived experiences of children and young people directly and in their own words, Walsall Council are able to weave compelling qualitative narratives into their 2020 Annual Report and the forthcoming BS4L Strategy, along with relevant recommendations for the wider health and care system in the Borough.

Due to the restrictions and uncertainties caused by Covid-19, we were being innovative in our research approach. An early task was to get recruitment underway, and to prepare research documents which need to meet the scrutiny and requirements of Walsall Council’s internal ethics committee.

We used virtual consultation methods for qualitative interviews and discussions with children and young people, followed by the use of virtual Online Bulletin Boards to gather further feedback (including photographs). There was a final virtual ‘thinking it all through’ discussion with participants towards the end of the research, to inform our thinking about what the findings meant and what the implications are for Walsall Council and partners.

The research output consisted of visual and attractive individual ethnographic studies for each participant, supported by a cross-cutting report containing further detail on the methodology, learning points, and crucially, what the aggregated findings told Walsall Council about the reality for children and young people of growing up in Walsall, focusing on the following themes:

  • Staying fit and active
  • Emotional health and wellbeing
  • Attainment and achievement in education
  • Crime and safety
  • Environment
  • Poverty

Information obtained through the case studies will be used in Walsall Council’s Director of Public Health’s 2020 Annual Report and our recommendations will help to develop the Best Start 4 Life Strategy in Walsall moving forward.