Background: Internationally, young people experiencing poverty and related disadvantage do least well in school. These inequalities tend to be concentrated in places with high levels of poverty and poor outcomes across multiple domains. Although place-based initiatives are sometimes used by policy-makers as a vehicle to improve outcomes, such programmes often fail to engage meaningfully with local resources, further marginalising disadvantaged communities.
Purpose: This article considers what asset-based approaches, which seek to understand existing resources (assets) in disadvantaged places, might bring to such situations. Focused on a disadvantaged inner-city neighbourhood in England, it explores professionals’ and young people’s understandings of assets through an assets-mapping approach.
Method: During a two-year study, a university researcher was embedded in a secondary school and ten students (aged 13) were trained as co-researchers. Utilising visual mapping methods, they conducted 17 focus groups (45 minutes each) with around 225 of their peers in total. Additionally, the researcher conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with a group of local multi-agency professionals, and with the co-researchers. Data were analysed thematically.
Findings: The analysis indicated that professionals and young people understood the neighbourhood’s assets in relation to perceived ‘lived territories’. Professionals described different residential groups as ‘owning’ different geographical ‘territories’, identifying professionally-led institutions as assets that could transcend these. Conversely, young people talked about ‘territories’ primarily in terms of power and control: they identified self-defined social spaces, away from professional scrutiny, as among the neighbourhood’s most valuable assets.
Conclusion: Exploring the students’ and professionals’ contrasting positions through Giddens’ notion of regionalization, which distinguishes front spaces (i.e. professional and public-facing) and back spaces (i.e. private and personally-developed) suggests that the tangible nature of assets is perhaps less important than the different power relationships at play within them. The study highlights the necessity of working in partnership with young people throughout the development of place-based initiatives.