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Public Engagement with the Census research

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is supporting 15 public engagement with research projects with grants of up to £10,000 to inspire public imagination in the Census. This programme is in partnership with the Office for National Statistics and The National Archives.


Map of public engagement projects

Map of public engagement projects

2021 marks a significant year of change for the UK’s Censuses: on 21 March, the Census in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will run predominantly online for the first time. Scotland will postpone its Census to 2022 due to the impact of COVID-19. To mark this once-in-a-decade event, we are supporting 15 projects that embrace creative methods for engaging the public in Census-related research and that prioritise access, inclusion and diversity.

The Census is an important primary resource for many researchers and its data impacts upon society as a whole. The 15 projects vary broadly in focus and each will make a positive difference to the audiences that they engage; from projects that will educate children in data handling methods to enable them to become young researchers, to projects that will encourage under-represented communities to engage with the Census to help inform policy and debate.

We are pleased to be participating in this exciting research initiative at a moment of national importance – the 2021 census. This new collaborative fund puts public engagement at its heart, strengthening ties amongst our research communities and partners and reaffirming UKRI’s commitment to engaging with the public through research to deliver maximum benefit for everyone. We are delighted to be partnering with ESRC, the National Archives and the Office for National Statistics on this fund.”

says Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair

Funded projects

All projects will take place between February and April 2021, and a full list of projects is available below:


1. Community Radio and Lost Voices: Inspiring Engagement in Economic and Social Policy

This project will highlight the importance of the Census for informing policy, particularly around the challenges faced in Leicester, such as overcrowded housing and poverty. High cultural diversity, high levels of deprivation and a history of racial tension means that Census engagement is particularly low in Leicester. This project will use community radio to inspire households from disenfranchised communities in Leicester to engage with the Census, ‘giving voice’ to people across the city and collecting positive stories of how local people have informed community action on economic and social policy.

Project team: Professor Edward Cartwright (De Montfort University), Mark Charlton (De Montfort University/ Lead on DMU Community Solutions Covid19 Project), Dr Rob Watson (Decentered Media).

Partners: Leicester Community Radio, Kohinoor FM, Radio Seerah, Radio2Funky, EAVAFM and Ramadan Radio, The Race Equality Centre, Leicester Healthwatch, Leicestershire Cares and Reaching People.


2. In Manchester’s DNA: Place, Identity, History

What is in the DNA of a city? This project focuses on place, identity, and family history in order to enable schoolchildren in the socio-economically deprived borough of Tameside to reflect upon the continuing evolution of their city and its population. Children from local schools will be encouraged to think about the complexity of the demographics in their area and consider the ways in which Census data is collected and ‘read’.

Project team: Professor Jerome de Groot (University of Manchester), Maya Sharma (Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre (AIU)), Emma Britain (University of Manchester), Sonja Bernhard (University of Manchester), Dr Joanna Taylor (University of Manchester), Robert Hillman (Tameside Local Studies and Archive Centre), Andee Collard (Bolton Contemporary), Zaffar Kunial.

Partners: Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre (AIU), Tameside Local Studies and Archive Centre, Copley Academy, Laurus Ryecroft School, Manchester UNESCO City of Literature.


3. Engaging Muslim communities with Census 2021: A focus on Somali and Kashmiri youth


Three Muslim friends taking a selfie in the city

Credit: LeoPatrizi/GettyImages

There is evidence of lower engagement with the National Census among British Muslims. A recent report by Serena Hussain and colleagues (2021) described how Muslim subcommunities without their own ethnic category, e.g. Somalis and Kashmiris, had higher levels of apathy towards government data collection exercises. This project will explore perceptions of the Census with young British Muslims to generate information and create content for targeted online media campaigns. By developing strategies for maximum engagement of British Muslim communities with Census 2021, this project will result in more accurate Census data, particularly on the hard to reach; better allocation of funds for communities; and increased trust between Muslim youth and government agencies for data collection exercises.

Project team: Dr Serena Hussain (Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University).

Partners: British Muslim Heritage Centre, Kashmir Development Foundation and Creative Cohesion.


4. Our Census – Using Co-Design to engage young people in Census 2021

For many reasons, 18-24 year olds in Northern Ireland are not engaged in government activities, processes and outcomes. Part of the problem is the way in which the Census data (and all government data) is communicated to the public at large, and specifically to this demographic. This project will engage young people in a 'Co-Design Sprint' from which they will emerge with a prototype of how they want the results of Census 2021 to be communicated to them. The resulting prototype will inform wider policy around communication of Census data and beyond that towards other governmental communication.

Project team: Adrian Hickey (Ulster University).

Partners: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), CreateFuture.


5. Census Stories: Identity, religion and demographic change in Milton Keynes

The new town of Milton Keynes reflects wider demographic transformations. With over 88 places of worship, it exemplifies religious diversity; 33% of school-aged residents identify as ethnic minorities; it contains some of the highest areas of poverty nationally alongside some of the wealthiest. Nevertheless, residents report a positive sense of belonging to the local area (80%) and see diversity as a strength. This project will bring Census data to life by using narrative to explore themes of identity, religion and demographic change. It will engage a diverse group of residents aged 16-80 with the Census data, using their stories of religious and sociodemographic change to create accessible digital educational resources which will be relevant to other contexts nationally.

Project team: Dr John Maiden (The Open University), Sas Amoah (OU), Dr Suzanne Newcombe (OU), Dr Maria Nita (OU), Dr David Robertson (OU).

Partners: Living Archive, The Open University BME staff network, local schools.


6. Proud To Be Counted! Increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community through the Census


Young lady waving Pride flag

Credit: FG Trade/GettyImages

There has not been any comprehensive or accurate national data on the numbers of people with an LGBTQ+ identity in the UK, yet research into the experiences of LGBTQ+ people show that they experience disproportionate levels of discrimination including in health, education and employment. This project will encourage LGBTQ+ individuals to be informed of the importance of and feel confident enough (where it is safe to do so) to declare their LGBTQ+ identity on the Census by engaging with the LGBTQ+ sector organisations to develop a social media campaign targeted at the LGBTQ+ community in Northern Ireland.

Project team: Dr Danielle Mackle (Queen’s University Belfast).

Partners: The Rainbow Project, Here NI.


7. Seeing Signing Living: From Demographic Deaficit to Census Consensus

Despite centuries of usage and decades of recognition in linguistics, nobody really knows how many people in the UK have British Sign Language (BSL) as their main language. This project will promote participation and provoke Census engagement with the UK’s diverse deaf communities through means of a mini-festival that spotlights BSL signers, championing the power of the Census as a pathway to UK-wide recognition of signing communities and a means of ensuring that public services respond effectively to the BSL population.

Project team: Professor Graham H. Turner and the Signs@HWU team at Heriot-Watt University.

Partners: Deaf Explorer 


8. Carers Count

Since 2001, UK Censuses have included a question on (unpaid) caring: Do you look after, or give any help or support to, anyone because they have long-term physical or mental health conditions or illnesses, or problems related to old age?; and if so, how many hours of caring? This project will explore the impact of these questions in past Censuses (2001, 2011) and the potential to inform debate and policymaking about care and caring, using commissioned short animations and to camera videos. The project will produce information tools, highlighting key facts on carers (e.g. on the prevalence of and intersectional inequalities associated with unpaid care). These will be cascaded out in an energetic, engaging ‘Pass it on’ system: a ‘call to action’, encouraging carers to record their weekly hours of caring in the Census, influence policymakers and give ongoing voice to carers. Working closely with local and national media, this project will ensure Census 2021 collects robust data on who provides unpaid care in England and Wales.

Project team: Professor Sue Yeandle (University of Sheffield), Dr Matt Bennett (University of Birmingham), Dr Kelly Davidge (University of Sheffield), Katie Pruszynski (University of Sheffield), Dan Williamson (University of Sheffield).

Partners: Carers UK, Carers Wales, local carers’ centres.


9. The Whispering House

Census data gives intriguing snapshots of Britain’s recent past, rooted in the fabric of its built environment. This project captures the Census’ rich narrative potential by using returns to tell the story of a city through a case study of one house. This story will be revealed through theatre, working with the residents of Tang Hall, York. Built on the site of an ancient forest, with evidence of human habitation going back to Roman times, today Tang Hall is a diverse and thriving community, drawing people together around its school, library and community centre. Residents of Tang Hall have often faced challenges in accessing Arts and Culture and this project rests on two-way public engagement, working with the target audience from the start, engaging them as co-producers and performers as well as observers.

Project team: Professor Krista Cowman (University of Lincoln), Bridget Foreman (University of York), Damian Cruden.

Partners: Pilot Theatre, Molly Newton (Archbishop Holgate School), Tang Hall History Group, York Explore.


10. A Century of Migrant Businesswomen – a Century of Census

The project will tell herstories of twentieth-century migrant women entrepreneurs by comparing their presence in the latest available 2011 Census to that of 1911. Six public engagement activities aim to uncover the legacies of migrant women entrepreneurs in Britain, and demonstrate the value of longitudinal, micro-level data that is collected through the Census. The project examines a century of change in three aspects measured in the UK Census: migration, gender, and business, and shows how art-based approaches such as storytelling can be used to communicate quantitative Census data. 

Project team: Dr Carry van Lieshout (The Open University), Dr Gunjan Sondhi (The Open University).

Partners: ReWomen (Women of Management and Enterprise Network), CREME (Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship)


11. Counting on Culture: Taking Stock of Change

Complementing the census, this project considers people’s worldviews to inform innovative decision making for future needs. Currently, the Census gains information from locations about people and property that are processed into linear, quantitative data. Taking the residents of one street in Manchester, this project will gather their cultural narratives – their realities, attitudes, behaviours, perceptions, beliefs and values – through a series of recordings on different media which capture their experiences of their past ten years, their present situation and future ten-year prospects. The recordings will be screened in an online exhibition with a view to future dialogue.

Project team: Valeria Ruiz Vargas (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr David Haley (Independent Artist).

Partners: Z Arts, The Whitworth.


12. Census 2021: Using historical Census data to highlight changing patterns in health, disability, housing, employment and identity

Working with under-represented groups in Brighton and Hastings, this project will co-design a programme of creative learning sessions for a range of school, healthcare and community settings. These sessions will explore the changing complexion of the Census returns between 1901 and 1911, taking into account the updated questions for 2011, and the extent to which this data highlights key social, cultural, economic and political shifts. The data will be used to frame a critical consideration of the newly elaborated questions for the 2021 Census by way of examining health, disability, housing, work, migration, gender, sexuality, as well as specific issues relating to inclusion and miscounting in Census returns.

Project team: Dr Deborah Madden (University of Brighton), Dr Eugene Michail, Dr Rebecca Searle, Dr Max Cooper and Dr Jonathan Watson

Partners: University of Brighton’s Humanities Programme, Widening Participation Team, Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Strike a Light - Arts & Heritage CIC and British Polio Fellowship.


13. The case of “invisible” Kurdish/Turkish communities in North London

Although the migration from Turkey to the UK began in the late 1960s to early 1970s, the exact figure of this population is still unknown. Office for National Statistics estimates the number of Turkey-born UK residents at around 71,000, whilst figures from the literature range between 180,000 and 280,000. This discrepancy is due to low engagement in the 2011 Census, indicating that this group is either not recorded or mis-recorded. This project aims to encourage participation and maximise response rates within migrants from Turkey living in North and North East London, and to communicate the importance of being counted with regards to visibility in statistics, recognition in wider society and access to the public services.

Principal Investigator: Emine Pehlivan (UCL Institute of Education, IOE).

Partner: British Alevi Federation, Kurd-Akad UK.


14. My Family and Other Statistics – Exploring Census Data with Young Researchers through Co-Design and Prototyping

As the Census evolves in an online format, it is important to acknowledge what the future generation understand about Census data and what’s possible moving forward - reimagining the future by learning from the past. This project will engage children aged 7-9 in the history of their local area by using Census data to discover how local life has changed over time. This project will use co-design methods to inspire children in telling stories from data, including their own family’s Census data, and thus highlight the importance of the Census.

Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Weston (University of Central Lancashire), DR Mark Lochrie (University of Central Lancashire), Professor Janet Read (University of Central Lancashire), Dr Nick Davies (Glasgow Caledonian University).

Partners: St Augustines Catholic Primary School, St Michaels CofE Primary School.


15. Census taking over time - a project by schools and for schools


Two primary aged schoolchildren sit at their desks and look engrossed in the work that they are doing on their digital tablets

Credit: sturti/GettyImages

This project will inform KS3 students about the relevance of the Census, provide insight into being a data-driven social scientist and enhance the school curriculum. Using Census returns from the early nineteenth century to the present day, students from South Wales state schools will co-produce school resources that explore aspects of Census taking and Census data.

Principal Investigator: Dr Alice Reid (University of Cambridge), Professor Kevin Schűrer (Leicester University), Dr Eilidh Garrett (Edinburgh University), Dr Hannaliis Jaadla (Cambridge University), Dr Max Satchell (Cambridge University), Dr Lee Williamson (Edinburgh University), Mrs Sophy Arulanantham (Cambridge University).

Partners: SEREN Network


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