An interview with Dr Jane Powell
It's Sustainability Week here at UWE this week and to celebrate we're highlighting some of our research projects with a focus on sustainability and the environment. I interviewed Dr Jane Powell from the Centre for Public Health Research about the iConnect study that aims to measure and evaluate the benefits of the Connect2 travel investment from an idea pioneered by sustainability charity Sustrans. The initiative, which is funded by Big Lottery, is designed to revitalise walking and cycling in local communities across the UK.
How did you become involved with iConnect?
I was invited to a sandpit event of 30 academics sponsored by EPSRC at a ramshackle Coventry hotel – I think via an association with Phil Insall at Sustrans that I’d had for years (we applied for lots of funding together, but hadn’t been successful). The sandpit was three days of activities designed to form ‘teams’ that could develop high quality research ideas centred around the natural experiment of Sustrans’ Connect2 Programme. At the time Connect2 had been put forward for a public vote for £50m of Big Lottery funding… and we didn’t know as we were writing the bid whether Connect2 would win the vote. Luckily it did. I will never forget the three days at the sandpit as long as I live. We went through it all, am dram (embarrassing), standing on one leg showing others how tall our imagined cartoon character was (bizarre) and drinking some very bad coffee and wine. I think I enjoyed it!
iConnect is a collaborative study with eight institutions working together; can you tell me a bit more about UWE’s specific role in the project?
UWE is leading on the economic appraisal of the entire Connect2 programme, but we are also leading parts of the contextual fieldwork and population-based cohort studies at the Cardiff Connect2 site. We will also lead a workplace study in active travel at Cardiff City Council and a randomised controlled trial of the costs and benefits of additional promotional materials and computer visualisation tools at the Glasgow Connect2 site. So it’s busy!
The study’s been ongoing for over 2 years now, what has the research shown so far?
It’s a five year study, so our initial results are pending, but the whole point of this research is to go beyond the tools and evaluation evidence that has been presented to date in the field of active travel, in particular to develop a robust evidence base and to trail blaze for future research projects in this area from a multidisciplinary perspective. This means that engineers get to talk to public health specialists for example, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is working so far.
Will the iConnect study be used to make further recommendations for investment in cycling/walking networks of this sort?
Yes that’s the idea. Anja Dalton – PhD student on iConnect is doing some very interesting research on women’s participation in cycling and I think she will be in an excellent position to make recommendations that will help more women cycle.
Do you have a personal interest in cycling or walking?
I have a personal interest in physical activity and competitive sport. I’m just about to buy a Brompton and have started commuting from Chepstow on the train and walking in to Glenside. I enjoy watching sport – live events and on TV, particularly tennis – I’m an Andy Murray fan. I love the natural environment we have in Britain and dislike driving immensely, I find it boring and I’m terrible at parking.
So, have you seen benefits from Connect2 in your local community?
I have cycled quite a few of the Connect2 routes in Wales, but will not join Sustrans or any transition movement until this research is complete. I think it is important to be seen to be independent as an academic whatever your personal views might be.
For more information contact Dr Jane Powell