Essex plans Clacton research centre to boost coastal communities

University hiring professor to direct Centre for Coastal Communities, based in Essex seaside town hit by deprivation

February 20, 2023
Source: Alamy

The University of Essex is hiring a professor to direct a new Centre for Coastal Communities, which aims to address public health in deprived seaside towns.

The professorship – for which a job advert closed on 19 February – will be based mainly at the university’s forthcoming research centre in Clacton, part of the Essex town’s Civic Quarter Project that has won £20 million from the UK government’s Levelling Up Fund.

Clacton, about 15 miles from Essex’s main campus in Colchester, is in the district of Tendring, ranked as the 40th most income-deprived local authority area out of 316 in England, with life expectancy significantly below the national average. Meanwhile, the coastal village of Jaywick, near Clacton, is ranked as the most deprived of all 32,844 neighbourhoods in England in the Index of Multiple Deprivation, which looks at a range of measures including health.

Essex’s move comes as universities start to think in greater depth about how to extend the benefits of their education and research to struggling communities, including those at geographical distance from higher education institutions.

Chris Greer, Essex’s pro vice-chancellor for research, said the new post and centre would focus on “addressing the health and well-being of coastal communities as one of the biggest challenges of our time”, while aiming to unlock “huge potential” in coastal towns that have “very tight-knit communities” and “a proud history of reinvention and survival”.

“We are an anchor institution; we were established in 1964 by and for the people of Essex, and we want to play our full part in addressing this through a range of initiatives in partnership with local, regional and national partners,” he added.

Professor Greer highlighted a 2021 report on health in coastal communities by chief medical officer for England, Sir Chris Whitty, which he said pinpointed “a real lack of data in coastal communities about the health inequalities”.

Essex is home to the UK Data Archive, the UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data.

The professorship and centre would involve “data curation, production and analysis about understanding…the wider determinants of health in coastal communities,” said Professor Greer.

Essex was part of Tendring District Council’s successful bid for levelling up funding, billing the Centre for Coastal Communities as leading on adult education, “bringing further footfall into the area, diversifying the demographic of visitors and establishing a nationally significant academic centre which will help to build the profile of Clacton and help to create greater private sector confidence to invest in the area”.

Coastal communities “don’t tend to get the research investment; they don’t tend to get the public and private sector investment. So this £20 million is sensational,” said Professor Greer.

Essex is finalising an agreement with Tendring on the centre, which will be part of the university’s Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing, established in Colchester in 2022.

The hope is that the centre will be able to bring in the public along the lines of the institute’s model, providing public clinics, GP services, continuing professional development teaching health workers best practice, alongside the university’s research excellence in healthcare, health technology and data analysis “to really create a force for significant impact to benefit people’s lives”, said Professor Greer.

He added: “Coastal communities around the country will hopefully benefit from the knowledge transfer this will generate, from the research impact that will come out of this, the policy significance that will come out of this.”


Print headline: Essex seeks tonic for seaside towns

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