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By Anna Tarrant, University of Lincoln


In my research with fathers and father figures living in impoverished places, I have long been interested in how people, and men specifically, ‘do’ family and how this is organised spatially and over time. In gaining a complex understanding of both, my research has necessarily involved consideration of how men’s experiences are shaped by the places where they live and engage, and how places themselves are shaped by the individuals and communities that comprise them. In capturing and understanding men’s experiences of family in low-income contexts, the need to understand and account for place-based poverty and the longitudinal dynamics of hardship has been essential.

In research about poverty and family life, it is difficult to ignore the significance of family engagements and interactions with community and third sector agencies (Tarrant, 2021; Hughes and Tarrant, 2023). It is in these locality-based encounters that low-income fathers seek to secure the resources they need to sustain their families over time and across the lifecourse. Attention to the dynamics of policy and place and how both interact to contour the family lives of low-income fathers and father figures, additionally supports alternative arguments about poverty than those that typically assume hardship and impoverishment to be the fault of families and individuals residing in low-income localities.

Turning our attention to the macro-dynamics that are productive of experiences of poverty e.g. of the geographies of austerity and deindustrialisation, of increasing labour market precarity and the reduction of welfare support, we are better able to comprehend why men experience family poverty in the ways that they do. These are all processes characterising the contemporary social world that geographers regularly subject to theoretical and conceptual development and critique. Geographically informed knowledge of these processes enables us to more effectively consider how we might promote and embed conditions that are more conducive to facilitating caregiving and the welfare of families in low-income contexts.

In their substantive and empirical focus, these kinds of questions are driven by justice driven agendas that aim to address social inequalities and their spatial and temporal manifestations. How we research these questions also has implications for the doing of geography and the methodologies that geographers implement and advance, prompting investments in research and methods designed to effect social change with and for the communities with whom geographers engage.

In my current research, we are using co-creation methodology to realise and interrogate processes of change with young fathers, a marginalised population that experiences high rates of social disadvantage. Co-creation is a transformative, participatory approach to research that involves multiple stakeholders working in creative, collaborative, and inclusive ways to address community identified needs. In the Following Young Fathers Further study, we are collaborating with young fathers and several third sector and community organisations to co-create and promote new and innovative models of training and education for professionals across the health and social care landscape that are inclusive of fathers and involve them directly in practice innovations.

As a participatory methodology, co-creation encourages attention to processes of democratisation in research, an approach that is principally concerned with flattening power dynamics in research processes, through more inclusive and justice-oriented approaches to methods. In supporting young fathers to advocate father-inclusive practice on behalf of themselves and others to an audience of professionals, they become directly involved in processes of change for their community. We have also sought to diversify the sample of young fathers with whom we work, engaging in anti-racist methodological practice to promote father-inclusion among professionals by improving outreach and support for minoritised young fathers. This work is underpinned by an awareness of intersectionality and the ways in which complex intersections of age, gender, race, and class contribute to the (in)visibility of particular experiences.

Geographers are well placed to advance participatory methodologies like co-creation in their research and practice. The brokering of new dialogues and trusting reciprocal relationships with communities through research processes have an important role to play in their transformation and the places that constitute them. Professionals working for third and voluntary sectors often hold a great wealth of knowledge about the localities within which they work, including both the populations who live there, their local cultures and the challenges they experience. They are also gatekeepers to communities enabling or restricting access to participants. To engage in participatory approaches in ways that are attentive to questions of inclusion and intersectionality, it is essential to identify and work with the broad range of stakeholders that have the capacity to address pertinent social issues. Commitment to employing methods that are driven by an ethic of care and a commitment to social justice are also likely to be the most effective in affecting transformations with communities and in place in ways that benefit them most.



  • Community and third sector agencies are crucial in enabling low-income fathers and families to secure the resources they need to sustain their families over time and across the lifecourse.

  • Research engagements with third sector agencies as key research partners can facilitate important insights into how people both experience and constitute the localities and places where they live, offering local knowledge that can transform geographical understanding.

  • Participatory methods like co-creation are useful methods for ‘doing geography’, and for conducting transformative research in place that is attentive to democratising research relationships with communities and pursuing social justice agendas.



Tarrant, A. (2021) Fathering and Poverty: Uncovering Men’s Participation in Low-Income Family Life, Bristol: Policy Press. 

Hughes, K. and Tarrant, A. (2023) Men, Families and Poverty: Tracing the longitudinal trajectories of place-based hardship, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


How to cite

Tarrant, A. (2023) Co-producing knowledge with low-income fathers and multi-agency professionals. Working with voluntary and community groups. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Guide. Available at:


About this guide

Working with voluntary and community organisations for some is a very important way to do geography. These organisations come in various shapes and sizes and may also often be referred to as the third sector, the voluntary sector, not-for-profit organisations, community groups or the civic sector. In this guide, we share the experiences of researchers doing geography in collaboration with community and voluntary organisations. A range of topics and issues are explored from health, disability and care, through to austerity, violence, and craft, amongst others. We learn about the approaches taken by geographers in their work with community and voluntary organisations, and some of the challenges they have negotiated in the process. 


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