Understanding marginalisation and experiences of blue spaces and water sports


   Faculty of Health & Social Sciences

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  Dr Ellie Gennings, Dr Ian Jones, Dr Nicola De Martini Ugolotti  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The unfolding of the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions that ensued have been accompanied in Britain by an increasing interest in recreational and educational activities establishing a direct relationship with the natural environment. These emerging trends in some cases have accelerated existing patterns of participation in sport and physical activity and in relation to “blue spaces” (intended as ‘outdoor environments–either natural or manmade–that prominently feature water and are accessible to people’. Gov.UK, 2022). Spending time in an outdoor environment (such as a blue space), while being physically active, brings together multiple reported health and wellbeing benefits in addition to contributing towards policy aims and objectives.  

Since the pandemic, there is an increased emphasis on the health and social benefits of “being outdoors”. However, this emphasis is often sidelined with uneven and unequal forms of access, experience and engagement with blue spaces and water sports along intersecting lines of class, gender, sexuality, ‘race’ and ethnicity, physical (dis)ability and legal status (Phoenix et al., 2021; Bates and Moles, 2022). 

As a result, engagement with blue spaces and related water sports has often been reduced to a universal idea(l), from which participants are said to benefit evenly, without attending to the material, structural, or institutional factors which shape access to and engagement with sport and physical activities in blue spaces.  

This PhD scholarship will dedicate specific attention to the issues outlined above, with a focus on understanding how social groups and communities experiencing overlapping forms of exclusion experience and engage with physical activities and water sports in blue spaces. Through a partnership with the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and the Andrew Simpson Foundation (ASF), this research will focus on understanding barriers to and experiences of participation in sport and exercise in blue spaces. 

The ASF has an existing infrastructure to support the co-creation of a water sports programme with the capacity to scale up the programme and enrol this nationally at their centres (based in Portland, Portsmouth, Birmingham and Reading). The project will also receive support from the RYA in relation to national governance of water sports and support on a regional scale through Sea View Yacht Club (based on the Isle of White).  

The methodology employed in this PhD will be flexible, with a particular focus on devising creative and participatory methods with the involved communities. The research will also consider the relevance of employing mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approaches to the project.  

The aims of this PhD are broad as the potential candidate should identify how they would approach the topic and how this might link to them as an individual or to their experiences and expertise. The project will: 

  • Explore the experiences and relationship with blue spaces among social groups/communities experiencing overlapping forms of marginalization; 
  • Engage with community groups and policy actors to co-create toolkits/guidelines and inform programmes that can support and enhance access to and engagement with blue spaces; 
  • Critically evaluate issues of access and relationship with blue spaces as vehicles for innovation in sport physical activity participation policy and identify the socio-cultural and policy shifts needed to successfully implement change 

Academic impact  

The PhD aligns with BU’s Fusion model whereby the candidate will be contributing to research, practice and education at BU.  

  • Research: Outputs will include the publication of findings within academic journals. The candidate will target interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journals across the domains of health, sport, leisure and physical culture.  
  • Practice: There is the scope to participate in national knowledge exchange activities with the RYA as the National Governing Body for dinghy, motor and sail cruising, all forms of sail racing, RIBs and sportsboats, windsurfing and personal watercraft and a leading representative body for inland waterways cruising.  
  • Education: The PhD will also feed into teaching excellence within the department as the research has direct relevance to undergraduate and postgraduate units/courses addressing the socio-cultural and environmental dimensions and issues related to sport and physical activity 

Societal impact  

The PhD will have an instrumental and conceptual impact whereby the findings from the PhD will directly inform the development of policy and practice in relation to inequalities in sport and exercise participation and contribute to understanding/reframing of debates around intersecting forms of marginalisation, access to “natural” environments, sport and exercise. 

The outcomes of this project have the potential to benefit wider society as the promotion of wellbeing, sport and exercise, nature connection and community cohesion align with multiple policy goals.  

The PhD will connect the funders with the community and evidence their practice. This will enable them to attract and apply for future funding, and therefore build their capacity to have an impact on communities.   

PGR Development Opportunities   

This research could help establish a national reputation for the candidate with the funders due to the scalability of the PhD findings to benefit the multiple sites the charity operates from across the UK.  

The PhD is aligned with policy goals from multiple areas (health, wellbeing, sport, reducing inequalities, environmental sustainability). Based on this relevance, there is scope for the candidate to influence policy, apply for further funding post PhD, network with a variety of organisations and apply for jobs within industry post-PhD. Bournemouth University is a signatory to the Research Concordat, holds the HR Excellence in Research (HREiR) award and has a comprehensive suite of training opportunities for doctoral candidates and ECRs. The PhD student will be encouraged to engage with BU’s Researcher Development Programme and support to assist their career development.  

The PhD fits within the theme Sport, Health and Sustainability of Bournemouth University’s Sport and Physical Activity Research Centre (SPARC). Based on the relevance of the PhD to the faculty and research centres, there is opportunity for the candidate to be a part and contribute to an international network of researchers collaborating with the centre. 

Business & Management (5) Psychology (31) Sociology (32) Sport & Exercise Science (33)

Funding Notes

This project is jointly funded by Bournemouth University, Royal Yachting Association and the Andrew Simpson Foundation.