Health effects of air pollution Research and development

A breath of clean air

19 February 2021

A report from our community research into people's experiences of air pollution in Lambeth and Southwark

In brief

Research has shown us that air pollution is having a disproportionate impact on people living on low incomes, including Black and Asian communities. Yet air pollution is often seen as a white, middle class issue, and often the communities most vocal about this issue are from wealthier, less polluted areas. Together with The Social Innovation Partnership (TSIP), we set out to better understand the views of those in Lambeth and Southwark who are most impacted by air pollution, but least heard.


Executive summary

The project included a literature review which helped inform the project and our research questions. It found the current literature is lacking in authentic urban voices, is missing an interdisciplinary approach and is dominated by white, middle-class voices. Despite a history of environmental activism within Lambeth and Southwark, led by Black and other minority ethnic communities, there are tensions and barriers to engagement that we need to understand to ensure an inclusive, collaborative approach.

To explore this, Community Researchers recruited 81 community members to take part in a ‘have your say’ survey, and set up an ‘Air Pollution Forum’ with fourteen community members from diverse backgrounds who met fortnightly to discuss a variety of air pollution issues.

TSIP’s approach replaces more common, extractive research methods and is built upon principles of community leadership and co-ownership. Local people are recruited and trained to carry out the research, and these Community Researchers bring invaluable neighbourhood knowledge and relationships to the project.

Air pollution is affecting daily life but will have more impact on future generations, therefore needs to be locked down before crisis point.

Abdul Survey respondent

Together, the Community Researchers found:

  • People are not aware that air pollution is a universal issue or of how it affects them personally
  • Those that do become aware of air pollution cannot prioritise the issue
  • As people become more aware of air pollution, they are keen to engage in the agenda, but the relevant information is hard to find
  • More research is needed to understand the barriers to engagement for different communities
  • There is a strong desire to raise awareness for all in the short-term
  • However, people within the community are less confident on actions to tackle air pollution in the long-term
  • No individual, community or organisation can tackle the problem of air pollution in isolation

A snapshot of residents on whether air pollution affects them personally


believe that it does affect them


believe that it doesn't affect them


were unsure

A valuable outcome from those brought together for the ‘Air Pollution Forum’ was that they now feel informed and empowered to make a change. We think there is an opportunity to re-launch the Air Pollution Forum as a local community-led action group that could lead a community-led campaign to increase public understanding about air pollution. Opportunities to tap into this include:

  • Finding local champions from the neighbourhoods worst affected by air pollution to promote awareness in those areas, offering them opportunities to upskill in relevant areas (e.g. public speaking)
  • Collaborating with underrepresented communities to co-design new ways to engage them in the air pollution agenda

We need help to be able to hold people to account and drive change from the community.

Natasha Survey respondent

The findings of our research point to a historic lack of understanding and effort to engage underrepresented communities on the health impacts of air pollution, the need to value lived experience as data, and to engage these communities in the research, design and implementation of measures to tackle air pollution.

The report calls for more research to understand the barriers to engagement, and makes the following recommendations:

  • Explore opportunities for researchers from the community and researchers from academic institutions to conduct new research into air pollution that builds on the lived experience of air pollution
  • Conduct further research into the barriers to engagement for different underrepresented communities, particularly communities that speak English as a second language.
  • Explore and share the links between air pollution and other social issues that underrepresented communities are already engaging with.


This project is part of the early stages of our programme, exploring how we amplify the voices of those who are most impacted by air pollution. Our long-term vision is for this work to inform both our programme strategy and narrative, as well as identifying practical projects that we might support, including by continuing to work with TSIP and the community researchers.


In collaboration with

TSIP logo

Read the 'A breath of clean air' report