Home > Exploring communities of belonging around drink.

Nelson, Peter and Bastin, Ruth and Joubert, Marelize (2023) Exploring communities of belonging around drink. London: Alcohol Change UK.

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This research is one of four projects funded by Alcohol Change UK as part of the New Horizons programme, which seeks to achieve a greater understanding of Groups, Communities and Alcohol Harm. It is a joint project between Sheffield Hallam University, ARC Research, and Leeds, Hull, Doncaster, North Lincolnshire local authorities along with delivery organisations in Doncaster and Kirklees. The research explores the complex role that communities play in alcohol harm and recovery by focussing on communities in each area that reflected national and locally identified need and knowledge gaps.

Our Research Questions:

  • Does membership of a community of belonging impact on drinking behaviour and if so, how?
  • Is it possible to reduce drinking and maintain your links with your original community of belonging? What is the impact of marginalisation on the possibility of change?
  • Are some communities of belonging more flexible and more adaptable than others to changes in drinking behaviour? Or is a new community of belonging required?
  • How does being a member of a community of belonging impact on engagement with services? Can services usefully help communities adapt and develop to support new drinking behaviour?

We look at the notion of ‘a community of belonging’ around drinking further and draw out the stories of local communities in Yorkshire and the Humber. We specifically explore stories around belonging with members of marginalised groups where alcohol may play a part in the group identity, either as social glue or source of stigma. Our research focuses on ethnically diverse communities namely Polish and South Asian alongside LGBTQ+ communities across Yorkshire and the Humber in both rural and urban settings, communities chosen in conjunction with local partner agencies as identified priority areas.

Data collection - In each of the areas we recruited and trained local community researchers from the communities involved, geographical and belonging. Data collection had three parts, an interview exploring a participant’s drinking career, a walk about or go along interview exploring the place of drinking and a contextual interview with participant identified friends, family or other community members known to the participant. In total 23 interviews with participants were undertaken, as well as 14 walking interviews and 2 participant identified interviews.

Interview analysis - Following transcription, the interviews were subject to Framework analysis by the research team. Framework Analysis is a systematic and flexible approach to analysing qualitative data which is particularly useful for multi-disciplinary research teams (Gale et al 2013).

The findings were shared with the Professional and Community Advisory groups, along with community researchers, at differing stages of the analysis to test validation and to inform the final data interpretation. The research process was subject to a COREQ check list (Tong et al 2007).


  • The identification of a community to which they belonged was common to all participants, and this could encompass multiple communities both between and within groupings and be a source of strength.
  • Community identification is informed by transition points into and out of communities; from straight to gay, joining a student community or moving to a new country.
  • This movement into and out of a community of belonging is shaped by an individual drinking career alongside new and past community norms.
  • The transition points challenge community belonging and can be traumatic with associated dangerous drinking behaviour to manage or at times enjoy that transition.
  • Community identification and belonging is not a static moment in time but rather a fluid and active process.

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