Sarah Brooks-Wilson

HND Design (Photomedia); BA (Hons) Social Policy (York); MRes Social Policy (York)

  • PhD Student


Thesis supervisor

Research interests

  • Youth justice geography
  • Socio-spatial (in) justice
  • Visual methods 
  • Sustainable development

PhD Research topic

I am currently investigating Intensive Supervision and Surveillance (ISS) within a youth justice context, in a project jointly managed by a Youth Offending Team and the Department of Social Policy and Social Work.  At the same time, my PhD nears completion.  My thesis centres on convicted young people’s youth justice mobilities.  In this research, the accessing of local youth justice operations, and treatment of convicted young journey makers is coupled with the new mobilities paradigm in order to consider the (re)production of social inequalities.  The new mobilities paradigm foregrounds the fluidity of social life, providing the possibility to understand how convicted young people’s multiple and complex needs can impact their mobility, and how mobility problems can in turn, have a detrimental impact on convicted young people’s lives.  In this context I draw on social geography and in particular, Cresswell’s Politics of Mobility as a framework through which new empirical data on youth justice journey making can be examined.

Prior to my PhD I worked in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work on a project exploring the implementation of the National Framework for Sustainable Schools in a local authority setting.  This area wide and in-depth study took place in mainstream and alternative educational settings.  Before this project I undertook research examining the views and experiences of those experiencing fuel poverty.  Throughout these projects, a range of visual methods were developed and used in order to successfully consult with ‘hard to reach’ groups about complex policy frameworks.  I have been a keen advocate of visual communication since qualifying as a photographer some years ago, and champion its use in important discussions with people about the policies that impact them.  I have worked and volunteered in both the youth justice and youth work sectors (with young people experiencing poverty and social exclusion) so have also been able to consolidate practice experiences with these research projects in many cases.             

 Academic employment and responsibilities

In April 2009 I started working as a researcher in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work in connection with fuel and water poverty in the UK. Subsequent employment was then secured on a project investigating the implementation of the National Framework for Sustainable Schools within a local authority. Drawing upon my previous training and employment as a photographer and a youth worker, I used visual participatory research methods to facilitate policy based discussions with a wide range of children and young children including those attending a special school, hospital school and a pupil referral unit.

Drawing on transferrable experiences from a number of years in supervisory management roles, I have enjoyed guest lecturing in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work on a number of topic areas. Modules have included Sustainable Development and Social Inclusion, and more recently Youth Justice where I co-convened the module. Teaching has also been delivered for the Introducing Social Policy and Social Research Methods modules.

I have undertaken non-academic research with young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), who were residing in a socio-economically disadvantaged area about their engagement with essential services. Again, visual methods broadened this dialogue, allowing pertinent, under-represented views to be shared. More recently, I have been undertaking an exploration into the accessibility of youth justice services for marginalised children and young people, for a local authority.

Since July 2011 I have been a member of the UK Social Policy Association’s Executive Committee, initially as Postgraduate Representative and now involved in the promotion of employability.

Non-academic employment

I have been using visual communication tools since 1995 when I qualified as a photographer. Sole and collaborative exhibitions have been undertaken alongside commissions and editorial photographic publications. Work on a number of photographic projects with young people experiencing social disadvantage sparked my interest to support the articulation of under-represented views within a policy context.

As a Youth Worker I have supported marginalised children and young people with complex needs, strategically promoting social inclusion through: sexual health information in a city centre during the evening; city centre based alcohol reduction strategies with the local crime reduction partnership; activities for NEET young people; and intervention strategies through the Positive Activities for Young People initiative. Regular support has also been provided for young people while in police custody and during their mandatory reparative activities through a local Youth Offending Team. Accessibility became a key interest during this period working with young people, particularly while coordinating a mobile youth club for a local authority.


Peer reviewed publications

Snell, C., and Brooks-Wilson, S., (2014), Education for sustainable development and welfare reform: a very British case study? in Fitzpatrick, T., (ed) International Handbook on Social Policy and the Environment, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Brooks-Wilson, S. and Snell, C. (2012) '"Hard to Reach" or "Accessible When Approached"? Sustainable Development Discussions with Marginalized Pupil Groups', Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1-24.

Wilson, S.J., and Snell, C., (2010), ‘Bad for the penguins … because they need ice and that to live on’: an exploratory study into the environmental views, concerns and knowledge of socially disadvantaged young people, Journal of Youth Studies, 13: 2, 151 - 168.

Other publications

Book review: Kraftl., P., Horton, J., and Tucker, F., (eds.) (2012), Critical Geographies of Childhood and Youth: Contemporary Policy and Practice, Bristol: Policy Press, for the Journal of Social Policy, 42:3, 653-655.

Book review: Fitzpatrick, T., (2012), Understanding the Environment and Social Policy, Bristol: Policy Press, for the Journal of Social Policy, 41:1, 223-225.

Horton, M., Grayson, J., and Wilson, S., (2010), Learning for Life, Learning for Resilience: ‘Can Do’ and informal adult education in the Warren Centre, Hull, AdEd Knowledge Company.

Snell, C., and Wilson, S., (2010), Sustainable Schools Project: Deliverable Two, University of York.

Snell, C., and Wilson, S., (2010), Millennium Development Goals, Green Education, London: Sage.

Snell, C., Wilson, S., and Main, G., (2009), Sustainable Schools Project: Deliverable One, University of York.

Conference papers

Brooks-Wilson, S., (2012), Accessing and engaging with youth justice services: a socio-spatial exploration, paper presented at the Social Policy Association Annual Conference, University of York, 16-18th July 2012.

Brooks-Wilson, S., (2011), ‘The lightbulbs what we get them off council, by the time you’ve actually done the thing you went into the room for it’s just lighting on’: using an adaptive visual research approach to consult with overlooked pupils about sustainable development, paper presented at the Social Policy Association Conference, University of Lincoln, 4-6th July 2011.

Snell, C., and Brooks-Wilson, S., (2011), Education for sustainable development under the coalition government? paper presented at the Social Policy Association Conference, University of Lincoln, 4-6th July 2011.

Brooks-Wilson, S., (2011), 'She looks nice, she looks like a granny. She's got peas, carrots, potatoes, gravy... She's a bit old. She's got a different dress. She's got different hair': creating a visual participatory research toolkit to undertake an effective policy consultation with 'hard to reach' children and young people, paper presented at the Power and Empowerment Conference, University of Sheffield, 26th May 2011.


Conference organiser

What is Social Policy?

University of York, November 5th 2012

This information event for schools included an introductory talk, workshops on different facets of Social Policy and a closing discussion panel. Funding was provided by the ESRC as part of their annual Festival of Social Science.

Employability in Social Policy – An Event for Postgraduate Students

London School of Economics and Political Science, June 14th 2012

Information and advice related to: Government Social Research; publishing in a top raking journal; obtaining career development funding and maintaining an internet presence. This event was undertaken as part of my responsibilities on the UK Social Policy Association Executive Committee, and was funded by the Higher Education Academy.

Conference and workshop chairing

Social Policy in an Unequal World: the Social Policy Association Annual Conference

University of York, 16-18th July 2012

Teaching Social Policy for the Future

University of Edinburgh, 20th April 2012

Reforming Young People’s Priorities?

University of York, 27th March 2012

Good Practices of Community Conflict Management - European Union Crime Prevention Network Conference

Budapest, Hungary, June 6-7th 2011.

Contact details

Sarah Brooks-Wilson
Department of Social Policy and Social Work
Alcuin Research Resource Centre (2nd Floor)
University of York
YO10 5DD