Four researchers from the departments of Clinical Research and Disease Control (Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases) have been awarded £1000 grants to develop and deliver public engagement activities. The purpose of this new funding stream is to offer staff and students the chance to engage non-academics in creative discussions around their work, and these innovative projects will involve audiences in the UK and Africa.
The new grant scheme is the brainchild of Philippe Mayaud and Joanna Schellenberg, heads of the departments of Clinical Research and Disease Control respectively. They were recipients of a small amount of dedicated funding through the Wellcome Trust’s Public Engagement Leadership Programme to increase public engagement activities in their departments, and were keen to use the money to allow researchers to develop their own practice and try new ideas.
The process was kick-started in March with planning workshops for applicants delivered by Graphic Science, and the scheme opened for applications shortly afterwards.
- Sham Lal will be working with Chris Grundy on a project entitled “Outbreak! Investigating epidemics with maps and imagery”. The activity will take place at the London Metropolitan Archives to conjure up the Victorian era, when smallpox outbreaks were devastating London. Students will use original archive materials and recently-restored smallpox maps from this period to learn about the disease and its effects on the city. They will combine their knowledge and skills from history, geography, maths and science to devise a control programme for quelling the epidemic.
- Dr Lena Lorenz’s project is entitled “What makes you happy and healthy? What makes you sick?” Using cameras, crayons and paper, Tanzanian school children will go into their communities to explore these questions. These activities will then inform a discussion around these questions between the children, their teachers and School researchers. Read more about Lena’s project.
- Dr Sarah-Lou Bailey will be running a project called “The bitter taste of sugar” in Zambia. A workshop will be held for a group of people living with diabetes, where they will share stories about their experiences of being diagnosed and living with the disease. Local cartoonists will capture these reflections, and the illustrations shared with wider audiences.
- Dr Ewan Hunter’s project is called ‘Let’s talk about epilepsy”, and will take place in Tanzania. Ewan and colleagues will run a workshop for parents and teachers of children with epilepsy. The group will discuss barriers around school attendance, and explore suggestions for educational programmes that can help epilepsy patients to be more accepted by the community, such as those using theatre or puppetry.
Philippe said: “This is the first time that our departments have offered public engagement funding, and it was hard to anticipate whether there would be a demand. It was great to see that the preparation workshops were popular with staff and students, and to receive proposals with really creative ideas for exploring research themes with public groups.”
The scheme is supported at Faculty level in the form of a new part-time Public Engagement Officer role, held by Rebecca Tremain. Alongside Vickie Bazalgette, the School’s Public Engagement Coordinator, Rebecca has run regular ‘drop-in’ sessions to help applicants hone their plans. Arlene Heron in the Faculty Office has also dedicated time, handling communications and managing the grant application process.
Joanna said: “Many researchers are planning public engagement activities for the first time, and providing dedicated staff with whom they can discuss their ideas has been indispensable to the success of this new programme. Faculty support has made this possible.”
Ewan said: “We have been studying epilepsy in this community for over six years. Lack of access to education for children with epilepsy has been a recurring theme throughout our data, both as a consequence of anxiety and stigma, and as a predictor of reduced access to and retention in treatment later in life. We are really excited to have this support to engage with parents and teachers of children with epilepsy as we seek to devise sustainable and acceptable interventions to improve the lives of this marginalised group of patients.”
Lena said: “I’m excited and grateful to be able to work with school children in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, to find out what they identify as healthy and harmful in their communities. I strongly believe that listening to those who are directly affected by public health issues, and tailoring health practice to address their concerns, is an effective way to start a dialogue about disease prevention and learn from such different perspectives.”
Sarah-Lou said: “We are delighted to receive this generous public engagement grant. Whilst working on our current research projects in Zambia it has become abundantly clear that diabetes is under-recognised and those living with it are misunderstood. We hope to improve awareness of the condition through giving a voice to people living with diabetes.”
To find out more about plans for next year’s Small Grants Scheme and to hear about progress on these projects so far, come to the School Symposium session “Whose ideas matter? Creative approaches to public engagement” on Wednesday 23 September, 2-3:30pm in LG6/7.
Photo 1: Student sharing career ambitions. Credit: Steven Tito Academy, Bagamoyo, Tanzania
Photo 2: 1902 map showing smallpox and typhus cases in London. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives
Photo 3: Testing for diabetes, Zambia. Credit: Sarah-Lou Bailey
Photo 4: Community discussion, Tanzania. Credit: Ewan Hunter