Building trust and meaningful relationships with our diverse communities is a strategic priority for the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). To work towards this aim, on 31 October, the BRC and three other regional NIHR infrastructures hosted a community outreach event in the heart of our city.
The event, titled Health Unity: Bridging Communities and Research, was aimed at engaging with the local communities we serve, spreading awareness of the importance of research and highlighting how everyone can get involved in shaping our work. We chose to hold it at the Legacy Centre of Excellence – Europe’s largest independent Black-owned Business and Arts Centre – in the ward of Aston, a diverse and vibrant community with a rich history and culture.
The Health Unity event at the Legacy Centre of Excellence was a resounding success, demonstrating the importance of engaging and listening to our communities to understand how best to build trust and encourage research participation. The event brought together members of the Black, African, and Asian communities, researchers, and healthcare professionals to discuss the unique health and care challenges faced by underserved people and to identify solutions. It was a powerful example of how community engagement can lead to better health and care research outcomes and ultimately improved patient experiences for all.
– Mr Byron Batten, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Theme Lead at the Birmingham BRC
The event featured a wide range of exhibition stands run by researchers working across the organising infrastructures, who showcased their work in inventive and engaging ways, and a series of talks explaining our vision and highlighting the work and experiences of patient research partners and community engagement professionals.
In his talk, Shane Ward, Chief Executive at the West Bromwich African Caribbean Resource Centre, told us about the community-based research they carried out to explore the thoughts, feelings and impact of COVID-19 on Black African Diaspora communities in the West Midlands. “We demonstrated that community groups can do valuable research, and are able to reach specific communities more easily than academic researchers,” he said. “The event has inspired us to make more of the research, and we are seeking to get a paper published from it.”
Natalie Knight, Keele University’s Race Equality Ambassador, spoke passionately about NIHR development awarded project REINVENT, a collaborative project with Eloquent Dance Studio to explore how universities can partner with underrepresented communities, young people and their families. The project has proven extremely insightful for Keele’s researchers: they started the study wishing to explore how this group could engage in Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) activities and explore experienced physical pain issues, but by interacting with them, they found out they didn’t think about ‘pain’ or their health at all. “We learned so much about partnerships and about each other,” Natalie commented. “The more you empower your communities through community-led PPIE the more trust, action, and change you get. Legacy starts with early intervention – our people have the answers, it’s about asking them.”
Patient research partner Davina told us about her lived experience with colitis, and how volunteering to shape and raise awareness of research gives her hope for the future. “There have been wonderful amounts of development since I was diagnosed – back then, the treatments available to me were injections or infusions, while now you can get oral medicines, which is great. There’s always hope in research.”
The talks stimulated lively discussions and exchanges – including important reflections on the importance of building trust and relationships before asking for anything from our communities, and on how representation is key for both members of the community engaging in research, and for researchers. “Mine has been a lonely journey,” said Christine Burt, Director of Research and Innovation at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. “I am so glad to see things are changing, and it is amazing to be here, speaking with so many people who look like me and are interested or work in research. We have a long way to go, but this feels like an excellent start.”
This event was part of a wider calendar of celebrations for Black History Month – earlier in October, the BRC also hosted a webinar, titled “Celebrating our Sisters: Supporting and Sustaining Black Women in Research”, targeted at our research community. The webinar, which was attended by almost 120 people from across the country, featured thought-provoking talks showcasing the work and personal experiences of Black health and care researchers and patient partners.
Would you like to find out more about our commitment to delivering equality, diversity and inclusion in research? Read about our approach to EDI.