‘Inspiring Stories’ with Sonia Newman

Patient & Public Involvement Officer, Primary Care, Population Sciences & Medical Education

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

When we won an award from the SPCR in October 2019, to co-deliver a proposed PPIE outreach project with under-represented families in a local housing estate, little did we know how much we would have to adapt our plans? At the beginning of January 2020 we received our award. With a six-month period, we would need to get things moving quickly. Meetings with the Family Centre team, meetings with co-apps. A tight schedule ahead. Our work would involve a great deal of engaging with the community, building relationships and this takes time(1), time to become a familiar face, time to build trust with the community, time to adapt and be flexible. We would attend weekly face-to-face family group sessions, help the team, chat and get to know some of the families, find out what concerns parents/carers about childhood infections, about their child’s health and invite their views. This would, over the coming weeks culminate in a craft event led by a Community Facilitator. Beyond, it would unite the research community and under-represented community in a long-term sustainable relationship. But, what happens when face-to-face is no longer an option? With the arrival of COVID-19, there were only two options…. give up or flip to the ‘B side’. 

How do we build a rapport with families virtually? Community pop-ups in green spaces and a community socially-distanced ‘Scavenger Hunt’! The Family Centre organised the Scavenger Hunt at a local Sports Centre grounds. Our team proposed running a science maze activity station and helping the Family Centre staff where help was needed. It was agreed! 

Question…how do we use the little time we have to make a positive impact, a springboard for future virtual involvement and engagement? We decided upon wearing green t-shirts, bold and bright, with the aim of being noticed and not forgotten. Let’s not give leaflets/flyers out. They line the bottoms of bags effectively and are easily forgotten.  Instead, let’s add a simple message to the back of the t-shirt that encourages curiosity…. “will you help us find the answer?” and a badge with “help us shape research”. Enough to be a presence, to prompt conversations and for our faces and message to frequent the Sure Start Facebook Group. This would become our virtual relationship with the families we met and those we didn’t meet but will have heard. We still have some way to go and I’m sure that we will need to adapt further during these uncertain times. 

I don’t know about you, but when I was young, in my teens and into vinyl, it was widely accepted that the B side was not as good as the A side. It was second, the token addition, that was until one day I lucked out: Queen, A side ‘We are the Champions’ and B side ‘We Will Rock You’.  Both winners! What’s my point? Well, our original plans for the outreach project had to change, we’ve had to adapt and think outside the box. We flipped to the ‘B side!  

(1)     INVOLVE: A Practical Guide to Being Inclusive in Public Involvement in Health Research – lessons from the Reaching Out programme.  Written by Katherine Cowan, February 2020 

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

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University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Sonia Newman

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