By Nicola Gratton, Lead for Civic Engagement and Evaluation, Staffordshire University
From January until August this year Expert Citizens and Staffordshire University have worked in partnership on a project called Keep Talking funded by the UKRI’s Enhancing Partnerships for Place-based Engagement Fund.
Keep Talking aimed to understand how universities and community organisations can work together to support long term, sustainable community research. Keep Talking worked with an existing team of community researchers and Expert Citizens, bringing their lived experience to support people involved in research, and talking openly to offer a range of ways we can understand the support needed for local people to become involved in community research.
Due to the worsening situation of COVID-19 in March, our normal way of doing research was put on hold. Instead, with the incredible support and resilience offered by the community research group, the project moved to a virtual way of engaging, through video calls and the use of social media.
It was here that the project went from strength to strength, during a time of massive uncertainty, with members of the group engaging in different creative ways of staying in touch and sharing their ideas, such as a podcast, photography, cooking, and poetry.
Involvement in creative methods, and the support offered between group members helped to create, and strengthen, friendships throughout the team. This allowed us to understand the contribution which friendships can have in community research, but also showed the unparalleled positive impact lived experience perspectives bring to all aspects of personal and professional life.
Creative research outputs from our time in ‘lockdown’ have proven to be impactful on a large and varied scale. Findings from the research have allowed us to engage on a local community level, but also share our findings across the country. We presented at a UK Participatory Research Network webinar. One of the things we missed most as a team was sharing food together and so, during lockdown we held our own ‘Bake and Bring Webinar’, where we sent all participants a tea bag (donated by Yorkshire Tea) and shared cake recipes created by the community research team, inviting people to come along, eat cake and drink tea together and learn about our project and its findings.
During our Bake and Bring Webinar, we shared our creative outputs and research findings with professionals, university staff and students, and aspiring community researchers. These virtual presentations allowed us to share our understanding of the power that lived experience can have in community-based research, as well as the positive impacts community research can have locally and nationally.
We are delighted to announce that, as a result of Keep Talking, a partnership agreement between Staffordshire University and Expert Citizens has been agreed, ensuring we can continue to work together and show the power of lived experience and what it can bring to university and community relations. We look forward to combining the strengths of our two organisations to support our local communities.