This autumn, our team have been holding a series of events with the social enterprise Health Exchange. Health Exchange are based in Birmingham, and work with local communities to help people to understand and manage their health. Health Exchange convened nine sessions on our behalf, including with BME NHS staff, local faith groups, a ‘Golden Age’ lunch club, and the Jamaican Nurses Association. A community facilitator – Michael Bailey – ran these sessions, directing discussions around how people felt that the NHS had changed over time, and what changes they would like to see in the future. Our researchers were privileged to join many of these sessions, and to learn from the insights and experiences of all participants.
To thank those who attending these sessions, and to talk about our next steps together, on Monday 21st November we held an event with Health Exchange where all workshop participants could meet ourselves and one another. We had short presentations from our team, talking about our experiences of conducting this work, and also, of course, about NHS history. We also had talks from Jennifer Jones-Rigby, the Assistant Director of Health Exchange, Michael Bailey, our facilitator, and we viewed some clips taken during the sessions by our videographer, Darryl Green. We had lively Q&A / discussion sessions throughout.
Already, these workshops and final event have been invaluable for our team. We’ve heard specific memories which will enrich our studies. We’ve also been challenged in terms of what questions we’re asking of our material, what events we’re running, who we’re talking to, and who we’re missing. We’ve learnt about the benefits of community facilitators, who can help us to meet and engage with new audiences. We’ve also been challenged in terms of how we place ourselves in our research – when attending one session, for example, Natalie and Jenny were asked how they themselves felt about the NHS. No one is a neutral observer, and if we are asking people to tell us intimate memories about their past health and care, then we must not be surprised when participants ask about our own lives!
Moving forward, we’ll be building on these sessions in several ways. Some brilliant ideas for future events were raised on the 21st – one suggestion was bringing together newly qualified student nurses with retired nurses. This would we think be a very good event in terms of thinking about change over time – something which can be hard to keep focus on when running engagement events. We’ll be publishing methodological articles for academics, thinking about how to improve community engagement, to the benefit of both researchers and communities; as well as academic books and articles incorporating our insights. One key insight is about how to ensure that engagement persists beyond events like this, and throughout the lifespan of an academic project. This is crucial to recognise how much we value the time and help of participants, and to ensure that we remain reflective about our own work. With this in mind, we’ll be sending a newsletter around to workshop participants shortly, and also very much invite anyone who would like to share more memories to sign up to our website, or simply to email us at NHSEngage@warwick.ac.uk. We can’t write a ‘People’s History’ of the NHS without talking to people, and letting them shape our research agendas and priorities, so please do get in touch!