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Spotlight: Christopher Ward

We interviewed NIHR CRN South London’s Acting Joint Study Support Service (SSS) Lead and SSS Specialist Christopher Ward who talked about why research really matters.

The aim of this monthly spotlight blog series is to celebrate, highlight, educate and inform the public about the diverse range of people who support vital research studies from within our region. We are proud of everyone who plays their part in contributing to improving the health of the population.

What do you do?

My job covers two particular aspects: alongside my colleague, Alex Ignatian, I head up the SSS team on maternity leave cover, and I also work as a specialist. For the specialist role, I help to answer some of the trickier questions that are signposted to our team. I work directly with researchers and research teams to help ensure everything from the concept phase of studies to the close of recruitment runs as smoothly as possible.

What do you enjoy most about this role?

I love working directly with researchers and am very lucky to be part of a team which provides brilliant support to health and care researchers throughout south London. I’m passionate about research being inclusive. Research can be globally transformative if the design and recruitment are done right.

My research background is unconventional: I have a history of art degree. I worked in and ran a number of pubs after university, as well as a record label that a friend and I set up. I started off in research with a job supporting research ethics committees and then moved onto King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where I was a Research Facilitator. I have worked with the Health Research Authority as a Project Manager and as a Senior Confidentiality Advisor. An opportunity then came up to join CRN South London within their SSS team and I grabbed it with both hands. I managed the team for a couple of years before moving into the specialist role.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m quite shy, very much an introvert who loves reading, and going to exhibitions and concerts. I really like learning new things.

There isn’t much I won’t read, except horror. I’m very squeamish! Over lockdown the author I’ve read the most (about 70 books to date) is Jack Vance - he’s definitely my favourite recent discovery and he deserves to be a lot better known. I used to live on a top floor flat and I had so many books that I was genuinely worried that I’d either have to stop buying more or that the floor was going to collapse; e-books might literally have saved my life.

My wife and I have two cats: Sausage and Panda. They bully me relentlessly.

Why did you join CRN South London?

I am very attached to south London.

I was also ready for a change; I wanted to get back into dealing with researchers on an individual level and to try something new.

I’m really glad I joined the Network. One of the things that really stands out for me is how compassionate and caring it is, how much they listen to their workforce, and how they try to do the right thing.

What are you interested in?

Books. Galleries. Opera. Ballet. I also watch a lot of films at home: I’m planning to rewatch some Naruse films this week. I love Japanese, Italian, Korean, Eastern European, and French cinema.

Why are you involved in research?

I work in research because I like helping people; it pays the rent and keeps the cats fed, which is pretty important. Talking to and helping people who are so passionate and who make a real difference in the world, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Why is research important?

My brother died in his early 30s from diabetes but the honest truth is that he was really unlucky. Diabetes is now a long-term condition. Previously it was very much a death sentence. If you look at the history of diabetes prior to the discovery of insulin through research, the treatments were nearly as bad as the condition itself. We’re now at the stage where, with a bit of luck and if you’re sensible, you can have a pretty normal life. That’s astonishing and awesome and something that’s a massive force for good.

Research really can help to change lives and mitigate inequalities. We all ought to be on board with that.

Visit the Be Part of Research website to find out about health and care research that is taking place in south London.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.