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Spotlight: Communications Manager Lewis Deakin

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) CRN South London Communications Manager Lewis Deakin talks candidly about how his involvement in research was shaped by his grandparents. He also spoke about his whirlwind year that has seen him move from a Band 4 role into a Band 6 managerial position.

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 our population.

What do you do?

My role is varied, but essentially it is about raising the profile of CRN South London amongst the public, promoting the fantastic work of the people who deliver research, championing the experience of patients through the media and safeguarding the reputation of our network in a fast paced and ever changing landscape.

People often ask me to outline a real world example of a profession where there are parallels to communications. My mind is drawn to the moment during the Long Parliament when King Charles I storms the Houses of Parliament looking to arrest five opposition leaders. The infamous House Speaker William Lenthall refuses to reveal their whereabouts and utters these words:

“May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”

The work of communications is ultimately driven by the national objectives of the NIHR and locally by my colleagues. My job is simply to advise and support in meeting those needs, as directed, to the very best of my abilities.

How would you describe yourself?

My nickname when I was younger was ‘Mr Chatterbox’ as I love conversation, particularly about people and their stories, so my career probably isn’t a surprise.

Hopefully, it would be fair to say, kind hearted as I do try my best for people and I genuinely do want to help in whatever way I can. I also like to make people smile and laugh, especially if things have been particularly busy or challenging.

Passionate. I care about people and what I do.

When did you join CRN South London?

I joined CRN South London in March 2018 as a Band 4 Communications and Administration Assistant. The role was described to me as being like a jigsaw puzzle piece that slots into the appropriate place as required.

I’ve been privileged to have wonderful support from my senior managers and colleagues, particularly over the last year as I have been the sole Band 5 Acting Communications Facilitator within the network. The experience has really emphasised to me the mantra of ‘one NIHR’ and I’m grateful to the many people from senior management to the shop floor who have taken the time to support, advise, teach and propel my development. I wouldn’t have been appointed to the Band 6 Communications Manager role without their support.

We all do our best for one another within this network and it is a fantastic place to work. I’d encourage anyone looking to start their research career to look for vacancies within CRN South London. You’ll love it, and we look forward to welcoming you to our team.

What are you interested in?

I’m interested in the world around me and I do keep a regular eye on the latest news. I have an ever expanding collection of ebooks and audiobooks that I really need to find the time to read and listen to. I like learning and keeping up to date with the skills needed to deliver in my role.

My dogs. I’ve grown up with plenty of four-legged friends and I love the affectionate, loyal and very cheeky nature of terriers. Regardless of the day I’ve had, our cairn terrier boy Finn will still jump on me like a heat seeking missile to say hello. He also is superb at weekend wake up calls, and walking all over my gadgets until I give him my full attention. We also have a beautiful Westie girl called Jessie who loves to play and shout at you until you give in to what she wants.

I like to travel. Working at the CRN South London enabled me well before the pandemic to go to America and return to the Greek islands. I hope to get back to international travel in the future, but for the time being I plan to explore many of the beautiful forests within the UK.

My long term ambition is to ascertain the knowledge required to write my own book. I believe the essence of all good writing is simply understanding the mechanics and technique required.

Why are you involved in research?

My grandad, Fred, died from cancer in 2015. During one of our final conversations, he remarked to me jokingly that he would make an excellent case study for researchers and he wanted a researcher to write about him in a research journal. After he died, I kept coming back to that conversation and couldn’t shake the questions of: “How does someone get involved in a clinical trial, and who is responsible for research within the NHS?”

My nan, Edna, also lived with dementia for many years. These experiences made me want to do something to try to help in finding the answers to tackling what are two truly awful diseases. My final grandparent, Trevor, died during lockdown and his passing is an example of the need for social research. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think about them and I hope they’d be proud of my work.

I wanted to move into a career that delivers more for people. Communications can act as an equaliser in the media debate in terms of reminding everyone about all of the good things that are taking place. Healthcare is changing every year, and research really allows you to see the innovations that are taking place. South London has a reputation for delivering world class research, and I felt that applying for a role in the region would give me access to lots of exciting stories.

It took until 2017, but I eventually began researching research organisations and I found the NIHR. I decided to have a go and applied for a number of roles and eventually found myself on the 16th floor of Guy’s Hospital, Tower Wing, clutching my portfolio of work while waiting for the CRN South London to see me.

Why is research important?

Research underpins everything that is done within healthcare. There are still so many questions that need to be answered and research provides the evidence required to improve patient care. The pandemic has shown that the quest for answers is never ending. We need the public’s support in this quest, and I’d encourage anyone who has taken part in research to complete our Participant in Research Experience Survey (PRES).

The feedback from this survey is taken very seriously and is used to deliver improvements to services in our region. The PRES takes five minutes to complete and is available via this Google Form. Please email if you encounter any problems in completing our survey.

You can keep up to date with the latest research news from across our region by following us on Twitter via @ResNetLondon and Facebook via @ResNetLondon.

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.