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Spreading the research message via walking football: CRN South West Peninsula and AgeUK Devon collaboration kicks off

CRN SWP staff at the AgeUK Devon walking football tournament

Elly French, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Officer


On Sunday 19 June, a small but committed team of intrepid ‘walking football naïve’ CRN SWP staff called the Research Rovers arrived to take part in the CRN SWP-sponsored AgeUK Devon Women’s Walking Football Summer Tournament, at Exeter City FC’s training ground in Clyst St Mary.

Undeterred by the threat of thunder storms, and ignorant of the competition (or even the rules!) we had borrowed football boots and shin pads and determined to do our best and represent the CRN.

Little did we know that the other teams taking part in the tournament were of a really good standard. Two ladies were already representing England, and a goalie from North Devon is at Welsh trials next week. So when we were offered the chance to go to another pitch to 'practise' the art of the game whilst the tournament proper took place, we agreed very happily.

Luckily, the main aim of our involvement in the event was never the football anyway; we wanted to link in with a community organisation and engage with their members, and – in conjunction on this occasion with Age UK Devon - try to raise awareness about health and care studies in general. Banner stands helped us to challenge some of the common myths about research and to generate conversation, and all of the copies we had taken of the newly published Research+Me magazine were taken away after lots of discussions with tournament participants and their supporters over the course of the afternoon.

The team had fun but also worked hard in talking to as many people there as possible, and many also took specific information about the Protect study, as well as Join Dementia Research registration packs, so we are looking forward to seeing whether there is a marked upturn in sign-ups to both that can be attributed to the event. It was also great to be able to speak to a range of people from Torbay, North Devon and Somerset, as well as from the Exeter area who were there, so it really was a worthwhile effort and means we were able to reach a quite significant number of people from a range of demographics and covering a large part of the peninsula.

Plans are in place to continue to work collaboratively with Age UK Devon, and we hope to be able to replicate this type of work – though not necessarily the football! – in their Cornwall, Plymouth and Somerset branches too. There are also conversations beginning about work on projects around Digital Inclusion as well as neurodegenerative conditions and social isolation, so as a foray into collaborative community engagement, it has certainly been a success.

Thanks to all of those who gave up their Sunday afternoon to help with the event, some of whom travelled considerable distances, and also to those whose forgiving family members either came with them, or allowed the event to take up part of their Father’s Day. We really do have a dedicated team.

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.