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Case study: Meet one of our new Engagement Officers at The Clinical Research Network: North West Coast

We spoke to one of our Engagement Officers Annie Allt about her role and why it’s important.

As part of our Research Delivery Strategy the Clinical Research Network: North West Coast (CRN:NWC) have employed two Research Engagement Officers to deliver a new service allowing the network to reach out to underserved communities and provide outreach support. This is a brand new post for the network and since starting in their roles the network has seen a huge impact from them engaging in the community and linking in with other organisations generating research opportunities. We spoke to one of our Engagement Officers Annie Allt about her role and why it’s important:

“I started my new role as a Research Engagement Officer with the network on the 7th of October 2021, I can’t believe how fast the last 6 months have flown by. It is a varied and interesting role which involves me working across 5 main areas:  ENRICH (Enabling Research in Care Homes, Joint Dementia Research, Research for the Future, Research Ready Communities in Blackpool and the Participant Research Experience Survey (PRES). One priority area of my research role is to engage with Care Homes/Residential Homes within the North West Coast I can work in non–NHS settings to try and introduce new Care Home Managers/Residential Homes managers to our available research studies and to explain the benefit to them of enrolling into our ENRICH website. ENRICH brings together Care Home staff, residents and their families with researchers. It provides a toolkit of resources to help care homes make the most of research and researchers to set up and run studies effectively and collaborate in care homes.

Identifying Care Homes/Residential Homes that have not been involved in research before is both challenging and very rewarding for both the participant who gets involved with the studies, the provider of the studies i.e. (the universities involved) and the network as it offers up the opportunity to learn more about research and take an active part in health improvements  that result from participating in the studies.

I have also been working in partnership with our Research Ready Communities Programme based up in Blackpool, I have worked with their young volunteers and several of their Local Partnership Agencies based in Blackpool (Headstart Blackpool, Youth Watch, Boing Boing)  working co-productively in supporting then to find out  what health research is, how it can benefit them, and how to take part in and shape health research, As it connects communities to researchers and health organisations and offers communities a way to speak about the health issues that are important to them.

It also empowers members through increased access to truth-worthy information about health research, and a chance to ask questions and get answers from researchers and medical professionals local to their area. It offers members of the group another platform to speak out in issues that affect health in their community, in order to help shape future research locally and nationally people are more likely to get involved in research when it is addressing their local problems as they are invested in making a difference in health improvements which directly involve them, so a win win for all involved”

What made you want to work as an Engagement Officer in the network?

“I joined the NHS in November 2020 as a Phlebotomist working on the network’s SARS-CoV-2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN (SIREN) project, however part of my full time hours were spent helping out in the network as I was assisting 2 days a week issuing contracts to GP surgeries across the North West Coast via Docusign. Whilst working in the network,  I heard about the vacancy for a Research Engagement Officer which was a role that had been created as part of the new Research Engagement Team. It sounded very interesting to me, as I enjoy networking, building up new relationships with partner organisations, working in communities and getting people involved in improving health inequalities for the benefit of local residents.”

How has your role benefited the Network?

“Being able to work on an outreach basis has enabled me to meet community residents and volunteers face to face at their locations. It has allowed me to visit Care Home/Residential Home Managers on their sites, putting a face to an email address has made a big difference when you are promoting research as people can ask you questions there and then I can make them feel comfortable as they can see your facial expressions and relationships can be established quite quickly once an initial meeting has taken place. Putting people at ease and encouraging them to get involved in research is very rewarding, trust is established and can be developed further from those initial face to face meetings. It has definitely worked for me so far and from the feedback that I have received from the Study Teams and Care Home Managers it has made a difference to the partner  and community organisations too as it is one person to deal with from start to completion of  their study participation, limiting the amount of correspondence .

Since I have been working outreach with Care Home Managers face to face it has enabled me to put them at ease as to what their chosen study requirements involve, as I have built strong relationships with the University study teams involved with each funded trial. For example one Care Home Manager I dealt with who was interested in one of our NIHR available funded studies on paper met their University protocol requirements in full as she needed 30 individual single rooms in her care Home to qualify for the funded trial. However, 27 of her rooms were full, but she was 3 rooms short. To complete their trial I contacted their study team to explain her circumstances as she definitely wanted to participate in their trial. I asked if she could be accepted on to the trial if a change to the protocol was requested as she had 30 residents, but three rooms had couples in. The study team involved agreed to put it to their ethics committee to see if it could be changed, it took a couple of weeks to be authorised but now the protocol has been successfully altered to allow care homes with 20 residents to have their own individual rooms to be able to enrol on their trial. Therefore, more Care Homes can take up this opportunity in the coming months” 

Do you have any advice to anyone interested in getting involved in research?

“I think that working in non NHS settings in Research is very interesting work, as there are many different ways of engaging with the community residents in an outreach capacity. Getting to know the Community Partnership groups and building relationships with Care Home/Residential Managers and study teams builds trust. It enables me to support their research needs by connecting people to their organisations. Word of mouth recommendations speak volumes in improving opportunities for people in communities to get involved whether that is in my role as in Research for the Future, Joint Dementia Research, PRES, or ENRICH.”

Annie has also received great feedback from organisations she has reached out to, Helen Caul from Riverslie Care Home said “Having one person to deal with has made such a difference.”

Michelle McCann from Bedfordshire University said “Thanks to you were able to identify two care homes at short notice for us (The In- Depth Study and telephone participants/managers in other homes) you have been an excellent support for us regarding recruitment.”

Dr. Sarah Wadd from Bedfordshire University said “I just wanted to say thank you for all your excellent work on recruiting in your area for the study, you have been incredibly supportive recruiting care homes working hard and sharing info about our study. It is really appreciated and I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to recruit and consult with the care home in your area.” 

Thank you to Annie Allt for providing this insight into her role and the success that has already come from having her in post. If you are interested in getting involved in research and would like to set up a chat with Annie you can contact her via email