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Findings shared following Research Ready Communities project in East Lancashire

People living in Blackburn and Darwen have shared their perceptions of research and the NHS as part of an NIHR community project. 

Research Ready Communities (RRC) is an NIHR initiative taking place across the country. The scheme is designed to engage underserved communities to improve inclusion and representation in health and care research. 

The second RRC project to be supported by NIHR Clinical Research Network Greater Manchester was led by physiotherapists Matt Kenyon and Salma Ahmed from East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust during 2023/24. 

With support from CRN Greater Manchester, a team of volunteer community research champions comprising Charlotte Kershaw, Amina Imam and Layla Fletcher were formed and trained to deliver the project alongside Matt and Salma. Collectively they were named the Blackburn with Darwen Community Engagement Team.

They engaged with the public and asked for opinions on research and their local NHS services, with a view to shaping future health and care priorities for their borough. They also carried out a mapping exercise to gather a picture of key people, groups, services and places where members of the community can find out about research and get involved.

The project findings and an action plan for future activities were presented during an event at Audley Sports and Community Centre, Blackburn, in March 2024. 

Key findings from the project included a lack of understanding and misconceptions about research, such as: 

  • The language used to describe healthcare research is not meaningful to people. Many felt the language used is not simple enough, making it difficult to understand.
  • Language barriers, especially for ethnic minorities, further complicate understanding. 
  • Translation of materials into other languages does not guarantee comprehension; for instance, Gujarati when written can be challenging to understand, akin to reading Shakespeare in English where one may read the words but struggle to grasp their meaning. The same is true for some Arabic speakers.
  • There is a perception that research is detached or occurs elsewhere. The majority of people (around 80%) did not know about what is available locally or that it was possible to take part in research. 
  • Misconceptions include the belief that research is time-consuming. 
  • Concerns about privacy and trust arise, with fears of personal information being misused. 
  • There is a misconception that research participation may involve high-risk treatments or being treated as a "guinea pig." 

The full project report is available to read. 

Matt Kenyon, a physio and early career researcher from East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust who led the project, said:

“I work  in one of the most deprived areas of the country, in Blackburn, and our job was to try and canvas the opinion of our local population to find out their opinions of research and  NHS services. We have recruited some amazing champions. They are well connected within that community and they have been able to go out there and speak to people and the information we have got back from them has just been groundbreaking.

“ I feel, now, we are in a position finally to get a true voice for our community and shape our local NHS services and research priorities moving forward to make this area really forward thinking and to change healthcare.”