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Wessex secures funding for regional training and capacity development initiative

Wessex secures funding for regional training and capacity development initiative

NIHR infrastructure in Wessex has secured funding to pilot a three-year workforce development initiative. Known as the REACH initiative, it will aim to build capacity and capability of the Wessex academic research workforce.

The funding, awarded by the NIHR Research Capacity Development Group in April 2020, will make Wessex the first geographical ‘incubator’ in the country. Incubators, which are virtual and managed across multiple sites, are part of an NIHR initiative to support capacity building and provide targeted, multidisciplinary career development opportunities in priority areas.

In Wessex, the REACH initiative will help our regional NIHR infrastructure, like the Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) and School for Primary Care Research, to establish a joint approach to building the capacity and capability of Chief Investigators (CIs) and support the identification and development of Early Career Researchers (ECRs).

The support funding, worth £20k a year, will focus on three key areas:

  • Those who are pre-doctoral with potential to train at doctoral level
  • Those who are doctorally prepared with potential to pursue a post-doctoral research career
  • Aspirant CIs

If successful, the concept of regional incubators could be spread to other parts of the country, based on the model spearheaded in Wessex. 

Professor Alison Richardson, Director of NIHR ARC Wessex, said: “This is a very exciting opportunity for the region. The REACH initiative will support regional infrastructure to establish a joint approach to facilitating the growth of future health and care researchers, regardless of profession or discipline.

“There is significant NIHR infrastructure in Wessex that can provide support for the promotion of academic research careers and pathways, and the Wessex geographical incubator will enable us to work together to ensure individuals in all professional groups and disciplines access programmes and support needed to advance a career in health and care research.”

On the impact of the initiative, Prof Richardson continued: “This provides an opportunity to continue to build on and strengthen emerging and established links across our infrastructure. 

"This will ensure a unified strategy for the promotion of career pathways and opportunities, a converging approach to the identification of ECRs and aspirant CIs, and a collaborative effort to align training and development activities to ensure they are most effectively situated to support individuals.

“By working in this way, we hope to increase the number of ECRs and CIs across the region, drive the development of locally led portfolios of high-quality NIHR research and ensure robust career and succession planning happens at a regional level, across a range of different disciplines and professional groups.

“We hope to develop a local system of identification, support and navigation to ensure more people take advantage of the pre-doctoral fellowship awards available through both the Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) and Fellowship programmes. We also seek to develop the skills and knowledge of new CIs and establish mechanisms for peer support and mentorship.”

Following a period of consultation with key partners across the region, it is hoped the REACH initiative will launch in the late autumn of 2020.

Prof Richardson added: “We are keen to establish equality, diversity and inclusiveness of access to academic-related career pathways and will spend the next few months engaging and consulting with our partners about how we develop and sustain a skilled academic research workforce across a range of disciplines and specialties. Please look out for more information in the coming weeks.”