At a time when COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of life, we’ve been finding ways to carry on the work that we do with patients and the public when we can’t meet face-to-face.

Mike and Tilly share how our Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG) has adapted to a virtual space during lockdown:

Mike Bell, Public Involvement Facilitator

On Monday 16 March, when loo rolls were only available on the image of Mike Bellblack market and it was fast becoming clear that the apocalypse was nigh, we held a small, early evening YPAG meeting at our offices in Whitefriars. We didn’t know for sure then, but it would be our last face-to-face meeting to date and possibly for the rest of 2020.

Health research goes on, however, and with more and more research about COVID-19 and its effect on people, there is still a demand for public involvement.

Zoom very quickly became the go-to online platform for meetings with colleagues so seemed the obvious choice for our first online YPAG. We decided early on to keep it short as well as covering only one issue and involving fewer members – five as opposed the usual 15 we would usually get.

It worked well and we have had three more since, each lasting only an hour. There have been a few challenges – I couldn’t hear anyone during one meeting, despite ‘turning it off and on again’ – and we’ve had to make a few changes to how we work to ensure safety and support for everyone.

There are pros and cons of holding YPAGs via Zoom. Pros include easy to arrange (especially while the schools are closed), short and to the point, no travel or venues to arrange and anyone can take part as long as they have access to a laptop or phone. Cons include no opportunity for group work, favours more confident group members, no real social contact before or after meetings and NO LUNCHES.

I asked one of the group if they would share how they felt about the new virtual YPAG – here’s Tilly’s view.

Tilly Bennett, YPAG member

Lockdown. It seemed like the end of the world. When you thought of the word, nothing positive about it sprung to mind. However, after three months of this strange new life, I’ve realised that some positives have come from something I feared so greatly to begin with.

Personally, I have found time to relax and unwind especially when the upcoming few months for us Year Elevens would have been filled with stress and anxiety. Globally there have been pros such as pollution levels falling across many countries and wildlife flourishing. But, of course, it has inflicted so much more suffering and change in all our lives which can make it hard to look on the brighter side of things.

I am lucky – from working in YPAG research I know my circumstances are more fortunate than many. I like to think we can learn from this period of time and reflect on the abrupt adaptations we’ve had to make.

YPAG, as a face-to-face focus group, was moved to Zoom calls, as I’m sure many businesses and organisations have done during this pandemic.

Online calls definitely have their perks. There is no need to travel which, for people like me who are always late, means we can start more efficiently and it saves our supervisors’ money for those who previously needed public transport. This also means you can keep your pyjama bottoms on and no one will notice (shhh)!

In terms of focus and efficiency, there are fewer social distractions, notably for us chatterboxes; on the other hand there can be at-home distractions which can disrupt your thought track or make you feel less than fully comfortable. This may also mean that some people might feel less confident, as there is something quite daunting about talking to a screen full of people rather than casually sitting in the meeting room with them (but it is very subjective as some may find this less intimidating). There is also the technical side of it where you don’t know when to speak or struggle to jump off someone else’s idea; but I would think that as we get more familiar with the technology this will become much easier and more natural.

Socially, I would say it’s not as rewarding as in person, which is one of the reasons I enjoy YPAG so much. Having that time to catch up or play heads up in between researchers is part of the experience we are so fond of. And you cannot forget the lunches in Whitefriars which I know we all look forward to.

However, I believe that the best part of YPAG during this time is that we can still participate! We can still have our voices heard on important research, at a time where gauging people’s opinions and experiences is especially valuable. And we get paid (slightly better as well). I’m so proud that everyone is still eager to get involved during a time when motivation can be hard to find.

Access updated co-production resources

Our colleagues at NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) West launched some co-producing research resources in February 2020. To help people continue to co-produce research together, in the face of COVID-19, these resources have been updated – please take a look.