Reflections of a Health Research Ambassador – building community leadership

  • 26 January 2023

Roy Kareem reflects on his role in the Health Research Ambassador programme, discusses the four workshops he has been involved in so far and reveals his hopes for the future.

The Health Research Ambassador programme is a project aimed at building community leadership among communities that are often under-represented in health research. It was inspired by the Black and Green Ambassadors for Bristol project, a partnership between Ujima FM and Bristol Green Capital Partnership, celebrating the diverse heritage of environmental leadership. I felt very lucky when I was selected, along with Asia Yousef and Olivia Sweeney, to take part.

The idea behind this initiative was to apply some of the principles of the Black and Green Ambassador project to the field of health research within the city. This is because underserved communities are either left out of health research or have historically been ‘othered’ to the extent of just being a source of research data, without seeing any improvement in health outcomes.

With that in mind, as Health Research Ambassadors, we were tasked with creating a conduit that would allow communities to take part and join in with creating health research programmes. This would ensure their voices were heard. It would let them design programmes in a way that would feed back into their communities. Our aim was also to make sure that research was directed at health issues seen as directly causing significant harm within these communities.

To make sure we were prioritising issues seen as relevant by our communities, my colleagues and I organised a series of workshop to explore these questions. We wanted to find out what people needed from the people themselves. This would help us understand how the community wanted to deal with the issues affecting them.

So far, we have run four of these workshops . They all shared some common themes, although patterns have also begun to emerge, as we got to know the participants and they got to know each other. The first workshop really felt like an exercise in grounding. We introduced ourselves and tried to get a sense of why we were there.

The second workshop asked deeper questions about significant issues in our participants lives and how they coped with them. We also talked about what the Health Research Ambassador programme could look like in their communities. The third workshop gave us a chance to respond to those needs. We talked about mental health and well-being and ran an aromatherapy workshop centred around self-care and nature.

That third workshop felt most important as it was the one where we were reflecting and responding directly to some issues that had come up in earlier sessions. In that workshop, we again introduced the idea of Health Research Ambassadors and continued the conversation about whether any of the participants would want to put themselves forward for this role in the future.

For me personally, the idea of fairness, equality and justice are at the heart of the ‘ambassador’ model. It’s been wonderful to see this being built upon, evolved and adapted to meet different needs, while keeping those values front and centre.

One of the most exciting aspects of the programme is that it is such a simple idea. If it’s successful, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be replicated in communities across the UK and beyond. Yes, it requires resources and coordination to set things in motion. But, beyond that, the most significant investment is a mindset shift from expert-led to community created.

I’ve loved being involved in each of the workshops that we’ve run so far – the women we’ve worked with have been so open, playful and receptive to this idea. I can’t thank them enough for being willing to step forward. We’re already planning a fifth workshop. It is at this stage that we hope to appoint ambassadors, who will then take this work into the communities that will benefit most from it. I think the next few months will be an exciting time and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring for the programme.