Health inequalities are unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and some communities are more likely to be affected than others. For example, ethnic minority groups, people who are homeless or those who are disabled may find it difficult to access healthcare services.
The same people may also find it difficult to take part in or be represented in research. This happens for a variety of reasons, from studies not looking at issues relevant to these communities to a lack of trust between community members and researchers. This might lead to research findings which don’t consider the needs of underserved communities or which aren’t relevant to them.
The Health Research Ambassador project draws on an approach previously used to develop and deliver community-based research projects which raised awareness of environmental justice issues and inequality. It builds on the Black and Green Ambassador scheme developed by Ujima Radio and Bristol Green Capital Partnership.
People in Health West of England (PHWE) has been working to adapt the ambassador model to the context of health research. The team at PHWE set up an initiative aimed at improving connections between researchers, organisations and underserved communities.
What we did
We recruited three Health Research Ambassadors in spring 2022. Since then, the ambassadors have been working with the team at PHWE to set up and deliver a series of workshops with women who are refugees or seeking asylum in the UK.
The focus of these workshops has been to build good relationships and find out about the needs of these women in relation to their mental health and wellbeing. We have used a range of creative and practical strategies do this such as foraging, cooking, practicing Tai-Chi and playing games to learn about the role of a Health Research Ambassador.
The women who took part in our workshops consistently provided positive feedback about them. Several women have also expressed an interest in taking on the role of a Health Research Ambassador in the future themselves.
We are seeking additional funding to develop and extend the Health Research Ambassador project beyond the initial pilot. We want to improve connections between researchers, organisations and underserved communities by:
- Continuing to build on and adapt the ambassador role to examine health and social care research and inequalities
- Sharing and influencing research priorities identified by underserved communities with researchers
- Adapting research outcomes to make them relevant and beneficial for different communities
- Working to address informational needs identified by communities – for example how to interpret research findings and make use of them in everyday life
- Recruiting a new generation of Health Research Ambassadors and developing a network of ambassadors from different underserved communities in the Bristol region
- Learning from our work locally to embed the Health Research Ambassador model within different organisations to encourage and inform other initiatives across the UK