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19 Nov 2020

Celebrating the first year of an Applied Research Collaboration for our region

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It has been a year since the launch of the Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) for the North East and North Cumbria (NENC). ARC NENC Director, Professor Eileen Kaner and Deputy Director, Professor Chris Price share their reflections on the progress  achieved over the last 12 months.

In November 2019, the Applied Research Collaboration for the North East and North Cumbria was launched at the Centre for Life in Newcastle.

As individuals representing communities, charities, NHS, social services and research gathered that day, we didn’t know what was to come in 2020. However, what we did know was that we were all committed to a common purpose of working together to improve the health and wellbeing of people in our region. It was the start of a new opportunity to form new research and care partnerships tackling the priorities in our communities.

One year on, and despite some very significant challenges, a huge amount of progress has been made.

Building our team

We have now built our central office team – based at the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear (CNTW) NHS Foundation Trust HQ at St Nicholas’ Hospital, Gosforth.

We have also recruited a team of fifteen ARC Research Fellows based in universities across the region to significantly enhance our research activity and impact – with more Fellows to follow in the New Year.

Our Fellows are a fantastic group of developing experts who will be actively involved in building communities of interest into their work, and scientifically examining how to improve wellbeing and make the best use of the health and care resources we have. They are already building links with partners and community members and we will be supporting them to become our senior researchers of the future.

Funding innovative research within our regional communities

As part of our commitment to supporting research ‘from the ground up’, we have already funded 31 innovative and original research projects, totalling £1.6 million, through our Open Funding Competition. We had more than 170 registrations of interest in this first competition and the calibre of applications was very high.

The projects selected represent some very exciting ideas from our community, and project teams include new partnerships from across the region. These projects aim to make a real difference to people’s lives and we look forward to sharing more details with you as the projects get underway.

In addition, we are very excited to be providing formal evaluation of ‘reading coaches’ across the region, who support access to books and reading for pleasure to people living in some of our most in-need communities. This project is a collaboration between five Local Authorities, the ICS Prevention Board, the ARC and renowned author Ann Cleeves, who has made a generous financial contribution to co-fund the reading coaches.

This is a real showcase of joined up work to help reduce social inequalities and improve health outcomes, which has already received national and international media attention. You can read more about it here.

Our national leadership in Prevention and Inequalities

Within our first year, we were awarded an extra £3.7 million of funding to lead nationally on research into Prevention and Inequalities, as part of NIHR’s programme of work around national priorities.

Our work in these areas will have national bearing and influence, and we will bring all 15 ARCs together on these critical issues.

Alongside this, and working with our partners in the Northern Health Science (NHSA) as well as others, we have co-published two national reports on the impact of COVID-19 and existing health inequalities in the North of England, which have made a significant impact and prompted much conversation, putting our research in the spotlight.

Business as usual in unusual times

It’s a tribute to our care and research community that important work has been started and continued in this first year, despite the challenging circumstances.

In October, we held our second Stakeholder Board meeting online, which was Chaired by the eminent Professor Sir Michael Marmot, from his home office. It was a valuable experience to hear some of Sir Michael’s reflections on COVID-19, our ARC, and the unique circumstances we find ourselves in.

We are very fortunate to have Sir Michael as our Chair and he praised our region for its work so far and our collective ambition to make a difference in so many priorities across our communities. The Board was also a great opportunity to feed back to the regional organisations that support us, and to update them on our progress.

Our Scientific Advisory Board, chaired by Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, was also hosted online in late summer, to ensure that our work is of the highest scientific and academic rigour. They approved the recommendations made by the Open Funding Competition Panel, and congratulated all applicants for the quality and breadth of the projects.

Naturally, we have also moved some of our focus in response to COVID-19 and have contributed some significant original research to help understand factors influencing the impact of the pandemic on communities as well as health and care services.

We also launched our new website for the ARC North East and North Cumbria this month. The vision is for this site to grow with the ARC, acting as hub for latest news, events, projects, research outputs, involvement and more.

COVID-19 has brought its challenges but it has not stopped us making progress – and we have all adapted to those challenges and embraced new ways of working.

This first year was all about building our Applied Research Collaboration, and the progress has been impressive thanks to the engagement and support from our partners. The next stage is about delivering high quality research and changes to the health and care system that make our lives better.

Watch this space to see what the next twelve months will bring.