One of the most exciting developments in my professional life is that of having become an Artist Associate with NHS Research & Development Northwest. Now, to explain: this unit emerged in 2013 out of the old Strategic Health Authority in Manchester; as such, it is a ‘devolved function’ of the SHA in the Northwest but it serves the entire NHS constituency. Without being obsequious or sycophantic, these people are genuine visionaries – bona fide maverick risk-takers who would put many so-called ‘artists’ to shame in this regard. As such, they are people after my own heart. They are very keen to develop the creative oeuvre of the research culture within Britain’s National Health Service, and it has already been a great privilege to become a part of their community; and to be specific, I’m part of a six-person creative team who have been contracted to work on one of their newest projects – the Academy of Creative Minds (ACM).
Separate to the work that they are doing with the ACM is (yet another) new pilot project that has excited me as a burgeoning blogger/writer who now wants to work beyond the blogosphere (great as that experience has been and continues to be). NHS R&D NW have decided to expand the creative opportunities by developing a new publication for ECRs (early-career researchers) – but one that will be written by ECRs as well (and NHS staff who are rather higher up the food chain are not excluded!). It turns out that there was a panoply of applications from NHS folks to become part of this pilot project, and fifteen talented types got the nod and duly convened in a Central Manchester venue to get the project underway. And luckily for for me, I was allowed to join the party and pretend to be an NHS researcher for a day…!
Under the watchful eye of both the NHS R&D NW Assistant Directors (Gillian Southgate and the recently-arrived Bill Campbell), my ACM colleague Rob Young (an award-winning writer/producer and a person I’m very pleased to know) facilitated some creative sessions which began with a humorous-yet-serious introduction to the project and his own background as a writer which operated on a number of gestalt levels (like all good presentations). It quickly became clear that the assembled company was on a voyage of discovery in which the starting point was each individual’s ‘professional vocational identity’ (which for many was their clinical practice – but we did have one actual medical physicist researching fluid management in haemodialysis and one educational researcher specialising in medical education, so a pretty good diversity quotient on the ‘skills’ side) which fed into their identity as actual healthcare researchers (which included veteran professors and newly-minted doctoral candidates still trying to figure out the work-life-study balance…if such a thing exists…) – and it became that Captain Rob Young was piloting everyone towards a new identity as a ‘writer’ – but in a MUCH more vernacular sense than almost everyone would have been used to.
But it was far from a creative exercise in ‘content generation.’ The participants were put into three groups (we had no say in the matter, which was good). I found myself in Group 1 along with five other actual NHS researchers and we got into some serious conversation that spanned the professional and the personal. In the nicest sense of the word I was in over my head in terms of NHS-speak but this never once caused problems. Folks took it in turn to educate me as the conversation progressed whilst still actually staying on-task and the result was a type of mental stimulation that I really appreciated and really needed – more than I’d realised. The planning was really on point; we would later discover that each group was in fact an editorial group responsible for one of the three ‘first editions’ of this magazine.
This is a brave and risky project, but I have every faith in the concept and in the collective capacity of Gillian, Bill and Rob to steer this new project to something that moves beyond the ‘novel’ and ‘groundbreaking’ to becoming an initiative that has a substantive impact on the whole paradigm of ‘research culture’ in the NHS (and maybe beyond, in time). An unexpectedly fertile exercise (for me personally) in which we thought about the kinds of advice we would dearly have loved to receive in our younger days really did leave me with a tangible sense of inspiration to continue burning a candle for my own academic interests in mental health – so one day in the future, I will no longer be moonlighting with these professional healthcare researchers – I will quietly have become one of them (without compromising my artistic identity or going soft on the humanities)!
The next steps are vital, and I look forward to being part of them. More to follow…