Angela Wearn, PhD Researcher, Department of Psychology, Northumbria University
“You tend to find the ones that are protesting and telling you to go and get your smears are the ones that have their cushy little jobs and that lovely flash car that they can just jump in and dive down to the doctors”
From all the conversations I’ve had throughout my research career, this is one of the quotes that has stuck with me the most. For over three years I have been working on my doctoral research, conducted across Newcastle, which explores barriers to cervical screening participation in areas of high relative deprivation. We know that uptake rates tend to be lower in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage, but reviewing existing literature showed very little insight from women who lived within these communities themselves. Incidentally, I am one of these women. I grew up, and still live, within a neighbourhood which, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, falls within the 10% most deprived areas in the country. It’s therefore no accident that I ended up with a programme of research which aimed to prioritise the voice of this community.
Graffiti walls can be a simple and effective way of starting conversations
"community get-togethers...were the most rewarding and enjoyable moments over the past three years, but the more I did this the more I felt I was straying from what academia expected of me"
Attending community events was a great way to connect with
people who were otherwise unfamiliar with research
Those living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas are often described as ‘hard-to-reach’. This often implies that despite best efforts to reach out, these groups are disinterested and disengaged. I tend to believe the reverse is true. Some groups are hard to reach because academic research is too disengaged from the community. I know of many academics who are so obviously committed to tackling the avoidable and unjust disparities in health, and for this reason I do feel positive for the future. However, as someone who is positioned in between the ivory towers of academia and the working-class neighbourhoods at home, I know there is still a lot of work to do. There is a long history of mistrust and marginalisation to put right. If we are serious about tackling inequality and involving so called ‘hard-to-reach’ groups in research, then we need more focus on developing trust and togetherness…and occasionally, this might mean leaving traditional academia at the door.