Friday 8 March 2024

Saying farewell to Fuse and celebrating its remarkable women on International Women's Day

Laura Ritson, Programme Manager, NIHR Three Research Schools, Prevention Research Programme, Newcastle University

We are marking International Women's Day by saying thank you and a farewell to Laura Ritson, who helped to establish Fuse in 2008 and has been integral to the Centre's success, while at the same time welcoming new Fuse Manager Agata Robertson.

In this post Laura talks about her journey with Fuse.

Celebrating Fuse's 10th birthday
After an incredible 16-year journey, the realisation that my chapter with Fuse has come to a close feels surreal. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated with an exceptional group of colleagues. Their contributions not only fuelled the growth of Fuse but also played a vital role in my personal development, fostering a continuous journey of learning and growth throughout this period.

Casting my mind back to 2008, I had the privilege of supporting Professor Martin White in spearheading an application to the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) for a Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. This ambitious venture united our five esteemed North East Universities in a unique collaboration dedicated to advancing world-class public health research. Our mission was clear: to enhance health and well-being and combat inequalities. Professors David Hunter, Charlotte Clarke, Janet Shucksmith, and Ann Crosland, among others, joined forces with us in this endeavour. The success of the application was made possible through the invaluable support of policy and practice leaders in Public Health, including Professors Peter Kelly and Eugene Milne. Their ongoing commitment to flying the Fuse flag is truly commendable. The Fuse funding was allocated for infrastructure to build public health capacity in our region. Securing funding alongside four other national centres forged close working relationships that have endured over the years. In 2009, I was delighted to be appointed as the Administrator for Fuse.

Reflecting on the past, our initial funding contract mandated a two-year review due to concerns about the complexity of our collaborative model, one which we passed with flying colours. Fast forward to today, and it's evident that collaborative efforts are now an integral part of our professional landscape. Embracing collaboration with practice partners and the public has been a significant aspect of our growth during my tenure with Fuse. How times have changed, and how exciting it has been to witness and contribute to this transformative evolution.

There have been so many highlights that it’s difficult to know where to start, and impossible to cover them all!

We underwent a lengthy process to identify our name, debating between Fuse and Rede! The communications agenda has grown considerably since we first established Fuse, and we have produced this award-winning blog and our public partner led podcast, and found many other creative ways to share our research supported by Fuse Communications Manager Mark Welford. The Fuse network has expanded to 2000 members, and we now have a dedicated Public Partner network, thanks to the support of Fuse Public Involvement and Engagement Manager Ella Anderson.

Another jewel in the crown has been AskFuse, a rapid response and evaluation service for our policy and practice partners. Special thanks must go to Professor Janet Shucksmith and Rosemary Rushmer, who were integral to establishing the service, and Dr Peter van der Graaf, Lesley Haley, and Annmarie Ruse, who have supported the development and continued to lead the way with a service that has also inspired and influenced the development of other regional and national infrastructures.

Capacity building has been integral to the Fuse endeavour, and it’s been great to see the development of public health leaders of the future. I’ve witnessed Fuse PhD students progress to senior-level careers in local authorities, prestigious NIHR awards, and professorial appointments.

I have been delighted to be part of the founders and planning of the Fuse International Conference on Knowledge Exchange in Public Health, and I am looking forward to connecting with colleagues at Cornell in June for the 6th International Conference.

Receiving the Director's Award from Ashley at the Fuse Awards 2023
I’ve seen many changes over the years, including in directorship to Professor Ashley Adamson. Working with Ashley over the last 10 years has been truly inspirational. A successful woman leader, she has steered Fuse through two renewals of its membership to the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) and also successfully directed the national School since 2017, with the support of a fantastic directorate team at Newcastle University who I’ve been fortunate to work alongside. I’ve also been inspired by the work of Professors Eileen Kaner, Carolyn Summerbell, Clare Bambra, Susan Carr, Monique Lhussier, and Amelia Lake. All of them challenged and helped me grow in the Administrator role, which expanded considerably between 2008 and 2017, enabling a strong case for a promotion opportunity to Fuse Manager.

In 2018, we moved towards a Fuse sustainability model, transitioning away from research council funding and towards Fuse partner University contributions, one which took time, effort and challenging conversations. Sustainability funding covers core staff costs and non-staff activities, including successful research events that serve as a key opportunity for disseminating our research, engaging in dialogue about implications for policy and practice, making new and strengthening existing contacts, and building a dialogue around research results and potential future projects. These events are a crucial forum for knowledge exchange. There has also been the development of the Physical Activity network and Embedded Researcher network which attract national level engagement.

In 2020, I was an integral part of a Fuse-led application to the NIHR Public Health Interventions Responsive Studies scheme, in which PHIRST Fusion was established. The Fusion initiative takes an evaluability assessment approach to co-producing evaluation design that addresses the priorities of Local Authority stakeholders. Due to my experience with Fuse, I led the communications agenda for PHIRST at a national level and helped secure funding from the Department of Health and Social Care for a dedicated Communications Manager post, which we now host within PHIRST Fusion.

I’ve been dedicated to working with Fuse for a number of years, drawn by; the people, nature, and variety of the Programme Manager role, the difference public health research is making to the population, and the flexibility I’ve had during my career to bring up my children through a combination of part-time and flexible working and during a national pandemic. I was also enthused by the challenge each day brought my way.

I’ve been grateful to Cheryl Wiscombe for supporting Fuse Administration and, more recently, Ann Payne, who has supported me with Fuse’s membership in SPHR. 

I’m thrilled to have transitioned into the role of Programme Manager for the NIHR Three Schools Prevention Research Programme, hosted by the School for Public Health Research, all while pursuing a part-time MSc in strategic leadership. Considering the latter, I had never thought myself capable of undertaking such a commitment. However, thanks to the support and encouragement of close colleagues, I've grown in confidence to seize this opportunity.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has shown dedication to Fuse over the years. I wish Fuse the best of luck for the future under the leadership of the new Director, Professor Sheena Ramsay, and Programme Manager Agata Robertson. I am confident that the coming years will bring both joy and challenges, and I eagerly anticipate following your progress, including the expansion of Fuse into Cumbria and the reinvigoration of the Fuse research clusters.


Visit the Fuse website to meet new Fuse Manager Agata Robertson, as she tells us about herself, her interest in public health, and what attracted her to working with Fuse.

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