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From Public Programmes to Vocal

  • Posted by Bella,
  • Director

How our organisation started in 2003 and how it's changed to become Vocal

How we started

We were born in 2003, the offspring of Nowgen (a North West Genetics Knowledge Park). Our work focused on genetics and included engaging the public, training health care professionals and supporting genetics to become more embedded into the NHS.

Under the visionary leadership of Professors Di Donnai and Helen Middleton-Price (now retired), Nowgen Public Programmes worked closely with:

  • Patient groups, including people with rare conditions, to influence research;
  • Public audiences and creative partners to raise awareness of the scientific, social and ethical aspects of genetics, and
  • Education professionals to strengthen the teaching of genomics in schools, influencing today’s A Level and GCSE curricula.

From genetics to health research

As our work grew, it received more interest from other areas of health research. At the same time, funders (for example, the National Institute of Health Research began emphasising the value of raising awareness of research with the public and working in partnership with people and patients to influence research. With our creativity, knowledge, experience, and our strong partnerships, we built on the strong support and backing from our host organisation – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust – and diversified the Public Programmes team to work across a wider range of health research.

We became an integral part of the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre and Clinical Research Facilities, in partnership with The University of Manchester. By 2014, we’d reached over 20,000 people face to face, several hundred thousand online, influenced research priorities, design and delivery of research and trained over 100 researchers every year.

We are a fundamental part of the growing community of practice focused on the co-creation of research, engagement and health. We work closely with Health Innovation Manchester, The University of Manchester and Greater Manchester cultural, creative and civic partners. Nationally we work with NCCPE, NIHR Centre for Engagement and Dissemination, Wellcome, pharmaceutical consortia and many more.

Becoming Vocal

Our confidence, practice and reputation continues to thrive. We’re particularly grateful to research leaders like Ian Bruce, Jacky Smith, Helen Pidd, Iain McLean and many, many researchers who have encouraged and supported our work to integrate public and patient voices into research. And of course to all the people, patients and communities that we continue to work with, like Grace McCorkle, Jemma Tanswell and Jo Taylor. Being vocal in research is a two-way street!

In 2018, Wellcome generously funded us to strengthen our organisation, develop our business model and address market needs, focusing on diversity and inclusion, innovation, quality and sustainability. And, more importantly, to strengthen how we continue to work with researchers and people to push the boundaries of research.

True to our values, our new brand – Vocal – was developed in partnership with people, patients and communities, researchers and research staff, who are at the heart of all we do; 300 people were involved in our consultation.

At the time of our launch, in July 2020, we are working directly with over 400 people who are actively contributing to research and with 75 partners. We have reached over a million people through our creative projects. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you and to develop new partnerships and ways of working – let’s get vocal about research together!