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Community Sandpit: Innovating health research

A new approach to building relationships between community organisations and health research.


The Community Sandpit was a two day event developed by Vocal in partnership with the Greater Manchester Black and Minority Ethnic Network. We wanted to address the lack of diversity in patient and public involvement and engagement in research by building relationships between community organisations and researchers.

Group of people sat around a desk talking

Our approach

Over 30 voluntary and community sector organisation representatives, researchers and community artists took part. Attendees had lots of opportunities to talk and learn from each other before developing and pitching ideas for community-led research projects. Seed funding was available for the winning projects.

We wanted the event to be inclusive, for everyone to take part as equals and to encourage meaningful discussions.


  • valued community organisations as experts rather than ‘gate-keepers’,
  • put health research in contexts that had practical interest to community groups and their users,
  • reimbursed staff time and expenses so community organisations did not have to use their own resources to attend,
  • used creative processes to trigger discussion and create a learning together environment,
  • enabled organisations to develop their own ideas and pitch for funding but avoid a typical ‘seed funding’ process where organisations have to invest their own time and resources.

Brilliant day where as an individual I felt comfortable listening to others and felt my points were heard.

—Community organisation lead


  • 15 community organisations, five researchers and six community artists from across Greater Manchester took part.
  • 14 community groups developed and pitched project ideas
  • Six projects secured a total of £3100 funding

    • Skin Deep –helping researchers to identify key issues around skin problems in the African community (Afro Tots)
    • Shisha or no Shisha – to inform and educate the public about the effects of shisha smoking on health (Partnership; Ethnic Health Forum, Ethnic Health Forum, C4Change, GMBME Network, University of Manchester and the Public Health Team at Manchester City Council)
    • Speak Out - Your voice is your power – to support researchers to understand how some isolated and vulnerable women can be reached (Wonderfully made Woman)
    • Menopause Monologues – using storytelling as a way of researching BAME womens’ experiences of a sensitive and taboo topic (Nusrat Ahmed, Harriet Morgan Shami, Nasima Begum, Hannah Long)
    • Leading through Lived Experience for Positive Change – To research and investigate lived experience leaders who have set up projects for positive change and health outcomes (Shining Stars Community Group)
    • Amplifying Voices – to capacity build amongst BAME communities across Manchester, in order to influence health and community research priorities (Partnership; Afro Tots, Dynamic Support, CS-UK, the New Testament Church, Alchemy Arts, Ethnic Health Forum, Wonderfully Made Woman, and Big People’s Music)
  • A further 4 projects received external funding following the Sandpit.
  • After the event two community organisations supported NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) research projects by sharing community knowledge.
  • Participants reported feeling more confident in engaging with health research and 4 organisations subsequently applied for British Science Week community grants.
  • A BAME Research Advisory Group has been established, community leaders are providing expertise and support to the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Clinical Research Facility (CRF).
  • You can read a detailed discussion of the Sandpit and its impact here “We are not hard to reach, but we may find it hard to trust” …. Involving and engaging ‘seldom listened to’ community voices in clinical translational health research

Maybe there should be a ‘how to involve researchers in communities’ rather than involving communities in research?

—Senior researcher

Partners and contributors

With thanks to everyone who took part in the Community Sandpit.

The Sandpit was designed and developed by Safina Islam (Vocal). The event was further developed and shaped by Safina Islam and Atiha Chaudry (Chair GMBME Network).