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How the ESRC helped us engage the public with research


Reducing Domestic Abuse Conference (19)

Written by Andreea ToccaDr Olumide Adisa, and Katie Tyrell.    

The University of Suffolk was selected to take part in this year’s Festival of Social Science, run by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Now in its sixteenth year, the Festival is the UK’s biggest celebration of social science. It runs nationally from 3-10 November and involves public debates, conferences, workshops, film screenings and virtual exhibitions.

The aim of the Festival is to highlight the impact of social science research on people's lives and the University of Suffolk and we hosted two events for the public, in partnership with various organisations.

Public engagement describes the many ways in which higher education institutions and their staff and students can connect and share their work with the public. It generates mutual benefit, with all parties learning from each other through sharing knowledge, expertise and skills. 

To aid public engagement at Universities in the UK, Research Councils UK (RCUK)* created a Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, which aims to place a greater emphasis on public engagement and ensure that public engagement activities are embedded across all disciplinary areas.

The Concordat also identified that “public engagement with research" describes a diversity a variety of activities including:

  • Participating in festivals
  • Working with museums, galleries, science centres and cultural venues
  • Creating opportunities for the public to inform research
  • Researchers and public working together to inform policy
  • Presenting to the public
  • Involving the public as researchers
  • Engaging with young generations to inspire them about research.

Our research makes a difference by transforming lives and for many years we have been working in close partnership with statutory and non-statutory organisations investigating ‘what works’ in different fields of enquiry related to social justice issues and we have successfully completed a number of high-profile commissioned studies in this area.

Research at the University of Suffolk seeks to change and have an impact on the real problems faced by our communities, businesses and people in Suffolk and further afield. In line with the new Research Strategy at the University of Suffolk, we will continue to work in collaboration with many organisations and individuals to ensure our research is of use and powerful.

Our participation in this year’s Festival of Social Science enabled us to engage with the public on social science research and to showcase some of our work, and we are grateful to the ESRC for funding these events.

Highlights from the ESRC-funded public engagement events:

The Approaches to Reducing Domestic Abuse conference was held on 3 November at Ip-City Centre discussed community-based approaches to tackling the issue. Findings and ongoing work from various research projects were presented on domestic abuse to highlight learning from local provision as well as sharing good practice.

The conference was jointly organised by Dr Olumide Adisa (SISER) and Prof Nigel South (Director, Centre for Criminology, University of Essex).

Professor Emma Bond welcomed over 100 delegates to the conference and introduced the University of Suffolk to the public. Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner opened the day by highlighting the link between domestic abuse and the issue of gangs in Suffolk.

Other speakers included Alison Inman OBE from the Chartered Institute of Housing, Bonnie Navarra the Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Surviving Economic Abuse, and representatives from the universities of Suffolk (Social Work), St Mary’s, Cambridge and Bristol. Practitioners from Suffolk and Norfolk also gave creative presentations on how they are tackling the issue. These organisations included: Anglia Care Trust, Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, and Iceni Ipswich.

Some photo highlights from the day:


If you want to know more, see #domesticabuse18 on Twitter.

Following on from the conference, we received fifty expressions of interests from practitioners, academics, and students to develop a Domestic Abuse Research Network in the region. Dr Olumide Adisa is spearheading this initiative. If you would like to be involved, please email:

Movement and Memories-Exploring perceptions of Dementia (Photo Credits: Jon Parker)

On the 10th November 2018, the University of Suffolk, a recently established dementia friendly institution, held an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded event focusing on Dementia and the Arts. Arts-based programmes provide an alternative or additional mechanism for intervention for people with dementia and their carers.

Research has frequently highlighted the positive impact of artistic activities, including music, dance and poetry, upon the wellbeing and quality of life of people living with dementia. For example, music can encourage the recall of memories, encourage and promote social connection between the caregiver and person with dementia, as well as positive preventative effects on cognitive decline (Devere, 2017).

The event enabled professionals, academics, students, carers and individuals living with dementia to come together to explore perceptions of dementia through dance and discussion. 

To begin the day, Roger Fern of Ipswich Dementia Action Alliance, presented an insightful analogy based on a bookcase model of memory storage,  to explain the degenerative nature of dementia upon memory and how it may impact an individual.

At the heart of the day was a performance by the internationally acclaimed physical theatre company Gecko, drawing on the experiences of those living with Dementia and carers. There were also talks from Orwell, East of England COOP, Suffolk Art Link, The New Wolsey Theatre, Sue Ryder and an inspirational talk from a younger person living with Dementia.

Throughout the day, this was explored via Gecko’s artistic performers engaging in everyday activities whilst wearing a GERT suit, which simulates sensory loss and restricted movement via weights, visual and auditory distortion equipment.

Further talks from organisations, such as Suffolk Artlink and the New Wolsey Theatre, encouraged participation in artistic activities within the community, such as relaxed performances and forget-me-not performers within hospital and care settings for people living with dementia. The day finished with an exploration of the benefits of artistic interventions for people living with dementia led by Dr Sarah Housden, via an exercise challenging negative preconceptions of dementia and delving into the positivity and inclusivity associated with arts.  

If you would like to become a Dementia Friend, the University of Suffolk are running various training sessions throughout the year on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society, click here to find a session near you.

Lastly, we are gathering other case studies of public engagement by University staff and students for publication, so please get in touch with Andreea Tocca, Research Development Manager, if you would like to share your experiences. If you would like to learn more about public engagement, and how we can support you to develop public engagement activities around your research, please do not hesitate to contact Andreea Tocca:

*Research Councils UK has now transitioned into UK Research and Innovation.


Devere, R. (2017). Music and Dementia: An Overview A New Age in Alzheimer’s Disease Is Early Diagnosis Possible? 



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