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Angela Woods with Durham Cathedral in background

IMH researchers have been awarded £9 million Wellcome grant to develop a new Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities.

Durham University researchers have been awarded the largest grant ever made by the Wellcome Trust for humanities research.

The £9 million award was announced today, 4 May 2023, and will fund a new Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities (DRP-MH).

The Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities will bring the stories and perspectives of people living with complex health conditions to the forefront of health research.

The Platform will involve people with lived experience and people from marginalised communities as the co-creators of research tackling global health challenges, including mental ill health and health inequalities.

Based at Durham University, the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities will support a diverse, international and cross-sector network of researchers to develop new and experimental approaches to intractable health problems.

It will enable large-scale collaborations with community, creative, health and voluntary sector organisations, and involve over 200,000 global academics and lived experience researchers through international partnerships with leading Universities in the USA, Sweden, the Netherlands, South Africa and China.

The researchers come from a wide range of fields including Literary Studies, Psychology, Philosophy, History, Sport and Exercise Sciences, Education and Sociology.

Speaking about the ambitions for the project, the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities (DRP-MH) Director, Professor Angela Woods of Durham University, said: “In the face of national and international health crises – pandemics, the climate emergency, and global inequalities – ambitious and innovative approaches to understanding experiences of health and illness are urgently needed.

“The DRP-MH will create spaces to experiment with new creative methods and interrogate and expand the kinds of knowledge that are treated as evidence in medicine and health policy.”

Platform co-Director Dr Ben Alderson-Day of Durham University continued: “Through new partnerships, training programmes and fellowship schemes, we will empower people living with challenging and highly complex health conditions – many of which correlate with health inequalities – to take leading roles in the design and delivery of interdisciplinary health research.

“This will enable new and diverse voices – particularly those from previously ‘silenced’ or ‘invisible’ communities – to contribute to healthcare research and practice”, Dr Alderson-Day added.

The DRP-MH will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas between researchers, people with lived experience, clinicians and creative professionals through work at three physical sites: St Anthony’s Health Centre (a GP practice in one of the most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK), the Recovery College Collective (a peer led mental health education and support service based in Newcastle upon Tyne), and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

It will host six Labs for catalysing new methodologies in the medical humanities.

The six Labs will focus on methodological innovation and use creative and experimental approaches to generate new research questions on topics such as chronic pain, addiction, mental health, movement, neurodiversity and disability, as well as exploring the links between reading, narrative and wellbeing with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Dr Jonny Coates of St Anthony’s Health Centre, a core partner in the DRP-MH, said: “GP practices like ours are traditionally under-represented in health research, which means that research findings are not representative of our communities. When these findings translate to policy, the voices of our patients are absent.

“This partnership with Durham University is an exciting opportunity to bring the voices of our patients to the forefront of the healthcare agenda. By fostering genuine, deep collaborations between patients, clinicians and researchers, it will enable us to deliver innovative health solutions that will improve care for the marginalised groups we serve.”

Alisdair Cameron, co-Director of the Recovery College Collective (ReCoCo) in Newcastle remarked: “This Platform means that communities that have waited far too long for the privilege of inclusion will now be able to use their hard-won insights, skills and lived experience to support themselves, establish best practice and co-create research that will shape the future of mental health services.”

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “The integrated and multidisciplinary nature of the Platform is hugely inspiring. Its potential to engage new and diverse audiences and to transform our understanding of the relations between stories, wellbeing and health is enormous.”

The DRP-MH will have strong links with the voluntary and community sector. Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of the UK mental health charity Mind and DRP-MH Advisory Board member remarked: “This award is very exciting for the mental health sector. It shows that Wellcome recognise the value of lived experience and humanities approaches to mental health research.”

The Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities (DRP-MH) builds on the research excellence and flourishing research culture of Durham University’s Institute for Medical Humanities and will reflect on the core values of the Institute: creativity, courage and inclusivity.

It will support the UK’s first Creative Facilitation Unit – a group of specialist staff skilled in the use of arts-based and experimental techniques that enhance interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration – to catalyse new research projects.

Notable projects carried out at the Institute for Medical Humanities include Hearing the Voice – a 10-year award winning interdisciplinary research project on voice-hearing (auditory verbal hallucinations); and Life of Breath – a 5-year collaboration with the University of Bristol that drew on humanities and social science approaches to improve our understanding of breath and breathlessness.

Find out more about the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities