Dr Shawn Sobers awarded Arts and Humanities Research Council EDI Engagement Fellowship

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Associate Professor in Cultural Interdisciplinary Practice and UWE Bristol alum, Dr Shawn Sobers, has been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Engagement Fellowship alongside nine other humanities researchers. The funding is to further the impact of their EDI research.

Fellows will work with communities to explore topics including the loneliness epidemic in LGBTQ+ communities and the forgotten relationship between the city of Bath and Ethiopian culture. The fellows will be supported by a total investment of over £850,000 which will be used to engage diverse audiences with their outstanding research.

Shawn’s research project looks at Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I who lived in Bath, and is considered God incarnate by members of the Rastafari faith. This interdisciplinary project uses the legacy of Emperor Haile Selassie I and his connection to Bath as the basis of a seven-month series of events celebrating openness and cultural inclusivity. It will build connections between local communities and encourage conversation and cross-cultural connections.

Research into the arts and humanities can bring new perspectives to the way we think about contemporary challenges. When such research is rooted in engagement with the communities and issues affecting the public, it can drive real-world change. This funding will enable EDI Engagement Fellows to develop a range of exciting engagement opportunities including community workshops and a bespoke festival. These opportunities will connect existing academic research with communities across the UK to deliver research with a tangible impact on society and help shape future EDI policies.

Other research includes:

  • Professor Anna Fox, who will host a series of innovative workshops and mentorship activities to drive awareness of women’s unheard stories using photography and story-telling practices.
  • Dr Patricia Noxolo, whose work will include three artistic provocations designed to provoke discussion about everyday negotiations between security and insecurity that different races experience.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, said:

“Learning about our heritage and culture and participating in the arts can deepen our perception of our history and of ourselves. 

“These fellowships will enable researchers to connect their scholarship with diverse communities across the UK and bring about positive change.

“Arts and humanities research has tremendous potential to help people to embrace different viewpoints and to build a fairer, more inclusive society.”

AHRC has a longstanding commitment to upholding the principles of equality, diversion and inclusivity in all activities and AHRC is committed to creating a more inclusive research and innovation environment.

Congratulations to Shawn on this achievement.


About the Arts and Humanities Research Council The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, funds internationally outstanding independent researchers across the whole range of the arts and humanities: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages and literature, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. The quality and range of research supported by AHRC works for the good of UK society and culture and contributes both to UK economic success and to the culture and welfare of societies across the globe. ahrc.ukri.org.

Case study: How happy is your pig?

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Professor Melvyn Smith was recently interviewed by KTN about his research into the emotional state of pigs. The below case study was written by Alan Cowie at KTN as part of their annual report:

Innovation in agriculture has advanced significantly over the past century. In 1920 it would take a farmer an hour and a half to till one acre of land. In 2020, it takes 5 minutes. It’s not just the technology which has effected change, it’s ever-changing societal attitudes which continue to revolutionise not only agriculture but other industries too.

Today’s farmer is not only interested in their animals’ physical health, but also their emotional wellbeing. We’re not pretending these animals are not being reared for food, but we all have a responsibility to ensure animals are content, happy and healthy throughout their lives, and healthier animals deliver higher yields.

One person who is doing that more than most is Mel Smith, a professor at the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, which is jointly run by the University of the West of England (UWE) and Bristol University. It was originally set up in 1999 to study industrial inspection, metrology, surface analysis and quality control. Over the years, and with extensive support from KTN, the CMV has completed projects in defence, health and, more recently, AgriFood. Projects have involved an EPSRC[1] funded trial using 3D imaging technology for facial recognition, examining the colon and the oesophagus for tumours and polyps, and 2D imaging grass fields using a convolutional neural network to locate and identify species of weed.

Where Mel wants to make a real impact is in animal welfare. “Tagging a pig’s ear can cause pain and distress to the pig” explains Mel. “Tags can also get ripped off and they get dirty. So what if there was a way of identifying the pig without even touching it?” This is where Mel’s photometric stereo technology comes in. In a recent trial[2], a drinker was adapted and fitted with a motion activated webcam, which takes thousands of pictures of the pigs’ faces every day, feeding a computer algorithm which successfully identifies the animal with 97% accuracy. But this goes beyond facial recognition. Mel believes his work shows that pigs are revealing their emotional state through facial expression. Are they happy? Are they content? Are they nervous? 

“You can interrogate the neural network to ask it which parts of the image it’s using to tell whether it’s a happy face or not. It produces a heat map showing the areas of the face it’s using to assess happiness. For pigs’ faces, it is around the eyes, ears and the top of the snout which relate to expression.” 

Mel has been collaborating with other researchers on the potential of using existing technologies and applying them in new ways. In one example, he explains how a system which was originally designed to analyse aggregate particles in the construction industry, has found new uses in agriculture, to check the body condition score of livestock, a measure of the health and welfare of animals. Mel explains how it involves a camera which takes a normal image and a 3D depth image. Looking down on a cow, it captures data as it walks underneath. “We’re looking at how bony the animal is – around its hindquarter, where you have its hook and pin bones. If they’re sticking through, they have a low body condition and if they’re nice and fat and rounded, they have a high body condition.” 

Happier animals are more productive and deliver higher yields, so there is a commercial advantage, as well as a social advantage. In an industry where profit margins are often very tight, new practices which promote efficiency or boost productivity are usually welcomed. We may be some way off seeing widespread livestock facial recognition in all farms, but attention to our environment and ecology is only increasing. Who knows where we’ll be in the next century. We already have ‘free range’ and ‘organic’ stickers on our food. Will we have ‘certified pig happy’ too?

Be it for commercial or animal welfare benefits, it’s clear Mel is passionate about using this technology for good. Mel says “It’s about finding a niche where we can make a contribution and machine vision technology has real value for the wellbeing of animals. If we can be at the forefront of this, and do something that’s cutting edge, that’s quite a motivation for me.”

Whilst many of the technologies Mel describes are not necessarily new, they are being applied in novel ways, and KTN has played a key role creating new opportunities and new connections for Mel.

“KTN have had a transformational impact on helping us to deploy our Machine Vision skills to collaborate with agriculture and food industry partners. We have really benefitted from the ability to network through KTN. Their funding expertise and knowledge of the AgriFood industry has led us to many new innovation opportunities that we would not have identified ourselves. Several of these projects have resulted in products that are now reaching a commercial stage”.


[1] Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

[2] Watch “Connected – the hidden science of everything”, episode one, on Netflix.

Alan Cowie is the Partnership, PR and Communications Lead at KTN.

UWE Bristol working with research organisations in Africa and the UK to build capacity for research management and administration

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In an exciting new collaboration, a team drawn from three research organisations in Africa and five in the UK are working together to build capacity for research management and administration at their own universities and beyond. 

Staff in Africa from the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology and, in the UK, from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and the GW4 Alliance – the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter– are bringing together research development and management expertise to address barriers to north-south and south-south collaborations. 

The project involves an online survey among research managers and administrators (RMAs) across team members’ networks, designed to identify the skills and resource gaps and the operational and infrastructural challenges that RMAs face in both Africa and the UK. The team is very keen to hear from as many people as possible. If you work in this area you can take part in the survey via this link: https://redcap.link/qn5azr70.

By compiling and creating resources for competency-based training and best practice, the team also hope to develop RMAs’ capacity to build and deliver research partnerships professionally and equitably across countries and continents.  For RMAs working in donor countries, a better understanding of the local context in which their partners operate will also help strengthen collaboration and impact.

As well as the knowledge/skills gap scoping study, the project will involve conducting exchange visits, delivering an online knowledge exchange workshop and developing a competency-based draft training curriculum.  The collaboration is also extending participants’ networks and building their knowledge of evidence-based practice, which will support African institutions’ capacity to sustainably deliver research programmes.

The project forms part of the International Research Management Staff Development Programme (IRMSDP).  IRMSDP is an initiative of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in collaboration with the UK’s Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA).  Its aim is to enhance south-south and north-south collaborations, build mutual understanding and appreciation of different cultures, and co-create resources that will benefit the wider research management community of practice.  ReMPro Africa, an initiative of the AAS, aims to fill critical gaps in the African research ecosystem to support a vibrant research culture and leadership at universities and research institutions.

This project, SMARTLife – Sustainable Management and Administration for Research: Training across the project Lifecycle – emerged through a rigorous process in which teams were first selected in the UK and Africa and then matched to form six combined international teams.  The project team is being led by Victoria Nembaware of the University of Cape Town and Simon Glasser of the University of Bristol.

The draft curriculum and a report on the project findings will be disseminated through the AAS and the various participating institutions and affiliated organisations.  The team hopes that the participating universities will continue to engage beyond this initiative and build their respective networks to facilitate further collaborations.

Notes

GW4 Alliance: The GW4 Alliance brings together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK: the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. From the creative arts to the physical sciences, the GW4 Alliance has world-leading scholarship, infrastructure and faculty. The GW4 Alliance aims to cultivate our regional economy, develop a highly skilled workforce and enhance the research and innovation ecosystem for the South West and Wales.

The GW4 Alliance has invested over £2.9m in 93 collaborative research communities, which are addressing major global and industrial challenges, and have generated over £46 million in research income. This means that for every £1 GW4 spends on collaborative research communities, GW4 captures over £15 in external research awards.

Find out more: http://gw4.ac.uk/

Book Launch: Roads, Runways and Resistance – from the Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion

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Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning, Steve Melia, has written a new book called Roads, Runways and Resistance – from the Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion. It spans a 30-year story of the most controversial issues in transport, and the protest movements they spawned.  His research included 50 interviews with government ministers, advisors and protestors – many of whom, including ‘Swampy’, were speaking for the first time about the events they describe. It is a story of transport ministers undermined by their own Prime Ministers, protestors attacked or quietly supported by the police, and smartly-dressed protestors who found a way onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament.

The research project which led to the book was partly funded by UWE, although most of the interviews and writing were done in Steve’s own time.  It also produced two academic journal articles, which inform the book’s conclusions in a ‘light touch’ way.

The book will be launched virtually in a webinar on the 26 January 2021. The webinar will be introduced and chaired by Prof. Graham Parkhurst.  Steve will tell the story of the main events described in the book, and also reflect on the tensions between academic research, direct action and writing for the general public, before opening for questions and discussion.

Register a place here

More about the book can be found here or watch this short video:

Steve Melia is a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning in the Centre for Transport and Society. His research interests focussed on behaviour change (particularly in the context of climate change), changing transport policy and the interaction between transport and spatial planning.  He invented the term ‘filtered permeability’ and the concept of the ‘paradox of intensification’.  His PhD concerned the potential for carfree development in the UK.  He has advised UK Government departments, local authorities, political parties and the UK Climate Assembly in 2020. 

Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers

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Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers is a research project led by Professor Susan Durbin (UWE), with Professor Jennifer Tomlinson (Leeds University Business School) and Stella Warren (UWE) for the Human Resources, Work and Employment Research Group in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE, Bristol.

The challenges of greater gender balance at senior management levels and on corporate boards are faced by businesses worldwide. Working hours are critical to career advancement and women rather than men tend to seek a reduction in hours at career defining life course stages. Despite previous research that shows women experience a lack of progression in their career when they reduce their working hours, until now there has been very little research focusing specifically on executive/senior management careers of women and men in relation to reduced hours working.

The most widely utilised form of flexible working in the UK is part-time, however this tends to be mostly in low paid, low skilled occupations and although part-time work has grown in professional occupations, this cannot be said for managerial roles where in fact less than 4% of jobs are on a part-time basis.

This has significant consequences for the utilization of women’s skills, pay and career opportunities across the life course.

As researchers who specialise in women’s careers and in tackling gender inequalities in the workplace and labour market, Sue Durbin and team believe that making reduced hours working available at senior levels would enable more women to step forward into senior roles. We also believe that this opportunity should be open to men. Women’s work, especially when performed on a reduced hours basis, is under-valued and not enough women are making it into senior roles. For most women, and some men, having the opportunity to work the hours that would enable them to have a work/family balance could be key to their future prospects and benefit the wider businesses in which they work.

The support of employers is key to making this happen. This research project enables us to get in touch with senior men and women working on reduced hours basis and to explore why and how they reduced hours and what that means for their senior careers.

The project began in November, 2019 and is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust. Recognising the rise in the use of flexible working arrangements at the organisational level, and a drive for more inclusive workplace cultures, what are the prospects for navigating executive and senior management careers while working reduced/part-time hours? When individuals at senior levels do work reduced hours, what are their experiences of work in terms of job quality and growth potential, and how do the experiences of reduced hours working compare and contrast between male and female executives and senior managers? Furthermore by focusing exclusively upon executives and senior managers, this research explores the experiences of organisational leaders who have reduced hours and the strategies they employ to manage a demanding position requiring leadership and visibility while working less than full time, and the extent to which they feel they can act as role models for others seeking to advance careers on a flexible basis. The project addresses this important research gap to better understand how male and female senior managers navigate flexible careers and how gendered assumptions might impact their careers.

We are working with seven external partners who have offered their support to the project. All have a keen interest and take active roles in the promotion of gender equality in organisations. They know the importance of gender diversity at all levels of organisations and the business benefits this can yield. Crucially, they are able to help us to access and interview the rare and hard to reach executives and senior managers who work on a reduced hours basis, in the UK.

  • Flexology – flexible working specialists in the recruitment of professional part-time and flexible working roles and the design and implementation of flexible working practices
  • Workwell – a HR and people change consultancy, providing support in the areas of HR/people support, flexible working, project management, strategy, stakeholder management and research
  • Teach First – a charity that was set up to address educational disadvantage in the UK and is currently extending the uptake of job share working at senior levels
  • Bristol Women in Business Charter Community Interest Company – supports the operation of a city-wide Charter recognising and supporting progress on gender equality in city businesses.
  • Timewise – an organisation that was founded to tackle the lack of quality part-time jobs and to encourage more organisations to open up to both men and women jobs on a flexible basis, at all levels of organisations
  • Fair Play South West – the women’s equality network for the South West of England, researching and consulting women on their aspirations and barriers to achieving them and campaigning for change
  • Moon Executive Search – undertakes executive recruitment for senior management and board level roles and other highly skilled candidates.

The project is being conducted through virtual interviews with male and female executives and senior managers working reduced hours in organisations across the UK private sector.  Interviews began just before ‘lockdown’ (March, 2020). Importantly, the interviews also explore the impact of the pandemic on interviewees’ careers, including working from home, their views on this new way of working and its potential future ‘normalisation’, organisation readiness for lockdown/working from home and the general impact of covid on the individual and their ability to work from home.

The project will culminate in an end of project event (September/October, 2021), involving all research participants and partner organisations, key business leaders, policy makers and groups set up to support gender balance in business. At this event, we will present the key research findings and discuss recommendations for best practice, alongside a panel of business experts and policy makers who are keen to promote the social and business benefits of reduced hours and wider policies on flexible working.

If you would like to know more about the project and/or would like to take part in an interview, please contact sue.durbin@uwe.ac.uk

UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision receive funding to create augmented reality picking aid for farm workers

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UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision team and other members of a consortium has been awarded Innovate UK funding to develop a low cost, augmented reality picking aid that will display information about berry maturity through the use of machine learning and spectral imaging cameras. 

The consortium includes AR developers Opposable Games; environment, food and science research organisation NIAB EMR and leading industry grower-owned co-operative, Berry Gardens Growers Limited, alongside the Centre for Machine Vision which is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

The concept and commercial opportunity was identified by Richard Harnden, Director of Research at Berry Gardens Growers Ltd who has wanted to improve the consistency of the eating quality of the co-operative’s premium berry lines, which includes a sweet eating dessert blackberry, for several years.

“It is very hard for pickers, especially new pickers, to really understand the correct stage of ripeness in the blackberry before picking it”, he said.  “Pick it too early and, although the berry will be black in colour, it won’t have accumulated enough sugars and so it will still taste acidic. Pick it too late, and the berry will be too soft to withstand the supply chain and will leak juice in the punnet.” 

He continued, “There is a small correct window for picking the fruit that delivers an exquisite combination of sweetness and flavour, which can be done by eye but it takes time for pickers to achieve the correct level of perception. The proposed picking aid, using novel technology, will deliver a maturity indicator, which will guide new and experienced pickers alike to quickly make the right decision every time.”      

Bo Li, a machine vision specialist in the Centre for Machine Vision at Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol, who devised the project, said: “By developing a low cost multispectral camera for detecting the real time ripeness of fruit, we can enhance the efficiency of picking, reduce the requirement for pickers to be experienced, and shorten the training time required. This step forward will improve the consistency of fruit quality and customer satisfaction.”

In an industry already experiencing difficulties in accessing experienced staff, the impact of Covid-19 is putting additional strains on farms and farm workers. Restrictions on labour movement, new safety measures, and risk mitigation procedures being required, mean that the horticultural and agricultural industries must look to novel solutions to train new workers and meet existing and future labour requirements. Global demand for high quality and healthy food such as soft fruit is increasing. To meet this demand farms are looking to technological solutions that enable increasing the quality, yields, and productivity whilst reducing environmental impacts. This project will contribute towards the UK government’s Transforming Food Production objectives, part of the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund.

The Innovate UK funded project will commence in September 2020, with the development of a prototype device building on the experience of the consortium, then moving on to field trials.  Members of Berry Garden Growers Ltd will trial the harvesting aid on their farms as the project progresses.

The Centre for Machine Vision is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). We solve real-world practical computer vision problems. Their particular excellence lies in three-dimensional reconstruction and surface inspection. They are recognised as one of only three UK centres with expertise in Photometric Stereo (PS). They have pioneered PS in industry, medicine and defence/security. Their laboratory supports REF (Research Excellence Framework) level research activities and research-led teaching in machine vision. Find out more here.

UWE Research into the impact of driverless vehicles – Capri Project

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For the past three years researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), have been involved in the Capri project, looking into the impact of autonomous vehicles. Dr Ian Shergold has given a summary of their recent findings in the post below:

Capri was a practical, evidence-led research project that has broadened the UK’s knowledge of the short, medium and long term impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) and helped inform the future direction of CAV development and implementation.

Capri was an industry-led consortium comprising 17 partners, including UWE, partly funded by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).  Funding was awarded though a competition to sponsor projects that would deliver technical solutions for CAV that provide real-world benefits to users as well as identifying commercial benefits. It has paved the way for the use of CAV to move people around locations such as airports, hospitals, business parks, shopping and tourist centres.

Capri ran from 2017-2020, and built on successful earlier research studies and live trials of autonomous vehicles involving UWE and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), namely the Venturer and Flourish projects.

The UWE team working on Capri was led by Graham Parkhurst, Professor of Sustainable Mobility and Director of the research Centre for Transport & Society (CTS) at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Over the last three years he has been joined by colleagues in CTS, in particular Dr Daniela Paddeu and Dr Ian Shergold to carry out a range of social and behavioural research on CAV.

Over the three years of the study four different kinds of research have been undertaken.

  • The project began for CTS with focus groups to find out what members of the public think about the possible benefits and difficulties presented by autonomous shuttle pods, leading up to a one-day ‘codesign workshop’.  This event brought together over sixty members of the public, alongside technical experts and academics, to explore how systems based on pods might look, how they would operate and where they might be deployed.
  • The CTS team also undertook surveys of public willingness to use automated shuttles amongst users of two of the types of facility in which the vehicles could be deployed; a university campus and an airport.
  • The centrepiece of the project were the live demonstration trials in Bristol and London, where pods were safely run in fully autonomous mode. In Bristol the team undertook two experiments which were amongst the first of their kind, exploring how passenger perceptions of trust and comfort were influenced by where they sat in the vehicle, how fast it went, and whether there was a safety steward on board or not.
  • In London the team undertook observations and surveys with members of the public, not only those experiencing the vehicle, but also people who were interacting with it as pedestrians and cyclists in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Most people, throughout the research, showed good levels of trust in the technology, would be willing to use it, thought it could be useful to others as well, and depending on the circumstances, would be willing to pay to use it. We found people willing to share if services would remain convenient and safe.

There was also a wide range of social, environmental and practical concerns that need to be taken seriously, and to which the team do not yet have all the solutions.

However, the experiments showed that people became more favourable following an experience of actually riding in one of the shuttles. And this was particularly true for car drivers, who started off the most cautious of our participants, but became the most positive.

As to direction of face in the vehicle and how fast it went they found that trust in the system was slightly lower at a higher speed and when facing backwards to the direction of travel, so users are sensitive to the design of vehicle and the driving characteristics.

Interestingly though, people who travelled in a shuttle without a steward on board were just as trusting as those who travelled with one. This is an important finding as the whole point of an autonomous vehicle is that it doesn’t need onboard staff.

Although Capri has now finished, CTS and UWE research on autonomous vehicles continues through a project called MultiCAV, which is developing automated public transport vehicles for use on public roads. CTS are also part of a project called ‘Driverless Futures’ which is currently considering how the highway code would work if some road vehicles are driven by computer.

Over the course of the CAPRI project, over 650 members of the public contributed to the research. The team are grateful to them for their time and for sharing their views.

For anyone interested in finding out more about Capri and our work, please visit the online Capri ‘Virtual Museum‘ which has much more on the project and its results.

New book by Robin Hambleton on Cities and Communities Beyond COVID-19

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Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments in FET, has written an international book on Cities and communities beyond COVID-19. How local leadership can change our future for the better. 

Published by Bristol University Press on 16 October 2020 this forward-looking analysis, which builds on his previous book, Leading the Inclusive City, includes a detailed discussion of the Bristol One City ApproachMarvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, contributes a Foreword to the book.

Robin at the Learning City Exhibition at Hamilton House

Robin argues that modern urban strategies need to address four major challenges at once: the COVID-19 health emergency, a very sharp economic downturn arising from the pandemic, the climate emergency, and deep-seated social, economic and racial inequality. 

Robin comments: ‘Thanks to remarkable fast-tracking by Bristol University Press this book has been published in less than three months from submission of the manuscript.  I hope readers find that it is up to date and highly relevant to the pressing issues the country now faces’.

More information can be found here.

Research from UWE Bristol featured in new Netflix Docuseries

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A research project undertaken by Professor Melvyn Smith and Dr Mark Hansen titled “Investigating automatic detection of emotion in biometrically identified pig faces using machine learning” has been featured in the Netflix docuseries “Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything”, where science journalist Latif Nasser investigates ways in which we are connected to each other and the universe.

Melvyn Smith is Professor of Machine Vision and Director of the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol. His research is a BBSRC funded project led by UWE Bristol in collaboration with Dr Emma Baxter at the Scottish Rural University College (SRUC).

The project is based on prior work that was undertaken by the centre with SRUC which explored the possibility of using computer vision and deep learning, specifically a special kind of artificial neural network known as a convolutional neural network (CNN), to recognise individual pig faces. The project was able to biometrically identify pigs using their faces with around 97% accuracy.

In the current project, rather than recognising individuals, the team are instead exploring whether facial expression can be recognised and used to detect whether a pig is stressed, unstressed and perhaps ultimately if the animal is happy.

The findings of the project could have important implications not only in farming in terms of improved productivity and reduced costs, via early identification of animals needing attention and where happy animals tend to be more productive (like humans), but also in realising better animal welfare.

Mel and the team’s research features in episode 1 of the Connected docuseries. The episode focuses on Surveillance in the world but specifically how we watch people and animals.

Mel Smith commented: “This work is very exciting for me because there has been a great deal of interest in detecting expressions related to emotions in humans, largely based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman and the so called six prototypical expressions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise). The idea that we could do anything like this in animals, to know how an animal is feeling, would be quite ground-breaking and could have huge beneficial implications.”

Connected is now available to watch through Netflix.

UWE Researchers’ ‘Real Time’ Response to Covid-19

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Guest blog: Ben Mitchell, Research Impact Team

As a result of their expertise in Public Health, Emergency Medical Care, Knowledge Mobilisation, Maths and Computer Modelling, and other such related areas, a number of UWE researchers have been approached or volunteered in assisting with the country’s efforts to tackle Covid-19. A selection of these researchers can be found below. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

UWE Researchers and the Clinical Commissioning Groups

As part of UWE’s response to Covid-19, researchers from UWE have been working with the local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) to provide evidence to support rapid decision making. The CCG are the people charged with making healthcare decisions locally and they are currently grappling with things such as: what do we need to do? where do we need to pool our resources? what types of treatment are needed? how do we need to respond? The local CCG includes healthcare providers in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

Professor Nicki Walsh

Within the local CCG ‘cells’ have been established, acting as working groups purely in response to the impact that Covid-19 is having on current healthcare. Many issues have come up including: home monitoring of symptoms, impact on mental health and impact of healthcare workers’ absenteeism. These issues have come up as people look to manage problems most effectively and efficiently. The Research and Evidence Team at the CCG, along with Professor Nicki Walsh who works across UWE, the CCG and the Applied Research Collaborative (ARC-West) are working with the local commissioners to manage these requests. These important questions are then fed to the Applied Research Collaborative West team, who co-ordinate researchers from UWE and the University of Bristol, creating a rapid response team to retrieve and synthesise evidence, or provide other advice to support evaluation, healthcare modelling, statistics and economics.

The emphasis of this approach is the rapid turnaround system. Most requests are processed within 48 hours from the point of the CCG submitting a question, to the academic providing that support and reporting back to the CCG. Nicki is the overall co-ordinator at UWE for all this because of her work across the different partner organisations.

In place, there is now a good pool of UWE and UoB researchers ready to respond to calls for assistance as and when they come in. Nicki says the response from academics has been excellent and hugely encouraging:

“This service requires academics to work in such a different way. Because it’s quick and by necessity not as in depth as traditional evidence reviews. Traditionally things can often progress quite slowly, but it’s been a totally different response and things are getting turned around quickly”.

An example of the CCG requests came at the start of April, concerning the accuracy of self-monitoring heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation in patients with symptoms suggestive of COVID infection.  Other reviews that UWE researchers have been involved in include: the potential impact of COVID-19 on mental health outcomes and the implications for service solutions, Dr Faith Martin, and how to retain infection control amongst residents with dementia and a tendency to walk with purpose, Professor Rik Cheston.

Nicki explained in more detail how resources were best pooled:

“All academics involved have suggested what their skill set is so we have a really good idea who can do what. If it’s something incredibly specific like health economics for example, there may only be quite a small pool of people who can contribute to that. But for things like evidence synthesis most academics are able respond to these requests. The emphasis at the minute is ensuring that we’re able to provide good enough evidence to help with decision making in a rapid responsive way.”

Nicki also suggested how the work could benefit future collaborative research opportunities:

“I think it’s really innovative and supportive to our NHS colleagues. It also potentially creates further questions that could be researched later.”

The evidence syntheses are being regularly updated and are openly available here.

Professor Julie Mytton

Julie Mytton is a Professor of Child Health and a member of HAS’s Centre for Health and Clinical Research. She has specialised in public health research since 2006, with a particular interest in injuries and injury prevention. She is also a qualified medic.

Julie is one of many other UWE academics working with the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing who are receiving calls for work from the CCG (via Nicki Walsh). She has also been in contact with University Hospitals Bristol NHS trust, and as a medic has joined their bank staff, providing clinical care support as and when needed.

Julie also noted that there is a Public Health Registrar, Alasdair Wood, based at UWE to offer further support.

Professor Jonathan Benger

Jonathan Benger, a Professor in Emergency Care and a Consultant in Emergency Medicine at the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, has been released from his current clinical and academic duties, at the request of the National Medical Director, to assist in leading the national response to Coronavirus in his role as interim Chief Medical Officer at NHS Digital.

Professor Jo Michell

Jo Michell is an Associate Professor in Economics. His current research interests include macroeconomics, money and banking and income distribution. As soon as the nationwide lockdown was announced, Jo co-wrote a paper for the journal Autonomy outlining how “in order to cope with the increasingly severe reduction in economic activity in the UK, guaranteeing the incomes of all those who are eligible for in-work or out-of-work benefits is rapidly becoming a necessary policy lever.

This idea was picked up by John McDonnell (the then Shadow Chancellor), and it’s possible it may have played a role in influencing Rishi Sunak’s (the Chancellor) subsequent announcements. A follow up letter by Jo and 97 other economists was penned to The Times, and published on Monday 23rd March, “insisting that the government goes significantly further in its economic response to the Covid-19 crisis.”

Professor Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is Associate Professor in Public Health. His research specialises in the contribution that third sector and civil society initiatives make towards promoting public health and wellbeing. Mat and other colleagues in the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing (CPHWB) have authored a report entitled Apart but not Alone: Neighbour Support and the Covid-10 Lockdown.

Carried out in Bristol and the West Country between 6th-12th April 2020, over 500 respondents reported back on neighbourhood initiatives during lockdown restrictions. A whole range have sprung up in recent weeks: social media support groups, food and medication collections, telephone calls, Zoom chats, leafleting. Interestingly, many neighbourhood groups were already in place before formal local/national efforts had been mobilised.

Of those who responded, the overwhelming majority felt that neighbours were supporting each other well. Mat Jones et.al did note however contrasting answers from those based in areas of high social disadvantage, with an emphasis on such neighbours supporting people with financial difficulties, those with disabilities or mobility issues, and people without easy access to outdoor spaces.

Perhaps most noteworthy were the gender in-balance responses (80% female): “an important issue is whether the practical and emotional work of supporting neighbours is falling disproportionately on women.”

Professor Sue Durbin

Sue Durbin is Professor in Human Resource Management and is a member of the Centre for Employment Studies Research in FBL. Sue has researched and written on gender and employment, specialising in women who work in male dominated industries. She is a co-founder, along with Airbus, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Aeronautical Society, of the alta mentoring scheme, a bespoke industry-wide mentoring programme designed for women/by women. Mentors and mentees can connect to this mentoring platform online or in person.

It is within the context of Covid-19 that alta can be seen to play a crucial role, with existing and new members utilising its online tool. Indeed, the value of online mentoring has never been so important, as Sue explains:

“It may become a time for mentors and mentees to take stock of where they are in their careers and where they would like to go.

Mentors can therefore best be utilised via the alta platform, at a safe distance but offering comfort and advice to women who may be feeling especially isolated, vulnerable or lacking confidence if their roles have been furloughed. Or they may simply want to reach out and turn the current situation into a more positive one.

“During the current pandemic, the restrictions on movement and new ways of working remotely have resulted in a physical disconnect from family, friends and colleagues. For those who already have an established mentoring relationship, this can be a crucial source of support, facilitating an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to discuss concerns and keep connected during this unprecedented time.”