In this Academic Spotlight we asked Dr Issy Bray, Associate Professor in Public Health (Epidemiology) at UWE Bristol.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in your research area?
My background is originally in statistics. A final year module in medical statistics was a light-bulb experience for me – I’d found what I wanted to do – so I went on to do a masters in medical statistics. That was nearly 30 years ago, and since then my work has become gradually more applied and I have moved into Public Health. One of the things that motivated me to do this was the first time I heard Sir Michael Marmot speak about social capital and inequalities. Although my early research was in cancer epidemiology, much of my work since then has focused on mental health and wellbeing. My interest in studying both cancer and mental health problems stems from the fact that they are common, they can affect anyone, and the risk factors are complex and difficult to untangle – in that sense they both represent a huge challenge to the science of epidemiology. Research into mental health is fascinating on so many levels, and I have had the opportunity to be involved in studies analysing risk factors for suicide and self-harm through to general wellbeing at the population level. One of the other things I find really interesting about mental health is the bi-directional relationship with physical health. Most recently my work has centred around the benefits of exposure to green and natural environments in terms of our mental health, particularly for young people and those living in urban environments. These issues were brought to the fore by the Covid pandemic and are not going away.
Tell us more about your research and research projects, are there any particular projects you want to highlight?
My research sits within the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, an inter-disciplinary research centre, but I also collaborate with other research centres at UWE. I have worked closely with psychology colleagues in the Centre for Appearance Research to study the relationships between body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, mental health outcomes (depression and anxiety) and other health-related behaviours (e.g. drinking and smoking) amongst adolescents. For me, the most important outcome of this collaboration was the realisation that health psychology and public health send out very different messages to the public about body size, which is counter-productive, and we worked together to call for a more unified approach to the dual problems of overweight/obesity and body dissatisfaction.
In 2020 I led a multi-disciplinary team to review the evidence on the potential benefits of exposure to green and natural environments in reducing anxiety and depression amongst young people living in urban areas. This was both challenging and exciting. Challenging because the topic is vast, time was limited, and as a multi-disciplinary team we all had different viewpoints. Exciting because the funder (The Wellcome Trust) clearly wanted something other than a standard systematic review of the literature, so we had free rein to take an unconventional approach. We combined evidence from many different disciplines and study designs but focused specifically on young people (as opposed to children or adults) to generate a conceptual model explaining the pathways linking exposure to green and natural environments with mental health outcomes for this age group.
Early analyses of Covid data highlighted important risk factors (e.g. age, ethnicity, co-morbidities, occupation) but considered each factor in isolation. So it was not possible to separate out the effects of deprivation and ethnicity, for example. This was a big problem, but it took some time for the data to become available for this level of analysis. In the mean time, Public Health England (as was) published rates of Covid mortality by Local Authority. This would allow a multivariate analysis of risk factors at a Local Authority level, so I set to work gathering data on age, ethnicity, pollution levels, over-crowding, obesity and deprivation for each Local Authority. This analysis, published in 2021 with Public Health colleagues, was the first evidence that was able to take deprivation and age into account when estimating the effects of pollution, or ethnicity, on Covid mortality rates.
Finally I am working closely with a PhD student and other colleagues using experiments to determine whether viewing green, blue and historic environments (on a flat screen television monitor or using virtual reality) can benefit mental health, which we are assessing through self-reported questionnaires and physiological measures in the psychology lab. A similar experiment with colleagues in ecology has examined different soundscapes (traffic versus birdsong) to estimate the effects of different levels of biodiversity on our mental wellbeing. The aim is not to replace real-life exposure with virtual reality, but to use it as a tool for researching the benefits of different environments on human health, and to bring those benefits to people who are not able to access them.
To connect with Dr Issy Bray, contact her through her LinkedIn profile.
The Neurodivergence in Criminal Justice Network (NICJN) is a research and knowledge exchange group, created and jointly co-ordinated by Dr Tom Smith (Associate Professor in Law). Founded in 2021, the NICJN is primarily focused on promoting an evidence-led approach to the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals in criminal justice systems. Tom is supported by Joint Co-ordinator Dr Nicole Renehan (Durham University); an Advisory Group, consisting of network members; and a Lived Experience Group (consisting of members with direct experience of neurodivergence and criminal justice).
‘Neurodivergent’ commonly describes cognitive and neurological development which is different or atypical. This relates primarily to communication, learning, attention, sensory processing, and mood regulation. Forms of neurodivergence include Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia, among numerous others in this expanding category. Individuals drawn into the criminal justice system (CJS) – as suspects, defendants, victims or witnesses – generally face significant challenges due to the stressful, complex and specialised nature of criminal proceedings. The environment and routines of criminal justice settings – including police stations, courts and prisons – can be isolating, confusing and traumatic. These challenges are acute for vulnerable persons generally, including those with physical and mental health issues (see, for example, the conclusions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2020).
However, engagement with criminal proceedings and the institutions and figures involved (such as lawyers and police officers) can be particularly challenging for neurodivergent individuals, due to the nature of neurodivergence and the manner in which criminal justice generally operates (for example, the emphasis placed on personal interaction). Evidence suggests that not only is neurodivergence prevalent within criminal justice (a recent estimate suggests half of prisoners are neurodivergent), but that significant barriers to a positive and effective experience remain at all stages.
Since 2020, there has been a significant increase in interest and attention paid to these issues. As part of this, the NICJN brings together key voices in the area, including researchers (from varied disciplines including forensic science, psychology, and law); clinical and legal practice; and community members who are neurodivergent (or have a personal connection to neurodivergent individuals) and have been involved in criminal proceedings, and are therefore experts by experience. There are currently more than 150 members of the network from across the UK and internationally.
A key aspect of the NICJN is facilitating communication between different but related communities by providing a platform for sharing their work, interests, activities and voice. It aims to act as a ‘switchboard’, connecting interested people to a single ‘hub’ for knowledge and expertise. For example, the NICJN resource collection is a ‘one stop shop’ for literature, information, and specialist knowledge on this area, with the goal that the collection will enable anyone to easily locate useful information and specialist insight on neurodivergence and criminal justice.
In the long-term, the NICJN aims to be part of a drive to embed research evidence into everyday criminal justice practice; to raise awareness and understanding of the issues in this area; to promote reform by pursuing positive changes through exchange within and beyond the network; and advance knowledge through collaborative publication, presentation, evidence-gathering and funded research.
Since its creation the network has been active in a variety of ways. The network was launched in July 2021, with a themed conference focusing on Autism in Criminal Justice. It included presentations by a range of experts on autism and policing, courts, and prisons; and the accounts of individuals with lived experience. The network sends out regular updates to members on developments in the field, including new publications; events; funding opportunities; and calls for participants in research studies. The network recently contributed to a lecture for criminal barristers on neurodivergence in criminal proceedings. The network is currently involved in the early stages of two projects – one working with a Government-sponsored criminal justice agency in developing its neurodivergence strategy; and the other working with a criminal justice NGO looking to develop a better approach to screening for neurodivergence in the criminal justice system.
The last few years have been exciting for the network – it has grown quickly, and forms part of a broad chorus of voices calling for a new approach to criminal justice in this context – to which institutions are responding. As a research and knowledge-exchange group focused on impact in the real world, this represents a ‘golden moment’ to genuinely re-shape public policy and professional practice for good, with the potential for a major positive impact on the health and wellbeing of neurodivergent people.
In this Academic Spotlight we asked Dr Emmanuel Adukwu, Deputy Head of Department for Applied Sciences, a few questions about the research he is involved with at UWE Bristol.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in your research area?
I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Sciences at Coventry University. During my final year, I chose a project which started my interest in the role nature plays in modulating and promoting health. This subsequently led to my postgraduate study at Manchester Metropolitan University working with Professor Valerie Edwards-Jones (emeritus) where I carried out an industry-funded masters by research (MRes) investigating the role of essential oils as antimicrobial agents and a research assistantship project working on a human volunteer trial to develop a novel topical antimicrobial agent.
After my MRes, I moved into industry working with ICON Plc, the world’s leader in clinical research. I worked as a clinical trials coordinator, setting up and running several high-profile large-scale studies for the major global biopharma organisations. I decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Northampton funded by Northamptonshire NHS Trust working with Professor Carol Phillips. My PhD project was informed by the experiences I had during my BSc (final year project) and MRes degrees considering I had several offers and needed to make a firm decision.. My project investigated community acquired infections which was a significant health conundrum at the time and continues to contribute to the infection burden in health settings globally.
Tell us more about your research and research projects, are there any particular projects you want to highlight?
My research explores the role that natural compounds can play in preventing or controlling infections caused by pathogenic bacteria and fungi. In my group, we have carried out investigations into the potential of plant-based compounds in reducing significant healthcare pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus (associated with many infections in humans), Acinetobacter baumannii which is considered by the CDC as a serious public health threat as it is known to be resistant to multiple antibiotics and is an organism linked with major amputations.
Recently we have focused a lot of work on a newly discovered fungus called Candida auris. This is a particularly interesting organism as it is also known to be resistant to current antifungal treatments, spreads easily in hospital settings and can cause serious infections. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 patients who are affected with invasive Candida auris infection die. We have shown that using plant-based compounds, we can limit the growth and spread of this emerging threat and hope to develop innovative strategies that can be utilised in healthcare settings.
Some ongoing projects worth mentioning include two PhD research projects with my students Obiageli Okolie and Uzoma Igwe who are carrying out research focused on preventing the spread of antimicrobial resistance, preventing and controlling infections at national level with a focus on the healthcare system in Nigeria. These two projects have involved leading KOLs and health experts across the country and would go a long way in informing policy.
If you are a fan of or connoisseur of teas, keep an eye out on our recently commenced project funded via the partnership PhD scheme between Pukka Herbs and UWE bristol where we aim to explore some of the benefits of some herbal tea blends on human health and wellbeing.
Give us a brief description of how your academic expertise could be practically applied for a business partner or for external collaboration?
In terms of research, my work would interest organisations and potential collaborators interested in developing antimicrobials products or therapies (antibacterial, antifungals, disinfectants etc) to reduce infections in humans and animals. We have previously carried out work investigating survival of clinical pathogens on medical devices in particular swab transport systems. The knowledge and expertise developed this these projects can be of benefit to companies interested in developing special media for these important transport systems for healthcare and other relevant settings e.g. food, animal etc.
In addition, I have extensive expertise developing initiatives and solutions to address/embed inclusivity within teams and organisations. With many forward-looking organisations, inclusivity and diversity is key to growth and I am happy to collaborate or engage with organisations looking at meaningful organisational change in this area.
Written by Linda Pengelly (MSc Student for Environmental Management)
In the early to mid-1900s, the hangover from Britain’s Industrial Revolution of the previous two centuries (when emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) were at their peak) was still raging (Ritchie, 2017a). Between 1900-1920, Bronchitis attributed to atmospheric coal smoke was the second-leading cause of death in England and Wales (Widdicombe, 2020). Cold winters and gung-ho coal combustion combined to form the deadly spectre that is ‘Smog’ (a portmanteau of smoke and fog) and earned London the dubious nickname of the ‘Big Smoke’, even inspiring Monet to paint the city between 1899-1903 (Fuller, 2019). With everything happening in the world right now (the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, the looming threat of war…) it’s easy to overlook the (invisible) elephant in the room: air pollution. No-one wants to think about the ultrafine particles (PM2.5 to use the technical term) having a party in their lungs when they’re walking down the street or curling up in front of the fire. But should we be concerned? Well, yes, actually. The biggest contributors to air pollution may have changed over the years, but the bottom line is this: respiratory diseases have consistently remained one of the top 5 causes of death in the UK in our lifetime (ONS, 2017; Ritchie and Roser, 2019).
A series of London Smog incidents followed, most notably the ‘Great Smog’ between 5-9th December 1952, which Bell and Davis (2001) estimate led to the deaths of 12,000 people. The younger generations of the Great British public were given a lesson in history when Queen Elizabeth II was portrayed stubbornly navigating the Great Smog on foot to visit her grandmother in an episode of The Crown (2016), but it begs the question: are we destined to repeat it?
Not necessarily. Granted, today’s developing cities appear to be following in the UK’s footsteps by way of initial ‘dirty’ industrialisation, as shown in Delhi:
There is hope, however. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, Ritchie (2017a) maintains that as India and other developing countries increase their GDP per capita, they must aim to keep air pollution below London’s 19th century levels by developing in a ‘cleaner way’ than we did; i.e., by adopting renewable energy early. The Clean Air Act of 1956 partly tackled the issue of air pollution in the UK through the introduction of smoke control areas, but as Fuller (2019) argues, the most effective change came from the adoption of alternative fuels and heating systems.
An ‘An awareness that the burden from energy consumption on the wider society has been very high in the past and can get much worse may help concentrate minds a little more towards finding solutions, and not simply accepting that climate change is the price to pay for economic growth and development’
The 1950s-1970s saw high growth in car ownership, accompanied by an increase in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM2.5 (Newman and Kenworthy, 2011). Although car ownership has continued to rise, NOx and PM2.5 levels have decreased since the 1970s due to a combination of technological advances and further political progress.
There have been a few bumps in the road, however. In 2015, the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal broke, in which Volkswagen and other car manufacturers were revealed to have programmed on-board computers to cheat emissions tests (Fuller, 2019). Following this, sales of diesel cars in the UK nosedived, yet, frustratingly, sales of new electric/hybrid cars remain low (Ritchie and Roser, 2021), mainly due to their high initial costs and lack of charging infrastructure (ONS, 2021):
Looking at the overall picture of air quality in the UK, data shows that there has been a steady decline in emissions of most air pollutants since the 1970s, but ammonia (NH3) levels persist (Ritchie and Roser, 2022):
The culprit? Agriculture. According to Defra (2020; 2018), approximately 88% of ammonia emissions in the UK can be attributed to agriculture, and with 71% of UK land classed as agricultural, the scale of the issue is clear. Defra’s 2018 Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) for reducing ammonia emissions attempted to address this but given that observance of the Code is voluntary rather than mandated, its potential effectiveness is questionable.
But what about closer to home? According to Carrington (2021), the oh-so-hygge solid fuel burners in 8% of UK lounges account for, shockingly, 38% of PM2.5 emissions (26% more than road traffic, to put it into perspective). Although there are already smoke control areas in the UK, and the implementation of the 2019 Clean Air Strategy will ‘outlaw the sale of the most polluting fuels’ and ‘ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022’ (Defra, 2019, p.59-60), the post-pandemic surge in energy prices and overall cost of living will likely mean that many homes continue to light up. Compounding this problem is the long lifespan of solid fuel burners, meaning few people will ever buy a new, ‘cleaner’ one (Fuller 2019).
The top sources of air pollution may have changed over time, but the common denominator is human activity. Will we look back on the past with fog-tinted glasses, and allow history to repeat itself, or will we learn from our mistakes? It is down to every one of us to play a role in fighting the threat of air pollution, but crucially, the UK government must empower us to do so. We may hold the matches, but technological innovation and strong policies are the (seasoned) kindling we need to light the fire in our bellies.
Bell, M.L. & Davis, D.L. (2001) Reassessment of the Lethal London Fog of 1952: Novel Indicators of Acute and Chronic Consequences of Acute Exposure to Air Pollution. Environmental Health Perspectives [online]. 109 (3), pp. 389-394. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
BUND Bundesverband (2017) Protest vor dem Dieselgate-Untersuchungsausschuss in Berlin [photograph]. In: Flickr [online]. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/110742978@N08/33323423825 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Carrington, D. (2021) Wood burning at home now biggest cause of UK particle pollution. The Guardian [online]. 16 February. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/16/home-wood-burning-biggest-cause-particle-pollution-fires [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2020) Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2020 [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1056618/AUK2020_22feb22.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2019) Clean Air Strategy 2019 [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/770715/clean-air-strategy-2019.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2018) Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) for Reducing Ammonia Emissions [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/729646/code-good-agricultural-practice-ammonia.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Farrow, A. (2018) London Smog, 1952 [photograph]. In: Flickr [online]. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/116071498@N08/32506838248 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Fouquet, R. (2011) Long run trends in energy-related external costs. Ecological Economics [online] 70 (12), pp. 2380-2389. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Fuller, G. (2018) The invisible killer: the rising global threat of air pollution – and how we can fight back. London: Melville House.
Love Clean Air (2014) History of Air Quality. Available from: https://lovecleanair.org/about-air-quality/history-of-air-quality/#.YkS6pSjMK5d [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Monet, C. (c. 1903-4) The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog) [oil on canvas]. At: New York: The Met [online]. Available from: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/110001576 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Office for National Statistics (2021) Over half of younger drivers likely to switch to electric in next decade. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/overhalfofyoungerdriverslikelytoswitchtoelectricinnextdecade/2021-10-25 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Office for National Statistics (2017) Causes of death over 100 years. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/causesofdeathover100years/2017-09-18 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Newman, P., and Kenworthy, J. (2011). Peak Car Use: Understanding the Demise of Automobile Dependence. World Transport, Policy & Practice [online]. 17 (2), pp. 1-42. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Phelps, S. (2019) Opinion: Wood burning stoves are deadly, not trendy. The Bristol Cable [online]. 1 February. Available from: https://thebristolcable.org/2019/02/opinion-wood-burning-stoves-are-deadly-not-trendy/ [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H. (2017a) What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/london-air-pollution [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H. (2017b) Air Pollution, London vs. Delhi, 1700 to 2016. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/air-pollution-london-vs-delhi [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2022) Emissions of air pollutants, United Kingdom, 1970 to 2016. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/emissions-of-air-pollutants?time=1970..2016&country=~GBR [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2021) New passenger vehicles by type, United Kingdom. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/transport [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2019) Number of deaths by cause, United Kingdom, 2019. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/annual-number-of-deaths-by-cause?country=~GBR [Accessed 30 March 2022].
The Crown (2016) Series 1, Episode 4, Act of God [online]. Netflix, 4 November. Available from: http://www.netflix.com/gb [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Widdicombe, J.H. (2020) A Brief History of Bronchitis in England and Wales. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases [online]. 7 (4), pp. 303-314. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Salmonella causes more than 93 million cases of salmonellosis, resulting in 155,000 deaths annually worldwide. Many severe cases are associated with the production and consumption of pork: salmonella is found in the pig gut and is often multidrug-resistant. The bacteria can be transmitted through the pigs’ oral−fecal route at the farm, the slaughterhouse, and the food processing plant, where it can survive and cross-contaminate equipment or the final food products, leading to human infections.
Salmonella is conventionally dealt with by using antibiotics. However, antimicrobial resistance is on the rise, and it is widely associated with the intensive use of antibiotics in pig farming. This has led to an increased interest in alternatives to antibiotics in the fight against bacterial pathogens.
Dr Alexandros Stratakos, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Agri-Food Production at UWE Bristol, has led a study on alternatives to antibiotics in pig farming. Alexandros in collaboration with UWE Bristol colleagues Professor Olena Doran and Dr Sotirios Oikonomou, and Dr Dimitrios Lamprou from Queen’s University, Belfast, developed novel nanostructures for the targeted delivery of geraniol, a natural antivirulence compound, in the pig gut.
Geraniol is the primary component of citronella oil but can also be found in many other plant essential oils.
The study has shown that geraniol at specific concentrations inhibits Salmonella colonisation in the pig gut, which can potentially reduce the requirement for antibiotics in pig farming.
For this study, geraniol was also encapsulated in liposomal (spherical fat-like) formulations, which acted as carriers to protect the agent from degradation and increase its effectiveness against the pathogen.
This approach could lead to reduced Salmonella transmission to food, ultimately leading to an increase in the safety of the food supply chain.
The Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments (SPE) aims to develop an understanding of how to achieve healthy, resilient, sustainable and smart places, in the context of climate and ecological emergencies. We are a multidisciplinary centre of academics researching different aspects of healthy places, in terms of the benefits they provide to people, and how they can be better planned and delivered in the future. This research has close synergies with our research on sustainability and climate change resilience. This Research Centre Spotlight blog on SPE gives a flavour of some of the ways we are doing this.
We have provided evidence reviews for various organisations wishing to understand how the built environment impacts people’s health and wellbeing. In 2019, we were commissioned by Power to Change to provide a comprehensive literature review looking at the relationship between community-led housing and health. The review, led by Dr Katie McClymont, found some tentative claims that community-led housing has a positive impact on health and wellbeing outcomes, mainly from small-scale, qualitative research, especially around healthy aging and social inclusion. Our review identified a need for further research, and led to a PhD studentship, funded by Power to Change and UWE Bristol, in which Anna Hope is exploring this further. In 2021 we also published a rapid evidence review commissioned by the National Infrastructure Commission looking at infrastructure and quality of life. We found a paucity of robust evidence demonstrating the impact of energy, water, digital and waste infrastructure on quality of life. Areas with robust evidence tended to be related to those infrastructures that are challenging the status quo, such as green infrastructure and sustainable drainage systems for flood risk management, and walking and cycling infrastructure to reduce car dependency.
Another strand of our research is exploring the relationship between green infrastructure, including green spaces and trees, and health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Danielle Sinnett collaborated with the West of England Combined Authority and UWE Bristol’s Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing to study people’s use of green spaces under lockdown and how this related to health outcomes, including physical activity, quality of life and mental health. These data are currently being analysed but preliminary findings suggest that green space use and moderate-intensity physical activity increased during lockdown, with participants choosing to use those green spaces within walking distance from home. Research by Dr Helen Hoyle, in collaboration with RHS Wisley, focusing on public perceptions, values and socio-cultural drivers in designed garden settings revealed that whereas exotic (climate-adapted) planting was perceived as most attractive by the visiting public, the more naturalistic cottage-garden style was considered more mentally restorative.
A new area of our research is focused on the impact of green spaces on young people’s mental health. In 2020, Professor Danielle Sinnett contributed to a systematic review, led by Dr Issy Bray in the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, which explored the literature related to anxiety and depression in young people living in urban areas and their access to green space. A full article is currently under review, but briefly, we found that there is strong evidence that walking or being in a green space (e.g. a forest or park) improves mood and reduces feelings of anxiety for young people aged 14-24 years. Crucially, we also found that young people tend to underestimate the mental health benefits of their local green space, and therefore do not use it as much as they might to improve their mental health. This review forms the basis of a PhD, funded by UWE Bristol, in which Samuel Kyei is evaluating the relationship between green space exposure and student mental health and exploring the types of spaces students prefer and the activities they undertake. We have two further PhDs starting in October 2022.
In many of our post-industrial towns and cities, there are large inequalities in health. One example is the coalfields which employed large numbers of men up until the 1990s. Professor Dannielle Sinnett has been analysing Census data from 1971 to 2011 and found that in the East Midlands more people are permanently sick or disabled in the coalfields compared with other areas, and this gap has widened since the 1970s, and a publication on this analysis is under review. These industries also contributed the large areas of brownfield and contaminated land across the UK and SPE has a strand of research exploring the reuse of these sites. SPE is linked to the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments at UWE Bristol and, in 2021, we collaborated with WHO Regional Office for Europe and UWE Bristol’s Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, to provide a systematic review of the health impacts from the redevelopment of contaminated sites. This found that there are relatively few evaluations of full-scale remediation and redevelopment of such sites. However, those that do exist report substantial risk reduction through the removal, clean up or capping of polluted soils, for example resulting in lower concentrations of lead in children’s blood. Further collaboration produced a planning brief on protecting health through urban redevelopment of contaminated sites.
We are currently looking at the role Local Planning Authorities play in bringing forward housing on brownfield land sites. This research, led by Hannah Hickman, has been commissioned by the Planning Advisory Service/Local Government Association, and found that a key challenge on many sites studied has been ensuring the successful remediation of contamination. Local Planning Authorities take the lead in negotiating appropriate mitigation strategies, and in engaging necessary experts. Their foremost concern is ensuring that contamination is mitigated to the extent that it poses no health issues to future residents. This research is likely to be published in late 2022.
We are also researching the relationship between buildings and health. Dr Louis Rice, Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre is collaborating with colleagues in the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences to investigate microbial diversity and transference in the built environment through the collection of DNA data in the ‘Living Laboratory’ of UWE Bristol’s Health Tech Hub. The research seeks to better understand what a ‘healthy biome’ in our homes might be. The design of homes, and most buildings generally, seek to reduce to microbial exposure of occupants and building users. However, there are now claims that we have perhaps gone too far in the removal of biomes, and that we ought to welcome a greater diversity of microbes in our built environments – reconnecting with microbial ‘old friends’ that are beneficial to our health and wellbeing. The research is still underway, with publications expected towards the end of 2022.
As well as investigating greenspace use under lockdown, Professor Elena Marco led a piece of research exploring how architects’ perceptions of their homes changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study identified four critical socio-spatial affordances related to the health and wellbeing of architects/designers. These new design affordances of the home recognise the need for homes to provide space to be alone and together with other members of the household, whilst also being adaptable to different uses and providing a connection between the indoors and outdoors.
Health and wellbeing in institutional settings is also key to proving healthy places. Dr Louis Rice is working with Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the Department of Education and a local school for autistic children to co-design learning spaces that better accommodate social robots. Funded by UWE Bristol, initial trials suggest social robots can improve the learning experience and wellbeing outcomes for autistic children and publications are currently under review.
Over the last few years there has been increased recognition of the importance of healthy places, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, we collaborated with Public Health England, now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, and the Town and Country Planning Association to deliver a suite of resources for planners seeking to make better use of health evidence in their planning policies. This research found that there is a real appetite to deliver healthy places amongst local authority planners, but that this was hampered by a variety of factors, including a lack of resources and expertise in interpreting health evidence.
As these examples demonstrate, healthy placemaking is a core part of our research in SPE. If we are to tackle the challenges in our towns and cities, it is essential that we create places that support healthy behaviours and reverse the inequalities we currently see in our communities.
Dr Tavs Jorgensen, who is an Associate Professor at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Print Research (CFPR), is among a group of leading artists that has been selected by renowned sculptor Peter Randall-Page for an exhibition to celebrate the relaunch of the one of the UK leading craft institutions, formally known as ‘The Devon Guild of Craftsmen’ but now rebranded as: Make South West.
Tavs’ work for the exhibition included new glass and ceramic pieces, all outcomes of his interdisciplinary research at CFPR. The glass pieces are part of a new body of work that has been produced through the use of an innovative reconfigurable pin tooling concept, which was developed by Tavs as a part of his PhD. Pieces resulting from this research have been exhibited worldwide and have also been acquired by UK’s Craft Council for its permanent Collection.
Alongside the glass pieces, Tavs is also exhibiting a series of porcelain vases, which is part of the outcome of Tavs’s current research with ceramic extrusion, funded by an AHRC Leadership Fellow Award. This research project is focussed on the use of 3D printing to create complex and innovative extrusion profiles (dies). Beyond the use in art and design, this approach has significant impact potential in a wide range of other sectors. More specifically, the research has the potential for use in industrial applications in construction, aerospace and energy and work is currently underway to explore this potential in collaboration with the National Composite Centre.
Tavs commented: “I am really honoured to be chosen for the show with amazing group of leading art and craft practitioners. I used to exhibit work quite regularly but over the last five years I have been so busy with more academic oriented work so my creative practice has been put somewhat on hold. However, this exhibition gave me the opportunity to create a new body of work and I firmly believe in the value that creative practice can have in research situations, not only as creative outputs that have relevance in its own right but also as a way to generate knowledge which can be of real benefit in unexpected fields and applications through interdisciplinary interactions.“
Join us for “Pedagogies of Discomfort- spaces for working with challenging conversations and topics”, Friday 24 June 2022.
This symposium explores the ethics of critical pedagogy – long central to training and education approaches in youth work, social work and education for social justice. Drawing on critical pedagogy, youth work and the scope for discomforting pedagogies (Boler, 1999; Zembylas, 2015), we seek ways to (re)think anew about complex and sensitive areas of practice and everyday life. We note here that practitioners’ personal and working lives reproduce issues of inequity and thus need to be reflected upon and explored in education spaces. The event aims to draw together all those with an interest in opening up and progressing debates on how to reflect on, challenge and explore critical and sensitive issues in social justice pedagogies. This is particularly pertinent when we recognise the difficult and demanding neoliberal institutions which provide limited space and recognition for reflection and care (Bradford and Cullen, 2014).
Consideration will be given to how decisions in relation to notions of safety and discomfort should be made, and who is empowered to make these decisions. Central to this discussion will be a consideration of the purpose and significance of discomfort as a pedagogic resource.
Places are limited so please register now to avoid disappointment.
Dr Miriam Ricci, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Transport & Society, UWE Bristol has received funding from the Department for Transport for a project that is designed to tackle loneliness among young people by engaging them with local railways and wider transport links.
The ‘Engaging young people through community rail’ initiative is one of 12 projects being supported by the Department for Transport’s new Tackling Loneliness with Transport Fund. It will be led by Community Rail Network with UWE Bristol as a research partner and involve community rail partnerships and other youth and community partners running three pilot schemes in Bristol and Gloucester, Blackburn with Darwen, and Newcastle and County Durham.
The ground-breaking work will develop and test a framework for community-based initiatives that bolster transport skills and confidence among 15-to-24-year-olds, increasing access to potentially life-changing opportunities, and promoting health, wellbeing, cohesion, and sustainable mobility. It will build on the growing work of the community rail movement, which engages communities across Britain with rail to deliver local benefits and support sustainable development.
The project will involve young people from diverse backgrounds, including those commonly facing mobility barriers, seeking to open-up independent mobility and create a sense of connectedness. Rail-based excursions, travel skills and confidence-building, creative activities, and youth-led projects will create feelings of ownership towards rail and transport, raise aspirations, and build social links.
Miriam commented: “Having led successful action research projects in partnership with the community rail sector in the past, I am delighted to be part of this exciting project aimed at improving young people’s lives. This project will take a Participatory Action Research approach, where each partner brings their unique knowledge and expertise to achieve the desired outcomes, through mutual learning and collaboration.
The three pilots will enable us to produce new evidence on how community rail-based initiatives, co-designed with young people, youth organisations and community rail partners, can tackle loneliness and social isolation, while at the same time enhancing young people’s confidence and ability to travel sustainably.
My role in particular will be to inform the participatory co-design approach using the latest academic evidence on the links between transport, loneliness and social inclusion, to facilitate the collaborative development and application of a monitoring and evaluation framework for the three pilots, and to help ensure that new evidence and lessons learnt from the project contribute to knowledge, practice and policy.”
The Tackling Loneliness with Transport Fund, which will provide nearly £5million to the first 12 projects, was created to explore and develop innovative transport solutions to support groups who are the most at risk of loneliness across England, including people living in rural areas, the elderly, young people, or those with a physical and mental health condition. Research has shown that young people can experience the highest levels of loneliness of any age group, with nearly one in ten stating they feel lonely ‘often or always.’
Associate Professor in Rheumatology and Self-Management Emma Dures has recently been appointed Adjunct Professor of Rheumatology and Rehabilitation at the University of Southern Denmark and the associated research institution at the Danish Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Sønderborg.
This honorary post will last for five years, during which Emma will visit Denmark twice a year to give talks and collaborate on research.
“I am delighted to have this opportunity to build on my collaborations with Danish colleagues, including Professor Jette Primdhal and Professor Ann Bremander.
This appointment will support us to develop an exciting research agenda centred on psychosocial support for people living with inflammatory arthritis”.
Emma is part of the Centre for Health and Clinical Research (CHCR) at UWE Bristol. CHCR brings together researchers working in the fields of long-term conditions, palliative and supportive care, and emergency care, to inform knowledge mobilisation across the lifespan.
Their vision is to conduct excellent research and support its broad application to benefit the health and wellbeing of individuals and society. They actively involve patients and the public at all stages of their research and evaluation activities.