Wellcome Trust announces three Engagement Fellows for 2015

Three new Engagement Fellows will be taking up Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowships in September 2015. Bella Starling, Delia Muir and Steve Cross have been awarded the-two year Fellowships, with plans to work on projects that will take the field of public engagement in new and exciting directions.

Engagement Fellowships support practitioners of science communication or public engagement who are seeking to make a step change in their careers. The scheme has been running for five years, with previous and current recipients using their Fellowships to explore new ways of thinking about science and its wider cultural contexts, including poetry, visual art, performance, surgical simulation, citizen science and TV presenting. This year’s fellows are further exploring the future of the field of public engagement, as well as the potential it has to lead to improvements in health through social engagement and inclusion.

Bella Starling, currently Director of Public Programmes at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will explore how public engagement with research can act as a catalyst for social change. She said: "Some of the most rewarding moments of my career so far have focused on including underserved voices in public engagement. This Fellowship will provide me with a fantastic opportunity to focus on the social outcomes of public engagement and to explore in-depth issues of equity, inclusion and access. Using an action research approach and drawing on multiple contexts, including engagement with research in low to middle income countries, I hope to contribute significantly to our thinking and community of practice."

Delia Muir works in Patient and Public Involvement at the Institute of Clinical Trials Research, University of Leeds, working with patients to help shape research, clinical trials and healthcare practice. Trained in acting, Delia is particularly interested in the use of theatre techniques within public involvement. She plans to use her Fellowship to explore how this can lead to real dialogue between patients, researchers and health professionals. She said: "By exploring the links between public involvement and public engagement I hope to better understand what the two fields can learn from each other. I am delighted that this Fellowship will allow me time to spend with practitioners working in verbatim theatre, social science and participatory research to see how creative and ethical challenges are navigated in each field, with a view to examining the ethical implications of turning real patient data and testimony into performance. I am passionate about giving patients a voice within health research and hope to develop tools and techniques which will help more people to be heard."

Steve Cross was formerly Head of Public Engagement at University College London (UCL) and has pioneered engagement initiatives such as Bright Club and Science Showoff. With his Fellowship he aims to explore new directions and audiences for public engagement. He said: "Having worked in this field for many years, I am consistently fascinated by the communities that have sprung up around activities and events. This Fellowship provides an incredible opportunity to explore how these communities can develop further, creating safe spaces for audience members to ultimately become science performers, and what this means for the future of public engagement and the challenges we will face."

Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society at the Wellcome Trust, added: "The Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowships demonstrate our commitment to developing leaders in the field of public engagement. I am particularly excited by the potential that the work of our three new Fellows has for widening access to engagement and, for the first time, explicitly contributing to informing and improving health. With the freedom and flexibility these Fellowships afford, I am delighted that Bella, Delia and Steve will be using them to make strides forward in their own careers, and I very much look forward to working alongside them."