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Written by Laura Campbell, PPIE Project Support, Primary Care, Keele University

As part of an upcoming funding proposal around rural mental health, researchers at the Research Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences, Keele University, recently held a successful community engagement morning.

One challenge of achieving good Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) in research is making sure that we endeavour to include broad range people. Having input from several different social, professional, economic and ethnic backgrounds helps to produce high quality healthcare research which is relevant for more people. That is why it is so important to reach out to the so-called ‘seldom-heard’ groups, such as rural communities and people with mental health conditions.

Working with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, on Friday, 10th May, Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham and PPIE Project Support Laura Campbell met with members of the community in Leek, Staffordshire, to discuss early ideas around a potential research project. The aim of the meeting was primarily to see if the research team’s ideas made sense to the group, and also to find out if anyone would be interested in being a co-applicant on the grant application.

Having publically advertised the event previously, we were delighted to see a variety of people attend the meeting. This included representatives from Approach Staffordshire (a dementia Support group), local town councillors, artists, local community figures, retired mental health practitioners, the fire service and the local Women’s Institute.

At the start of the meeting I took the opportunity to talk to the group in more detail about what Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement in research entails and how their contributions could help shape research studies. The group were informed that how Keele support, encourage and nurture PPIE through our Research User Group (RUG) which is made up of over 110 members, each with their own experiences of health conditions such as osteoarthritis, chronic pain, inflammatory arthritis, mental ill health and long term conditions. This “Expertise by Experience” has been an integral part of health research at Keele for the last 12 years and helps our research to stay patient focussed.

The group were very interested to hear that lay people can be involved in lots of different ways, from participating in a Patient Advisory group, to being a co-applicant on a grant application or contributing to a study steering committee.

From there Prof. Chew-Graham explained a project idea to the group, which aims to investigate the potential role of “Safe and Well” visits by the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in identifying mental health problems in older people. Working with the fire service and other community groups in a more ‘joined up’ service was strongly supported by the group, who were very passionate that researchers and community groups should all engage in conversation more regularly in order to provide the best possible for care for people, especially those who may be more isolated in the rural community. Local knowledge was championed, with an emphasis on ‘prevention rather than cure’.

Holding engagement events such as this is extremely useful and interesting for all involved. Not only did the group learn how they can actively become involved in mental health research, but also the Keele team took away valuable information from the group. For example, we learned that as a national organisation, the Women’s Institute will be concentrating on mental health going forward, with ‘Mental Health Matters’ likely to be adopted for the forthcoming year. When the discussion broadened to the problems facing older people in rural areas – for example loneliness, social isolation, poor transport and limited or no community services, the Keele team felt it would be useful to share that we are planning two further meetings to engage with the rural community, in a bid to listen to their ideas and potentially take these forward in research.


31 May FRRESH (Forum for Rural Research on Health & well-being)

12.30-4pm Foxlowe Centre, Leek (lunch included) ‘Rural proofing’

7th June PPIE meeting 10-11.30am

David Weatherall Building, Keele University

To discuss development of a programme of work around older adults, pain, mental health in rural areas.


Carolyn and Laura advised that all were welcome – please contact: or for more information.