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PRIMER (Primary Care Research in Manchester Engagement Resource) is a well-established patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) group at the Centre for Primary Care and Health Services Research at The University of Manchester. On 12 November 2020, working with the Business Engagement & Knowledge Exchange Team at the University of Manchester, we hosted an innovative event aimed at increasing diversity within PRIMER to include working adults, a population that is notoriously absent from many PPIE groups. The voice and perspective of working adults would be of enormous benefit to primary care research.

For some time PRIMER has been debating how we might address this issue and make our membership more inclusive. We aimed to achieve this by recruiting working adults as members of the group and also potentially setting up a pathway for primary care researchers to access to this demographic when developing PPIE in their projects.

Given the other work that PRIMER members do, we worried that taking on this new challenge might be beyond our resources. Then, as part of the 6-month extension of the NIHR School for Primary Care Research, we heard that all partners could apply for funding. This funding was meant to support initiatives in departments that would strengthen their PPIE, a match with our aim to make PRIMER’s membership more inclusive. When our application was successful, we were thrilled.

Initially we planned a big engagement event to publicise PPIE to the business community in Greater Manchester. We had to revise our plans in light of the pandemic, switching to a Zoom meeting and reducing the number of attendees, but the aim of the event was unchanged.

Representatives from five businesses attended. These businesses differed in size and commercial focus, and they had a variety of reasons for attending. However, they were unanimous in their interest in enhancing the well-being of their staff and were more than willing to listen to what we had to say.

The event featured short presentations from PRIMER members and researchers from The University of Manchester, explaining the nature and benefits of PPIE to primary care research. These presentations were followed by a lively discussion with the business representatives, which explored how best to facilitate the involvement of working adults in PPIE. This included a discussion of potential obstacles to involvement, such as the time commitment. We also explored the benefits to employee well-being as well as to primary care research. We looked at how PRIMER might be more flexible with the timing and length of our meetings to make it easier for employees to take part. Attendees were left with plenty to think about and plans have been made for follow-up contact in the near future.

Once the business attendees have had time to reflect on the information we have presented to them, our aim is to reconnect in the hope of establishing a permanent link via a designated employee. This will enable us to provide their workforce with information on research projects and, best of all, potentially recruit members of staff to join the PRIMER group, supported by their employer as part of their working life. This could be as “core” members, who would attend regular PRIMER meetings and contribute to the discussion on research projects presented to us by researchers. Another option would be as “corresponding” members, who would not attend meetings but are instead provided with information on the research projects to be presented and are free to submit their comments and opinions in advance of the meeting.

Working adults are not the only underrepresented group, and we are keen to explore other ways in which we can make PRIMER truly diverse and accessible to underserved and marginalised sections. This is just the first step for PRIMER, a work in progress with huge potential for significant advancement in the relevance of PPIE!