Maximising community voices in research

In this blog, Halle Johnson writes about why the public must always be at the heart of research - and increasing the number of community partners supporting the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) from 18 to 80 in the past six months. Halle is part of the Patient Experience Research Centre (PERC) within the Trust-hosted NIHR Imperial BRC, which is a partnership between Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London.

We want our local community in north west London to be at the heart of research supported by the NIHR Imperial BRC, shaping our priorities and how we improve health and wellbeing. This is a key part of our new five-year funding award from the NIHR and our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion framework. I’m really proud that we’ve recruited over 80 members of the public to be Community Partners, up from 18 in our last contract. It was brilliant to get everyone together, online and in-person, for the first time recently for an introduction and training session. I’m very excited about what we can achieve together, supporting the translation of scientific discoveries into new treatments, diagnostics, and medical technologies, in order to benefit patients locally, nationally and globally.

Role of Community Partners

Each of our Community Partners have community links in north west London and lived experience relevant to at least one the Imperial BRC’s 14 research themes. These are based on the most pressing local health needs, including existing research themes – such as cardiovascular, cancer and infection and antimicrobial resistance - as well as new areas of work including pregnancy and premature births, respiratory and biomedical engineering. Community Partners will work in partnership with each of our 14 research themes and the Patient Experience Research Centre, acting as a ‘critical’ friend to make sure our work is relevant to, and inclusive of, our local community. Our partners will also be responsible for monitoring the progress of each theme and the overall BRC against our Public Involvement, Engagement and Participation Strategy. 

Community partners will also draw on their experience to provide a public perspective on each theme’s research and public involvement and engagement plans, as well offering advice on how to involve the public and local communities.

Induction and training

Our recent induction and training sessions with Community Partners, which we ran online and in-person, were an opportunity to formally introduced our BRC and provide an overview of public involvement and the Community Partner role. It was also a good chance to network and work through some scenarios, which provided examples of projects and activities where researchers might ask Community Partners for advice and input.  

Feedback from the training was overwhelmingly positive. Bipin Dattani, one of our newly recruited Community Partners told me: “I am Chairman of my local Patient Participation Group, and I regularly disseminate good quality information about various medical conditions to the patients who belong to my GP surgery. As a Community Partner with the Imperial BRC, I look forward to being involved in world-class medical research, to influence that from a patient perspective and monitor the progress of research within the different themes - and eventually inform others of the end results. This will provide me a chance to ‘swim upstream’ and I feel excited about the prospect of engaging with world-class medical scientists and fulfilling my natural passion.” 

Following the induction and training, Community Partners will meet with the researchers involved in each theme to learn more about the studies and co-design ways of working, ahead of their roles starting properly. 

We are hugely grateful to all of our Community Partners for volunteering their time, expertise and experience, and for helping us improve health and wellbeing across north west London and more widely.

If you would like to get involved, you can sign up to our newsletter or contact us at