Imperial College London

Engaging young creatives with COVID-19 research

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Imperial researchers, together with a local theatre company, have supported young people to creatively engage in COVID-19 research.

The project, called EPIDEMIC, was funded by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Northwest London.

During my time on the project, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating a different form of theatre in response to the current climate. Rana Project member

The virtual project involved young people conveying COVID-19 research reports, by Imperial’s COVID-19 Response Team, through performances which were recorded remotely. 

Twenty young people, aged 14 to 20 and from under-represented backgrounds, were chosen to be part of the project. They formed five groups and worked on different research reports. The young people also chose which part of the creative process they wanted to be involved in, such as, screen writing, directing, acting and video editing.

Meeting the scientists behind the science

Daisy and Mahdi watching other performances during the workshop on young people’s thoughts on COVID-19
Molly and Kira conveying their thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic through performances

The reports enabled the young people to passionately discuss topical issues with each other, some of which included the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in low and lower middle-income countries, the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19, and the public response to the UK Government recommendations on COVID-19.

Rana, a young person, said: “During my time on the project, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating a different form of theatre in response to the current climate. I particularly appreciated expanding my knowledge of COVID-19 and understanding the emotions people felt towards the beginning of the lockdown period. Crafting our work in a way whereby we could connect to audiences was especially enjoyable, as it meant my passion for drama and acting was easy to present as not only were we looking at the statistical information but also the creative aspect of devising and illustrating an informative piece.” 

Talking to young people was an absolutely enjoyable experience, and an opportunity to talk about aspects of my work that go beyond the scientific results of my research. Dr Ilaria Dorigatti Imperial COVID-19 response team

As part of the project, ‘Meet the Researcher’ sessions were arranged for each group; this provided an opportunity for the young people to meet the lead researcher for the COVID-19 report their group was working on.

Prior to being involved in the project, 16 out of 20 young people had neither met a researcher nor understood what a researcher's role entails.  The 'Meet the Researcher’ sessions provided young people with greater exposure to research.

The key researchers - Dr Christina Atchison, Dr Ilaria Dorigatti, Dr Swapnil Mishra, Dr Caroline Walters and Dr Peter Winskill - delivered engaging and inspiring sessions to the young people. During the sessions, the researchers informed the young people about how they got into their research field, and described a typical working day in their week. They also summarised the COVID-19 research in simple terms and explained the jargon and modelling techniques used in some of the research reports.

Rana, discussing ways to engage young people in scientific research, during a focus group session
Rana, discussing ways to engage young people in scientific research, during a focus group session

Dr Ilaria Dorigatti said: “My ‘Meet the Researcher’ session was great! The students were engaged and asked relevant and interesting questions about my day-to-day life. They also asked about the feelings and emotions I experienced as a member of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team at the beginning of the pandemic, as well as my motivation for conducting research in public health. Talking to young people was an absolutely enjoyable experience, and an opportunity to talk about aspects of my work that go beyond the scientific results of my research.”

Personal reflections of the pandemic

Kira and Molly conveying their thoughts of the COVID-19 pandemic through performances
Daisy and Mahdi watching other performances during the workshop on young people’s thoughts on COVID-19

Rana said: “The opportunity to meet the brains behind the research article meant we could grasp a more in-depth view of what it entailed, and inspired me to further consider how we can incorporate specific information. It gave us more of an overview of how people from all different walks of life felt towards the beginning of the pandemic, resulting in our group portraying four completely different characters that complement each other as they express their divergent views.”

The opportunity to meet the brains behind the research article meant we could grasp a more in-depth view of what it entailed, and inspired me to further consider how we can incorporate specific information. Rana Project member

The Burnt Orange Theatre Company was chosen as a key community partner to oversee the creative aspect of the project. The company’s co-directors, Rosie Thomas and Ella Nokes, along with myself, ensured the young people creatively communicated their interpretation of the report whilst developing key skills throughout the process.

Rosie and Ella said: “The Burnt Orange Theatre Company were delighted and grateful to partner with Imperial College London and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Northwest London. We found it fascinating to explore creating and collaborating virtually with young people and loved the ability to expand our reach beyond our local community, engaging young artists from across London and beyond. As always, we were amazed and inspired by the creative work generated by the young people, particularly as they worked under complex circumstances.”


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Fola Afolabi

Fola Afolabi
Human Resources Division

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Outreach, Coronavirus
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