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The Hub at Wellcome Collection brings together academics and practitioners to tackle issues like rest and busyness, rare dementias and inclusive research, writes Harriet Martin.

Photo of The Hub at Wellcome Collection
The Hub at Wellcome Collection

A range of perspectives and backgrounds is essential for tackling big questions about health, and The Hub provides the time, resources and space in which to do this. The Hub Award provides funding of up to £1m to bring together people from academia, the health sector and the arts. Residents are based at the Wellcome Collection in central London for up to two years to explore a health-related question in an innovative and experimental way.

Rest and busyness

Our first residents, Hubbub, explored rest and busyness, noise and tumult in our minds and bodies with a team of over 50 collaborators, who included psychologists, poets, musicians, broadcasters, historians, neuroscientists and artists. Understanding the direct links between rest and wellbeing has brought to light the hidden health implications of our busy lives and taken a first step of shifting public language from the demonisation of ‘laziness’.

The research questions address themes such as human value, the value of difference and questioning what is normal

It culminated with BBC Radio 4’s Rest Test, the largest ever public survey on rest, with over 18,000 people from 134 countries taking part. It also inspired Wellcome to install a sleep pod, which enables staff to find rest and relaxation during their hectic work days. 

Rare forms of dementia

Our second residents, Created Out of Mind, posed a new challenge that looked to shape perceptions of dementias. Their team conducted research with people living with different forms of dementia to tell their stories in order to challenge existing perceptions of their conditions. 

Their work designing new methods of co-creation, working with people living with six of the rarer forms of dementia, has led to the creation of a new online support platform and centre. This centre will meet a current unmet global need. It builds on the work of Created Out of Mind and its partner charity, Rare Dementia Support.

When hosting rare dementia support groups, researchers saw that using a beautiful space made people feel valued and supported. The centre and platform aim to do exactly this for people living with rare dementias. They are due to open in three years, led by the Dementia Research Centre at UCL. This is alongside a dedicated space to educate professionals and the public on dementias and allow novel, co-produced research to take place.

Inclusive research teams

Heart n Soul at The Hub, our third and current residents, have taken this form of engaged research a step further and included people with learning disabilities and autism on their core and project teams and in their wider group of researchers and collaborators.

The research questions address themes such as human value, the value of difference and questioning what is normal, and are directly informed and designed by people who live with a learning disability or autism. They are also designing new and accessible audiovisual survey technology to ensure that they can directly ask the public questions and bring a human quality to the way their surveys are presented.

Supporting great ideas

They have also challenged us to think differently about how we can best support great ideas to thrive. During the application stage of The Hub Award, Heart n Soul identified barriers to those with learning disabilities and autism, including some physical features of our building that could trigger seizures. This led to a complete re-design of the interview rooms and the Hub space. We have also simplified and shortened the application form for The Hub Award and are using video as a primary assessment tool for the first time.

Our residencies have demonstrated the value of transdisciplinary approaches, and to support this at the end of each residency we run Ideas Hub, a free week-long summer school. It brings together a cohort of people from a range of backgrounds and experiences to develop transdisciplinary practices which they can each take forward in their work and which we hope one day might create similar insights into our understanding of health.

In the meantime, you can get involved with Heart n Soul by interacting with its Wall of Change installation (on display until August), which encourages you to think about alternative futures and come up with ideas for a more inclusive world.

Harriet Martin is Hub Partnership Manager at Wellcome Collection.

Applications for the 2020 Ideas Hub will be open to all at the end of this year.

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Photo of Harriet Martin