Addressing key issues: four case studies

"It is powerful when you're able to really explore the thing you want to learn about intensely." - Artist and project manager Sue Palmer, Fellow

Fellowships address key issues facing the UK today. Here are just four examples:

Childhood development

Early years conferenceSupporting the youngest in society has threaded through our Fellowships for decades. Whether it is championing school dinners, supporting children in care or encouraging better parenting, Fellows have led the way with many new ideas. From 2015 to 2017 we ran a dedicated Fellowship category on Early Years Prevention and Intervention, culminating in a professional conference opened by early years champion Andrea Leadsom MP (pictured). Fellows collaborating on their topics in this way creates a network of knowledge leaders. Here are some of their stories.

Assistant Director of Nursing Suzanne Smith travelled to the United States and Canada to learn from research into Abusive Head Trauma caused by shaking babies. On her return, she set up a National Steering Group to co-ordinate her Abusive Head Trauma prevention programme, called ICON. This programme now has pilots running in Oldham, Manchester, Hampshire and Gloucester. Suzanne has worked in partnership with the steering group and families to develop ICON materials for use by hospitals, the community, school teachers and GPs in their baby checks.

Michelle Cunningham, a children’s services manager, explored behaviour management in looked-after children in the USA. From her findings, she developed two new courses for children’s workers in her region, focused on childhood attachment and trauma-informed approaches. These reach over 300 colleagues a year, and are available to 750 foster carers and 180 staff at children’s residential homes.

Dr Carolyn Blackburn travelled to New Zealand to seek alternative models for the UK’s fragmented early intervention services. She has become a champion for joined-up approaches, through articles in academic journals and presentations at international conferences, and has become Vice President of the European Association on Early Childhood Intervention.


Amy VarleA sad but familiar sight on Britain’s streets are homeless men and women. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have slept rough in 2017, of whom 30% will have suffered some form of violence on the street. We have funded many Fellowships in this area and Fellows pioneered the current trend towards Housing First policies, which prioritise giving housing to homeless people with complex needs before any other form of social provision or support.

Housing consultant Amy Varle experienced homelessness herself as a teenager. In 2016 she visited homeless camps and housing projects in California, and came back a champion of Housing First, which she presented to Downing Street at the request of the Prime Minister. In 2017 the government announced three national pilot schemes for Housing First, and in 2018 private funding was announced for a flagship programme for homeless people in Lancashire – with Amy as Development Lead.

Charity worker John Cassap found new approaches to tackling homelessness in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina had forced thousands into neighbouring states. On his return, John’s employer, the charity Changing Lives, raised funds for two new projects based on his findings – one to support homeless veterans with complex needs, and the other to develop a Housing First approach that works across boroughs - a first in the UK.

Sandra Moore, Homelessness Director for a Belfast charity, travelled to the USA and Australia in 2012 to see Housing First projects for homeless people with complex needs. Advocating this approach at local and government level across Northern Ireland has won her the Northern Ireland Institute of Housing’s Housing Hero Award and an MBE for her contribution to ending homelessness.

Science education

Family science educationIn a world of fake news and celebrity science, Churchill Fellows have consistently championed fact-driven science education – in schools and for the public. Their aim has been to communicate the issues clearly and to inspire the next generation of students and professionals.

Science teacher Neil McIntyre looked at increased achievement in science education in Estonia and Finland in 2014. A highlight of his trip was learning about Ekool, an online tool that links teachers, parents and pupils into a single learning community. Since returning to the UK, Neil has spoken at national conferences and published articles in professional journals, highlighting good practice from overseas. He has now been awarded funding from The Mercers’ Company to create better links between primary- and secondary-school science education.

Education consultant Dr Sai Pathmanathan travelled to the USA in 2016 to investigate science engagement and learning for families through storytelling and children’s media. She brought this approach back to education projects in the inner London borough of Tower Hamlets, winning support from the local community and enthusiastic families. She has now set up a series of environmental education events in the UK, called ‘Plastic=Not Fantastic!’

Young Fellow Deepesh Patel led a student-run project to research the medicinal potential of rainforest plants in the Amazon basin in 2011. He turned this into a film on his return, which was shown at the British Science Festival. From this grew his next project, Science Box, an educational social enterprise that has delivered workshops at over 60 schools to inspire STEM students. This has been featured in BBC News and The Guardian.

Suicide prevention

Sharon McDonnellEvery year some 6,000 people take their own life in the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 20-45, and rates among women are the highest for a decade. Thousands more are affected by suicide bereavement, which increases their own risk of dying by suicide. In 2018 we created a dedicated Fellowship category to look at this unreported crisis, which had been signalled to us by a number of Fellows already exploring this topic.

Mental health nurse Helen Lee-Savage visited world-leading researchers and clinicians in suicide prevention, in the USA in 2014. Since returning, she has developed suicide intervention training for medical students and an awareness group where families of people at risk of taking their lives can learn how to talk about suicide.

Charity director Shirley Smith studied responses to suicide in the USA in 2016 and fed her findings into a charity she had set up in County Durham, called If U Care Share Foundation. Today IUCSF works with health and police services in an Early Alert System to support people affected by a death by suicide. They have helped 1,200 local families bereaved by suicide. On a national level, Shirley is part of the APPG for suicide and self-harm, is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, and has helped develop training in this area with The National Institute for Health Research.

Researcher Sharon McDonnell assessed provision for people bereaved by suicide in New Zealand and Australia, in 2013. Since returning, she has developing the first UK-wide survey of suicide bereavement, with Manchester University, and given evidence to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on guidelines for suicide postvention in primary care and custodial settings. On a personal level, Sharon credits her Fellowship with giving her the confidence to start her own company, Suicide Bereavement UK, which specialises in suicide bereavement research, training and consultancy.