Exciting and creative collaborations

January 22, 2015

I have been involved in research on food and eating practices for 15+ years and I still get the same sense of excitement and level of enjoyment from projects as I did when I was an under-graduate writing my dissertation about whether and how our families influence what we eat when we leave home.


Our new study, on older people’s ways of getting food, was therefore always likely to make me jump out of bed in anticipation of another busy day doing research. This study has involved new things though – new ways of working with a whole new set of people, which is really refreshing and stimulating.


We planned from the outset that we would organise some kind of public exhibition towards the end of the project, in Spring/Summer 2016. How will we go about this? What information from the study’s findings will we include? Where will we stage this exhibition? We didn’t really have any idea to be honest! So we set about finding people to help us. Number one on the list was Erik Klein Wolterink – Erik is a Dutch photographic artist I’ve known for a few years through other projects and through his work on ‘Kitchen Portraits’. I knew Erik would galvanise us with new ways of thinking about visual images – he’s not a researcher so his perspective is different to mine and I really like that.


Next we wanted to see if there were other creative or practical people at the University of Hertfordshire who could help us. We came across Dr Silvio Carta, an expert in architecture and design who, together with his undergraduate students, is going to help us design the exhibition – I was blown away when I visited Silvio’s studio at the University – students were busy planning exhibitions from client briefs as part of their coursework and fancy looking machines were printing 3D models of exhibition spaces – I had no idea such machines existed or that students could study such creative subjects! Silvio’s expertise complements that of design lecturer Dr Yuanyuan Yin from Winchester School of Art – Yuanyuan is looking at the design of supermarkets and their suitability and accessibility for older people – she has already held one exhibition, which included some amazing ways of engaging the public with her study and its findings and we may well steal some of these ideas! (Yuanyuan is on our exhibition working group…we are not literally planning to steal from her…).


We have also been inspired through our contact with Dr Marta Rabikowska, Principal Lecturer in Creative Industries at the University of Hertfordshire and a thought-provoking film maker. Marta uses video documentaries to affect an audience, to provoke a reaction or to change a perception about, for example, belonging or migrants living in London. A workshop that Marta organised at the University, about visual research methods, made me reconsider whether we, as the research team, should be in front of the camera, talking about the areas in which we are going to conduct our research around Hertfordshire. Is that a ‘vanity project’ or could it add something to our exhibition of the study’s findings? Our reflections as researchers are really important (see Amy Godfrey’s previous blog post on the need for detailed fieldnotes) so why not include them visually in our ‘outputs’?


I still have no idea, three months on since we started this research, how the final exhibition is going to look or how it will be experienced by those who visit it. I’m happy with that – we haven’t as yet collected any data from the older people we are recruiting to take part and I don’t want to pre-empt what we are going to discover about their food and eating practices. I have many ideas whizzing around my head though and I am really looking forward to talking more with our creative and talented collaborators who have the expertise to help us do something truly innovative to help us create impact for the benefit of older people.


Wendy Wills

Dr Wendy Wills is the joint Principal Investigator on the OFfSEt study. 

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The project is a collaborative project by  the University of Hertfordshire between the Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care and Hertfordshire Business school.