Change-makers: discover the local people tackling global issues

BBC TV presenter Anita Rani came to UEA in November 2019 to film a documentary. Anita is pictured wi

The Outstanding Social or Cultural Impact Award was won by ‘Skeletons in the Kitchen Cupboard’, which featured in the BBC’s War on Plastic documentary series presented by Anita Rani in Autumn 2020. Left to right: Georgina Yallop, Andrew Mayes, Anita Rani, Samantha Viljoen, Violeta Novakovic. - Credit: Neil Hall/UEA

The UEA Innovation and Impact Awards shine a spotlight on local students, researchers and scientists rising to global challenges. Find out more about the people doing incredible things right on your doorstep.  

Medieval book from Unlocking the Archive at National Trust Blickling Estate

The Unlocking the Archive project saw historic manuscripts digitised and made accessible to the public in new and imaginative ways - Credit: Andi Sapey

The UEA Innovation and Impact Awards celebrates the ground-breaking work taking place in our region in response to the most pressing issues of the 21st century. From the coronavirus pandemic to the climate emergency, health and wellbeing to plastic pollution, local researchers are starting conversations, investigating problems and inspiring others to change the world for the better. Read on to discover the most extraordinary stories from this year’s awards.

Police wellbeing

The award for Outstanding Impact in Health, Wellbeing and Welfare was won by Prof Sara Connolly, Prof Kevin Daniels and Dr Helen Fitzhugh for their research into improving police force productivity and wellbeing.  

The project involved a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the College of Policing, which is responsible for standards in policing in England and Wales, to determine best practices to improve police welfare.

Dr Helen Fitzhugh, knowledge exchange fellow at the University of East Anglia.

Dr Helen Fitzhugh, knowledge exchange fellow at the University of East Anglia - Credit: Stuart Charlesworth

“The College of Policing was embarking upon a large project to improve police wellbeing and we provided research and evaluation to reach good practice guidance in that area,” says Dr Helen Fitzhugh, knowledge exchange fellow at the University of East Anglia. “Working in policing can be stressful and demanding, so our work with the College explored both individual and organisational ways to support officers and staff.”

A bespoke mindfulness intervention for policing was made available to all officers and staff in England and Wales as a result of the work with the College of Policing. This meant Helen and her team were well-placed for later research conducted during the pandemic that informed future plans for agile working and resulted in a practical checklist to help managers support remote workers that has since been shared widely with other public sector organisations and businesses. 

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Helen added: “Winning this award helps us highlight the importance of workplace wellbeing and showcase practical and cost-effective ways of enhancing wellbeing.” 

The judges said: “This project shows true impact and collaboration in a difficult sector, setting the precedent for other organisations to follow its lead.” 

Placement innovation 

Dr Lisa Taylor, working in partnership with Professor Gilly Salmon, was nominated for the Outstanding Contribution/Response to Covid-19 for Presenting the Peer Enhanced e-Placement (PEEP). 

“All health and social care students have mandatory placement experience that they have to complete as part of their degrees to qualify as a health or social care professional,” says Dr Lisa Taylor, associate professor in occupational therapy. “PEEP was created in response to the suspension of face-to-face placements as a sustainable online model that offers flexible learning and customisation of curriculum content, while reducing the strain on placement capacity.”

PEEP has since been developed to enable 63 placement teams spanning 20 health and social care professions. 

Storm in a tea cup 

The prize for Outstanding Social or Cultural Impact was awarded to the ‘Skeletons in the Kitchen Cupboard’ initiative from Dr Andrew Mayes, senior lecturer in chemistry, and his three graduate students. The project, which featured in the BBC’s War on Plastic documentary series in Autumn 2020, highlights the hidden plastic contained in common consumer products and raises public awareness so people can make educated purchasing decisions and minimise plastic waste. 

“We consume about 100 million cups of tea a day, mostly brewed with tea bags,” says Andrew. “Many tea bags contain plastic ‘skeletons’ hidden inside them, made out of a non-biodegradable plastic called polypropylene, which is derived from oil. Highlighting this issue will hopefully allow consumers to make informed choices about which bags they buy and how they dispose of them. 

“This is a great reward for the three excellent students who contributed to the work and demonstrates how students can generate scientific impact through exciting and challenging projects.” 

The judges said: “We were impressed by the quality of research and clear route to impact from this project. Judges also noted the value of student involvement and especially applauded its promotion of female roles in STEM subjects.” 

The UEA Language Programme event

The UEA Language Programme enriches intercultural understanding in Norfolk - Credit: Andi Sapey

Literature and language 

Dr Tom Roebuck and Dr Sophie Butler from the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing were shortlisted for the Outstanding Social or Cultural Impact Award for Unlocking the Archive, in collaboration with Norfolk Library and the National Trust’s Blickling Estate, which saw historic manuscripts digitised and made accessible to the public in new and imaginative ways.

“The Unlocking the Archive project is designed to help reconnect members of the public to a hugely important but often neglected aspect of their heritage: the wonderful historic libraries in East Anglia and across Britain,” says Dr Sophie Butler, lecturer in early modern literature.

Dr Sophie Butler, lecturer in early modern literature at UEA

Dr Sophie Butler, lecturer in early modern literature at UEA - Credit: Tom Roebuck

“Our research is designed to show why these books mattered in their own day, and by doing so to help connect them to modern audiences. We’ve created a range of inclusive, interactive activities, stakeholder training, and digital innovation that has transformed the use of this collection, including through inspiring members of Norfolk’s creative industries to turn to it as a design resource.” 

The UEA Language Programme was also shortlisted for enriching the global understanding and intercultural thinking of the East Anglia region with its courses in 12 foreign languages.  

“We live in such a diverse community in Norwich and the surrounding area, yet the value and benefits of understanding different cultures are still not spoken about enough,” says Prof Mika Brown, associate professor of Japanese language. “The UEA Innovation and Impact Awards helps us to reach even wider audiences and promote the importance of understanding other cultures and people. 

“Through language learning, you meet new people who share your passion and you may gain a better understanding of people in your social and professional circles. The impact on our learners has been momentous, with a long-lasting influence that continues throughout their lives which they will pass on to the next generation.” 

Sustainable seaweed 

The award for Outstanding Commercialisation of Research was won by Dr Ana Bermejo Martinez and Prof Jonathan Todd for their work creating an eco-friendly alternative to acrylic acid, a chemical only produced from fossil fuels that is found in nappies, paint and adhesives.  

 Dr Ana Bermejo Martinez and Prof Jonathan Todd 

The award for Outstanding Commercialisation of Research was won by Dr Ana Bermejo Martinez and Prof Jonathan Todd for their work creating an eco-friendly alternative to acrylic acid using seaweed - Credit: Dr Peter Rivera

“We are developing a unique technology to produce acrylic acid from seaweed and are working with major companies and research institutes to make this a reality,” says Dr Ana Bermejo Martinez, senior research associate. 

The judges said: “This project showcases an astute understanding of the market and is already on a great route to success. It is an exciting, innovative project with huge potential impact on the industry.” 

Ana says that the success of projects such as this rely on close partnerships between industry and academia. “Our collaborations have been vital and we welcome approaches by industry so we can help bring our product to market and benefit both Norfolk’s economy but the global chemical marketplace as well. 

“The award recognises the importance of developing viable solutions for a more sustainable chemical industry. It's an announcement of our intent: we are serious about our ambitions and we are ready to make a difference.” 

If you are inspired by the UEA Innovation and Impact Awards and would like to find out how you can work with UEA to make a difference, please visit www.uea.ac.uk/business or contact business@uea.ac.uk to find out more. This could be in the form of consultancy, funded research, student internships, or your own idea for a project – and there is often funding available to help get projects started. 

To find out more about all the winners and finalists, click here

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