Research often feels like something that happens behind closed doors. Over the two years that I’ve worked on the MIRRA project I have spent many hours alone in my office (or at my dining table!), just me, a computer screen and the clack of my keyboard. This is undoubtedly where a lot of the work of thinking, analysing, understanding and writing has been done; but it isn’t where the meaning or satisfaction in my job has come from. That has come, without fail, from the amazing people that I have worked alongside and from the change we’ve started to make together. When I was doing my PhD I often quizzed myself about my decision to go into research, and worried that becoming an ‘academic’ would take me away from the real world and the real life concerns of people. I’m inexpressibly grateful that my first full-time job as an academic researcher proved those fears were wrong, in so many ways. Research is what we make it, and with MIRRA we have all had an opportunity to make something powerful and heartfelt.
That’s an emotional way to begin this post, but it seems fitting since MIRRA has been an emotional project: it’s about memory, identity and our need to understand ourselves, which are all very emotional things. I’ve often felt full of feelings while working on it. I am full of feelings now as the project, at least this phase of it, comes to a close. The current funding for MIRRA finishes in mid-October 2019, which means that my role as Research Associate is almost over. I will be leaving UCL at the end of this week (28th September), to take up a new job at the University of York. This is incredibly sad for me, because I will miss working with everyone in the research team so much; but it is also very exciting, as the new project I will be working on also promises to make a difference to people’s lives.
I am grateful and humbled that I have had the opportunity to work with my care-experienced colleagues on MIRRA. Prior to starting on the project I had very little knowledge or understanding of child social care, and no personal experiences. I was an outsider, but people welcomed me in. I would like to particularly thank the core and extended research group – Darren, Andi, Gina, Linda, Isa, Rosie, John-george, Jackie, Emmanuel, Brett and Sam – but also all of those who shared their life stories or experiences and placed their trust in me, in person, by email or on Twitter. Practitioners and other researchers have also been very generous, both with their time and their thoughts. It’s safe to say that while I have learnt a lot about care and care experiences over the last two years, I have learnt even more about how to be a good researcher and a good human.
MIRRA doesn’t end here though! The other members of the research group at UCL, Elizabeth Shepherd, Elizabeth Lomas and Andrew Flinn, will be picking up the reins and carrying the work forward. They will be continuing to work with legislators and regulators on improving recordkeeping and access to records, and creating and sharing guidance for care leavers and practitioners. Twitter and the website will still be updated. They will be joined by a new colleague, Anna Sexton, who will be leading on follow-on funding applications to extend and expand the work. Anna isn’t completely new to the project, as she worked on the original pilot study back in the summer of 2017.
We are currently waiting to hear about another year’s worth of money from our current funder, the AHRC, which would allow UCL to start developing a recordkeeping system for social workers that focuses on memory and identity rather than risk and performance management. If that bid is successful the project will start early in 2020. The team is also beginning to discuss the next large scale bid, which will widen the research to other services and agencies who have similar record-keeping issues including mental health provision, criminal and youth justice, immigration and adult social care. The aim is to keep records high up on people’s radar, and to emphasise the role they play in shaping our lives as both individuals and as citizens.
You can contact the team with your thoughts and queries:
Elizabeth Shepherd – firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Lomas – email@example.com
Anna Sexton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Flinn – email@example.com
If you would like to stay in touch with me and my future work, you can find me on Twitter as @Vicky_Hoyle, or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care everyone, and thank you again.