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A collage depicting women at a community outreach event in Blackbird Leys.

On Monday March 6, Tanvi Rai and colleagues from our department (Sharon Dixon, Bakita Kasadha, Jean Balchin, Anna Dowrick, Michelle Yeung) hosted and participated in a health outreach event at Blackbird Leys Community Hall, in partnership with Oxford City Council, local Community Champions, and Transition Lighthouse. Community Champions are volunteers who represent communities that have challenges accessing health services, including ethnic minorities, refugees and people experiencing homelessness. 

We chose the location of the event carefully, in light of the fact that ten of Oxford’s 83 neighbourhood areas are among the most deprived in the country. In these areas people die up to a decade earlier than those living in the wealthiest parts of the city.  

Around 50 female members of the public attended, the majority of whom were from ethnic minority backgrounds, and this diversity was mirrored in the core team of organisers and speakers. The atmosphere of the room was joyful, open and warm, with everybody keen to support and learn from one another.  

The focus of the day was women’s health and topics covered included period poverty, HIV and infant feeding decisions, Long Covid, and menopause. Clinicians, council members, academic researchers and invited members of the public spoke alongside one another on several different aspects around these topics, sharing insights, knowledge and practical information, and drawing from their own expertise and experience.  

Each session stimulated many conversations with attendees that were honest, moving and thoughtful, often infused with reflection and humour. We talked about the stigma and secrecy surrounding so many ‘women’s problems’, the difficulties in accessing adequate help and healthcare, and the absence of words in several languages to name particular conditions, such as menopause. “There was deep honesty and openness in the room,” said Councilor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities. “It was beautiful.” 

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis in the UK has made the situation worse, especially for those who already face multiple structural and social disadvantages. This event was a small but positive example of how the academy can use its resources, wealth and power to invest in capacity building in local structurally disadvantaged communities and promote real and equal partnerships between ‘town and gown’, in order to slow down the ever-widening health inequalities between the different populations of contemporary Britain.  

This event was funded via the dissemination budget of an NIHR grant for the study NOURISH-UK (grant number NIHR201032). 


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