Impact Makers

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Inclusive, creative communities

Dr Pippa Burns
School of Medicine

Action research benefiting the health and wellbeing of the community

Using action research to bring people together to improve health and wellbeing is at the heart of research practice for Dr Pippa Burns.

“I strongly believe in the importance of giving back to our community, both at an individual and an organisational level. I think it’s particularly important in a small town like Wollongong where UOW holds such a pivotal place in the local economy.”

The landmark Project DARE (Dementia knowledge, Art, Research and Education) brought together collaborators from UOW (with funding from the Global Challenges Program), UNSW, child care provider Big Fat Smile and Thirroul Public School. It aimed to develop, pilot and evaluate the impact of a short educational intervention on the conceptual understanding of dementia by primary school students.

The researchers analysed progressive artworks to see how students’ understanding of dementia changed following the intervention. The effect of using a creative process to demonstrate learning and emotional connection took the entire team by surprise. The artworks produced by the children have since been displayed in two community exhibitions, two conference presentations have been given, and the program has been adapted for the Scottish curriculum and piloted in a primary school in Aberdeen.

“We believe that Project DARE can evolve to include an expanded purpose, addressing other health-related issues and create a global impact, by working together to strengthen our communities,” Dr Burns says.

Dr Burns was also part of the SMILE Project team which developed a community-based, multi-sensory environment (MSE), in consultation with local people, including those living with a disability and their carers. Based at the Horsley Community Centre, it is thought to be the first of its kind in Australia. But perhaps not for long: the project team have developed resources to support other individuals and organisations to develop their own MSEs, thus supporting other groups and communities to develop their own inclusive initiatives, based on research findings.

Down the road in suburban Corrimal, Dr Burns and a UOW team are working with the local Chamber of Commerce, ASPECT South Coast School and Autism Spectrum Australia to establish the first autism-friendly community in Australia. Funded by the UOW Community Engagement Grants Scheme, the Autism Friendly Communities project will develop an audit tool that will enable business owners and individuals to make informed adjustments to their environment to make their surrounding more accessible for all.

For her latest project, Dr Burns turned to the international crochet community. The Crochet Health & Wellbeing project will evaluate anonymous responses to an online survey about how the craft can contribute to wellbeing. It builds on an earlier project of by Stitchlinks, in the UK, which found knitting had significant benefit because it encouraged mindfulness, and therefore wellbeing.