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Still Life

Dr Michelle Desforges of the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre (MFHRC) talks about a project to engage the public with research into stillbirth.

Sculpture representing medical research.In 2018, the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre (MFHRC) was awarded £3,000 from the University of Manchester’s ISSF to run Still Life, a project engaging women who had experienced a stillbirth with research.

MFHRC is one of Europe's largest pregnancy research centres and they wanted to explore the use of creative techniques in engaging the public with such a highly sensitive topic. The aims of the project were to raise awareness of stillbirth and engage members of the public with MFHRC’s key research areas; the placenta and stillbirth.

Still Life involved bringing together women who had experienced stillbirth, MFHRC researchers, midwives and creative practitioners in a series of themed art and poetry based workshops.

Getting sign-ups to the workshops initially proved difficult for a number of reasons. Many people find the topic of stillbirth difficult to talk about whereas others simply couldn’t get the time off work or find suitable childcare in order to attend.

However, on the whole, the workshops have been a success. Participants have reported a greater understanding of the research and have also praised the emotional benefits of attending.

"Without the sessions, I would never have realised what positive outcomes you can get by taking part in such research," one participant commented.

Over 30 pieces of art, poetry and sculpture have been created through the projects which were shown at an exhibition in November 2018. A booklet of the pieces created is also being produced, which can be given to families who have experienced a stillbirth, as well as researchers and members of the public to raise awareness.

The impact that the exhibition had on the general public shouldn’t be underestimated with attendees praising the work on show.

"The exhibition really moved me. It really demonstrated how vital the research is and makes you think about how the situation could and should be improved," one attendee commented.

Since starting the project, the MFHRC, in partnership with the Public Programmes team, successfully obtained over £60,000 of funding from the Wellcome Trust's Public Engagement Fund to run the Still Life project on a larger scale with Greater Manchester’s Jewish community.

This larger project has now started and we are using what we learnt from the original ISSF funded project to refine how we deliver the project this time around.

This project was funded through the Established Engagement stream of the University of Manchester ISSF Public Engagement Fund.