The impact of working with community organisations – by Dr Jaimie Ellis

One week on from the atrocity that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand that resulted in 50 people’s lives being taken, communities across the world have come together to show #WeAreOne. Here in Southampton the Muslim Council and Southampton’s Council of Faiths held a Peace Vigil this week to remember those lives lost. Today however, the significance of standing side by side with our Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues really hit home.

As part of the PALS study (Project about Loneliness and Social Isolation) we are working with community organisations and groups across Southampton to conduct a randomised control trial of the social network intervention GENIE. Abu Bakr Jamia Masjid Mosque have agreed to act as a partner in the research, helping to identify people who might like to connect more with groups and activities in the local community, as well as facilitating the GENIE intervention. Today, a colleague (Dr Tara Cheetham-Blake) and I were invited to attend Zuhr Prayer (the prayer after midday) in order to be able to observe prayer and talk with people about PALS. Today, this research engagement exercise had tangible consequences beyond participant recruitment numbers.

As a consequence of the events in Christchurch there was heightened police presence around the mosque, attendees had self-appointed themselves to act a security guards during the period of prayer and the Imam held a remembrance sermon for the lives taken last week. One (non-Muslim) member of the community stood at the entrance handing a rose to each person attending prayers “we value you, have a good day” he repeated.

mosque2

Tara and I were shown to a table laid out for us to use. Water was fetched for us. Sweets were brought to the table and we were greeted time and time again by each person attending prayers. ‘As-salamu alaykum’, a smile, a slight nod of the head, a hello, each person walked passed to prepare for prayer and acknowledged our presence. We were made to feel so valued and appreciated, and yet the honour and privilege was all ours. When prayer closed, we spoke to many attendees about the research with the intention of increasing recruitment numbers. What was most unintended was the impact our physical presence had. It became clear that being physically there, in the mosque during prayer, one week on from Christchurch was appreciated beyond what I could have imagined. This is immediate and real impact of community-based research for our community partners.

The impact however, is also symmetrical and reciprocal. PALS is a community-based trial that is founded on the knowledge that being connected to your community is good for your health and wellbeing, and that these connections are vital and protective. Through PALS I have had the honour of working with many community organisations and in doing so feel I am becoming part of the community. Today, I learned more about my community, who is in it and also what it means to be part of it. To be part of the community is to stand side by side as one and in is doing this the community can be this great entity.

Thank you Abu Bakr Jamia Masjid Mosque.

If you would like your organisation to become a community partner in PALS, please contact include@soton.ac.uk.

Dr Jaimie Ellis

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