How to run a project that makes a real difference

At The Dunhill Medical Trust (DMT), we prioritise funding projects that make a real difference in the lives of older people. This commitment was on full display at this year’s Annual Symposium where we showcased some of the inspiring initiatives we’ve supported over the past year, and announced the winners of our inaugural DMT Excellence Awards. Here, we dive into the insights from our award holders and partners who spoke at the event to help you design and run impactful projects of your own.

Build trust and effective collaboration

Involving the community and older people directly in your research is key to building trust and ensuring impactful results. Working on the Co-Creating an Age-Friendly Social Housing programme, Adela Mortimer, Partnership and Engagement Assistant at Stockport Homes, describes her journey of building trust with a community that felt disenfranchised:

Our work over the last year has been about gaining the trust of a community that has experienced a lot of shortcomings. We created opportunities for older people to engage with us, learn more about the project, and become more involved in their community

Dr. Manik Deepak-Gopinath from The Open University partnered with Bangla Housing Association as part of the three year DMT-funded project Amar Bari Amar Jibon. Manik emphasises the importance of building trust from the very beginning:

Given the nature of the work that we are doing, trust is crucial. What really stood us in good stead was the time we spent together at the pre-bidding stage. This not only made sure we both participated fully in shaping the project, but also in building a meaningful collaboration. The result is that we are now on the same page all the time.

Bashir Uddin, Director of the Bangla Housing Association, reflects on the rewarding experience:

I’m finding it very exciting to be working with these people, and the project has grown organically, with more and more people from the community getting involved. It’s become more than just a project; it’s a collaborative effort that’s making a real difference.

Impactful projects require the involvement of older people, but may also involve other stakeholders such as local GPs, community pharmacists, housing, social care, policy-makers, technology providers and more. Debra Edwards, a community champion involved in the TAPPI project, highlights the importance of co-production, working alongside older people and other stakeholders:

My role was to ensure that the technology we were introducing was something developed with, not for, older people. I participated alongside them to make sure they received technology that truly met their needs.

It’s also important to meet people where they are, and get them inspired to participate and stay involved. Think about how you can customise and adapt your engagement strategies to meet the needs of the communities involved in your research. For example, Dr. Jenni Burton, recipient of the DMT Rising star award, shares her experience of taking her research directly to care homes in a series of tea parties:

Taking the work out to care homes allowed me to connect with residents, families, and staff. These tea parties confirmed the need for the research and provided the stimulus to take the findings forward.

By involving communities in meaningful ways, you can build trust, ensure your work addresses real needs, and ultimately create a positive impact.

Reflect and adapt

Even the best laid plans need to be adjusted as unexpected situations arise. Manik explains how they tackled issues that came up during their project:

When we started this project, it hit us that there was no research infrastructure in place. Who would do the interviews in their native languages? Who would translate them? In order to tackle this problem, we involved as many people as possible from the community to help out. As a result we have had to think about what is fair remuneration for their work.

Nerys Carpenter, Partnership and Engagement Officer at Stockport Homes, describes how the cost-of-living crisis created more problems for their project than initially expected:

The cost-of-living crisis had an extra knock-on effect for the people in Brinnington. A lot of people that we were working with were really struggling. It’s important that we heard their opinions, because although we came in with loads of fantastic ideas, it wasn’t what they needed at that time – so we listened, and adapted.

You also need to be prepared for mixed reactions. You’re not always going to receive a welcome party. Adela emphasises the importance of persistence and a positive attitude when you meet resistance:

When you try and do a piece of work with the community, they’re not always going to like it. You’re going to do an event and then at the end people are going to go, well that was rubbish, I didn’t like that. But you have to learn to roll with the punches. We kept persevering, and eventually we gained their trust and have now become a valued part of the community. We’ve now been able to do some really rewarding work, such as supporting residents with discretionary payments and connecting them to essential services.

And resistance may not just come from communities and stakeholders, but from your fellow research peers as well. Ilaria Bellantuono, DMT Senior Leader award winner, shares her experience encountering resistance within the scientific community:

Initially, there was a lack of interest in my research. Both pharmaceutical companies and disease researchers were sceptical. However, these conversations revealed a gap in knowledge and the need for collaboration, so I brought together stakeholders from various fields. Initially hesitant, the group ultimately reached a consensus on the importance of targeting biological ageing as a risk factor for multiple age-related conditions.

These experiences demonstrate the power of being flexible and open to feedback. Staying open-minded and adapting your approach could make your project even more impactful.

Your project won’t last forever, but you can make its impact long-lasting. One way is by ensuring the outcomes of your research can continue to be utilised and supported after the initial funding period ends. Holly Holder, Deputy Director for Homes at the Centre for Ageing Better, led the Dunhill Medical Trust-supported “Triple Dividend” project. She shares how they captured the project’s impact by presenting clear, actionable recommendations:

We wanted to make sure our research could influence policy changes. So we collaborated with Demos, a political think tank who took our research and made it more relevant to policymakers’ concerns. They repackaged our findings into engaging reports targeted at specific audiences and grouped our recommendations into relevant categories. They created a clear table outlining the potential impact of our solutions, like the number of people who would benefit and the jobs that could be created. This helped make the case for change.

It’s also important that your project’s findings and resources are accessible so they can be disseminated effectively and new practices can be put in place. Dr. Rebekah Luff, Research Analyst at Social Care Institute for Excellence, and project manager for the Commission on the Role of Housing in the Future of Care and Support emphasises this point:

Anyone who would be involved in a housing partnership should be able to read and understand our work to see where they fit in. That includes older people themselves, so we put a lot of thought into the way everything is set out and the language that’s used. Our next step is going to be to produce easy-read versions. We’re looking at what we’re doing and what we’re putting out there, and making sure it is accessible, usable and useful.

Share your findings in clear, easy-to-understand and easy-to-access ways. By making your project’s impact and recommendations accessible and engaging, you ensure its legacy extends far beyond your funding period.

Making a lasting difference

Our approach at The DMT sets us apart from traditional funding bodies. We’re not satisfied with simply providing grants. We see ourselves as rebels with a cause, determined to ensure that the projects we fund leave a long-lasting and wide-reaching impact.

The stories highlighted here exemplify the kind of research we champion – research that actively seeks to improve the lives of older people. By following the tips shared here, you can ensure your work has a lasting positive impact.

Read here to find out more about how The DMT is fulfilling its mission to support those it funds to make a long-lasting and wide-reaching impact.