As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS.
Sophie Chester-Glyn is a PhD student in the University of Bristol Law School and runs part-time the non-profit organisation Co-Produce Care, which supports social care providers in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
Your work helping to run Co-Produce Care has focussed on trying to increase vaccine understanding amongst at risk groups and dispel vaccine myths. Could you tell us a little more about why you decided to do this?
I have always been interested in law and social care. I previously worked in social care part time and studied undergraduate law but realised how little I knew about the rights available to people with disabilities and the laws surrounding it. After coming to Bristol to study a PhD focusing on mental health law, I became involved in running the non-profit organisation, Co-Produce Care. My aim was to help inform people in social care, who are often unaware of their rights but who might be affected by changes to policy and law.
In February 2020, when SARS-CoV-2 was gaining momentum in the media, I realised that many of the region’s (Bristol, North Somerset, South Glos) care providers were feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic. To help support them, I decided to set up a weekly call with all the area’s sector leaders so that we could share information from testing to sourcing PPE alongside live updates from Public Health England and local authorities.
By autumn, we had increased our engagement through blogs and social media and noticed hesitancy amongst the social care community around vaccines. It was at this point we decided to conduct our own research. We sent a survey to around 300 of our members to find out specifically what their concerns were.
Our rapid research report, published in December last year, found there was a higher level of vaccine hesitancy amongst people working in social care compared with the general population. The report was shared with local MPs, the Secretary of State and Health Minister but we knew we needed to do more.
At the end of 2020 we reached out to MPs, the University, GP and BAME networks to create a diverse panel of experts for a livestream briefing who could talk and help inform people about the vaccine in live Q&A’s that would be attended by front line social care workers. The Q&As have been a real success with around 2,000 views on YouTube, and the feedback we have received suggests people feel better informed. It is great to know you are making a difference!
What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
When the lockdown was announced last year, I was concerned how the region’s social care sector was going to respond. I wanted the sector to be better co-ordinated and really work together in tackling COVID by sharing knowledge, information, and updates on the virus from their perspective. Improving the way that the social care community came together during the pandemic has been a real triumph.
Have there been any times whether you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it being a woman?
Personally, at times I find it hard to get your voice heard. It has been a struggle, you see the other people who do not look like you, who don’t have the experience that you have, get a platform to talk about things that they know, you know more about. I think it is a long road and we have just got to keep the equality, diversity, and inclusion momentum up.
Who has inspired you in your study or in your career so far?
By far, the woman who has inspired me the most in my studies is Dr Foluke Adebisi, a senior lecturer in the Law School and my supervisor. She has been conducting lots of work around decolonising the curriculum and post-colonial research. Each year, she organises a Forever Africa conference inviting academics from all over the world to talk about decolonising the curriculum, law and race, she has really opened my eyes to this.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
When I was growing up, I just accepted the way things were and never questioned anything so I would tell my 13-year-old self to question everything — ask more questions!
What are you most proud of?
I was asked to be part of an advisory group, to the Department of Health and Social Care’s Social Care Sector COVID-19 Taskforce, chaired by David Pearson, on how COVID-19 is affecting people of colour working in social care, so I’m proud of being able to raise awareness at a national level of the disparities affecting this community.
Perhaps a cliché but I also proud of the balance I am striking with my two sons. They take part in a Sunday school every Sunday where they learn about different African leaders, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X — something I never had when I was at school. I am really proud of being able to diversify their learning around Black History and hope this will inspire them to have inquiring minds!