Meet a Public Partner

Irene Soulsby

Tell us a bit about your background

I was born in the late 1950s and have always lived in the Gateshead area, in what was a mining community. Life was very different then. We didn’t own a fridge until I was about 8 years old! I still remember it being so cold in the winter that the single glazed windows used to freeze over on the inside. We normally used one open fire to heat the whole house and one year had to chop up furniture to be put on the fire. Even doing the laundry was really hard work - our washer had one tub and a mangle to press the water out. It took all day to wash. If the weather was ok, washing used to hang outside in the street. In winter, the washing hung on lines in the house. We were lucky to have an inside toilet and a bath (neighbours still had an outside toilet and a wash-house and had to have a bath in front of the fire). This all sounds like the Victorian era now! As a child, I did have lots of health problems and I think now that a lot were due to our living conditions.

I left school when I was 16 and worked as a secretary for the same firm for 35 years. After a breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to leave work. By chance I signed up for a focus group about healthy eating and lifestyle which took place in the Gateshead area and this led me to Newcastle University and taking part in research. I’ve been involved ever since. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love reading, especially on holiday when I have several hours to really appreciate it. I try to exercise every day and have a walk, no matter what the weather. I love a walk on the lovely North East beaches and there’s nothing better than a “plodge” (what we call a wade in the sea). I also enjoy going to the cinema and the theatre, anything to do with the arts.

How did you get involved in the Fuse public partner network?

I saw Fuse mentioned in a newsletter and thought that it looked interesting. I like to be involved with things, especially if they relate to my local area, or I feel that I can make a contribution. I signed up to find out more, and what the opportunities might be.

What areas of public health research are you particularly interested in?

We live in tough times at the moment, I like to take part in focus groups and listen to discussions about what is going on, hear perspectives from others and to find out what research is taking place. I just like to listen and learn more about it - and chip in occasionally!

Have you been involved in research before?

I’ve taken part in lots of focus groups over the years and am now involved in Public and Patient Involvement which means that I have been involved as a member of the public, or a patient, and can give a perspective, outside of the research team.

Why is having your voice heard in public health research important to you?

It’s great that we can contribute to research, talk about our real experiences, everyone is different. We can, and do, make a difference. 

What one piece of advice would you share with someone curious about public involvement and engagement?

Researchers want to hear from everyone, and are very welcoming. It’s been said many times: “Nothing about us, without us”, and I have been told on many an occasion that there is “No such thing as a daft question, it might be something that hasn’t been thought about before”. It could be very important and lead to changes.

The idea behind this is that we can show that we have a wealth of public voices, including folk who might never have been involved in research before but have valuable lived experience to share.

My perceived lack of education (leaving school at 16) has not been a barrier for me getting involved. Indeed, it has been a very positive thing for both myself and the research team. I have looked upon this time as the 'University years' that I wasn’t able to have, but without the homework! You never stop learning and it is great to have been given that opportunity.

Last modified: Thu, 03 Nov 2022 11:10:55 GMT