Lorraine Hansford

Research Fellow


I have worked as a researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School for eight years, most recently on the DeStress Project, examining the medicalisation of distress in low-income communities. Working with partner organisations and individual people in two low-income areas, the study explored how moral narratives (relating to individual responsibility and welfare entitlement) affect healthcare decisions, prescribing practice and experiences of health and well-being. Previously, I worked in the child mental health team on various projects including looking at parenting support and adolescent self-harm.

My first degree (a lifetime ago) was in English and Education. I then completed a post-graduate Diploma in Youth and Community Work and worked for 17 years with a wide range of young people and families in different settings (youth clubs and detached work, a hostel, women’s refuge, community projects) in Manchester, London and the South West. After moving into management and evaluation roles I then worked as a freelance consultant helping local authorities and voluntary sector organisations with service evaluations, reviews and policy development, and worked as an Additional Inspector for Youth Services with Ofsted.

After completing an MSc in Educational Research I moved into research; my interest is in health inequalities and in engaged approach working alongside communities and individuals to better understand the complex issues affecting health and well-being.

Highlights of my career to date

I’m proud to have been involved in the DeStress project, a collaboration between researchers, local residents, health practitioners, policy makers and local organisations which has resulted in the co-creation of training materials for GPs to help them better understand and support people experiencing poverty-related mental distress.

Emerging partly from this project, Dr Felicity Thomas and I have been awarded two Engaged Research Exploratory Awards; the first was working in partnership with Barnardo’s and with local families to look at Plymouth’s Child Poverty Action Plan, and to create a forum for parents to suggest what should be the key issues to be addressed. This led to us securing a larger ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, to work with local parents to ensure they had a voice in developing and improving local Early Help services for families.

For the second Engaged Research Award we worked with three cancer counselling charities to explore why people from low income communities don’t tend to access their services; the findings from this led to my current interest in inequalities in access to end of life care. I have now been awarded further funding to work in partnership with hospices in Exeter and Plymouth, and other interested organisations and people, to begin to frame key research questions

The research I will be undertaking in the Centre

The Checking Out project will focus on inequalities in access to end of life care, using narrative approaches to advance understanding of the ways in which end of life care services may be failing to meet the needs of those living on a very low income. The research will explore the notion of ‘a good death’, working in partnership with community organisations, health practitioners and those with lived experience to sensitively explore the ways that individuals talk about and experience terminal illness and dying.

By critically analysing issues of class and culture in relation to death, the project aims to understand the ways in which fear, stigma and trust impact on communication and relations (between patients, carers, families, social networks, healthcare professionals and organisations) and the impact of illness and bereavement on identity within social networks. It will explore possibilities for new ways of introducing and talking about death in communities that can transform understanding, awareness and access to end of life care.


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