Blog from the winner of Policy & Politics 2021 undergraduate prize

Blog by Lara Gordge, winner of the Policy & Politics 2021 undergraduate prize to the student achieving the highest overall mark on the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit at the School for Policy Studies

Originally published on the Policy and Politics Blog.

My name is Lara and I’m currently about to enter my final year of the BSc Social Policy with Criminology undergraduate degree at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol (home of the Policy & Politics journal). Winning the student prize for the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit came as quite a surprise, but I’m thrilled and honoured to have been chosen. All of my peers are brilliant thinkers and so very talented, so to win has given me a lot of confidence in my academic ability.

One of the main things I loved about the ‘Understanding Public Policy’ unit was the ability to write about such a broad variety of topics. One of the essays I enjoyed the most focused on two key questions around power within policymaking in the realm of behavioural economics – who is given the authority to make decisions on behalf of the greater good, and why are those decisions considered the right ones to make?

Since behavioural economics focuses on the presumed irrationality of human beings and how good decision making may be inhibited by different social or psychological factors, my essay relies on the principle that people’s choices are largely predictable and manufactured by their environment (coined by Thaler and Sunstein (2003, 2008) as choice architecture.) Therefore, I discuss the ways in which policymakers exploit the biases that are inherent in us all in order to subconsciously ‘nudge’ individuals towards certain choices. I focus on herding and status-quo bias as two main examples of choice architecture, largely due to the ease of which policymakers are able to manipulate inexorable defaults and the human tendency to conform.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein (Penguin, 2009)

However, while writing this essay, discovering how easily our ability to make informed decisions can be undermined – even coerced – by those in power changed the overall tone and focus of my writing. I explored the shortcomings and criticisms of behavioural economics, focusing largely on the idea that nudges could be used to influence negative choices just as easily as positive ones depending on the intentions of the policymakers.

As behavioural economics relies on the notion that humans are imperfect and make flawed decisions, I make the assumption that surely those with the power to implement policy interventions are also primed to make bad decisions. Schmidt (2017) adds here that the ability to systematically nudge people allows those with the power to foist their will onto others, while possibly holding unobjective views regarding what constitutes a ‘bad’ decision.

Ultimately, my essay poses one major debate: who is the best judge of a ‘good’ decision – the individual, or the state? I conclude by stating that on the one hand, nudging can be an inexpensive method of encouraging healthy behaviour changes and creating small-scale, meaningful benefits at the individual level. But concerns over behavioural economics becoming too paternalistic remain – as exploiting human imperfection without the consent of the people will always be considered by some to be an immoral infringement on individual liberty.

I hope to be able to explore these important issues further in the future, but in the meantime, I will continue to read others research in the area, such as the recent special issue on nudge published in Policy and Politics. You can download the introductory article for free here.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Special Issue: Volume 49, Number 1, 2021
Beyond nudge: advancing the state-of-the-art of behavioural public policy and administration
Guest edited by Benjamin Ewert, Kathrin Loer and Eva Thomann



Professor Phyllida Parsloe 1930-2021

Professor Phyllida Parsloe          J. Wilson – University of Bristol

Inaugural Professor of Social Work at the University of Bristol, first female Pro-Vice Chancellor and Warden of Wills Hall and Emeritus Professor in the School for Policy Studies, Professor Phyllida Parsloe died age 90 on 1st September. During a long and distinguished career, she made an immense contribution to social work education and research and to the development of social work as a profession. Further, her personal and academic credentials made it impossible for the male culture of the time to sidestep her and led her into senior roles in UK universities.

John Carpenter, Emeritus Professor of Social Work and Applied Social Science, writes:  Alongside her close friend and colleague, Professor Olive Stevenson at Nottingham, Phyllida Parsloe was regarded as a doyenne of social work in the UK. Blessed with a formidable intellect and clarity of expression, she would pick apart woolly thinking and challenge specious argument whether in writing about social work or in university committees. More than this, her ability to respect and understand the needs of each person as an individual enabled her to move debates forward and alleviate entrenched positions.

During the 1970s, social work was finding its feet following major developments in social welfare, notably the creation of social services departments in local authorities, the professionalisation of probation and the growth of the voluntary sector. Professor Parsloe’s voice carried great authority: unlike many critics of social work, she had been a practitioner herself and with Olive Stevenson, she had researched what social workers at the time were actually doing and thinking (Stevenson and Parsloe: Social Services Teams: the practitioners’ view, 1978 and Social Service Area Teams, 1981). She very evidently knew what she was talking about. She commanded the room. But her authority derived also from her humanity and quiet generosity to many: she was generous with her time and her ideas, but she wanted first to know what you thought. If your ideas made sense, you would get her full support. If not, she would help you examine them rigorously and fairly and develop them more sustainably. Her many doctoral students from Hong Kong and the UK would attest to this.

Phyllida had great ideas herself. Recognising from her own experience that the lack of good professional cooperation between doctors and social workers was to the detriment of patients/clients, she persuaded the Bristol University medical school to engage in a short programme of joint pre-qualifying interprofessional education – the first in the world. She brought ‘problem-based learning’, pioneered at McMaster University for the education of medical students, into the education of social workers as ‘enquiry and action learning’.  Hers was the inspiration; her colleagues made the ideas a reality, with her support. Determined to develop the pedagogy of social work education and its evidence base, she became the founding editor of Social Work Education: an international journal (1981). Under her leadership, Bristol acquired an international reputation as a centre of excellence in social work education. She had a special relationship with universities in Hong Kong and was a visiting professor first at Hong Kong and later at Hong Kong Baptist University.

At a national level, Phyllida Parsloe was a prominent member (1986-2001) of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, then the regulating body for the profession, the Barclay Commission review of social work (1982) and the Wagner review of residential care (1988).

Phyllida combined again with Olive Stevenson to research the notion of ‘empowerment’ (Community Care and Empowerment 1993). The incisive introduction to her edited book Pathways to Empowerment (1996) remains well worth reading by social workers, counsellors and others who believe that they can ‘empower’ their clients. In her view, pathways to empowerment are those whereby people can increase control over their own lives and the services which they receive.

Phyllida Parsloe had graduated in history at Bristol University and qualified in psychiatric social work at the LSE. She was awarded a PhD by Bristol university and an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of the West of England.

Phyllida worked as a probation officer in Devon (1954-1959) and at St George’s Hospital, London as a psychiatric social worker (1959 to 1965). She returned to the LSE as a lecturer in the Department of Social Administration (1965-1970). In 1970 Phyllida was appointed as Associate Professor in Law at the University of Indiana in the United States where she taught law students how to interview. She returned to the UK as the first Professor of Social Work and the first female professor at Aberdeen University (1973-1978) where she established a department.

Professor Parsloe was appointed as the first Chair in Social Work at Bristol in 1978 and only the university’s second female professor. She held this post until her retirement in 1996 when she was appointed Professor Emeritus. A further measure of her stature with the university was that she was the first woman to be appointed as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University (1988-1991); in that role she once again proved her integrity, clarity and vision. She chaired a review of university halls of residence, seeing them as a place where the whole person was developed, not just their academic credentials.  Subsequently, she was an ‘inspired’ appointment as Warden of Wills Hall (1991-1997), the first woman to take this role. She enjoyed it enormously. It was a source of many anecdotes, including repelling an invasion of Viking marauders (conference delegates in fancy dress) who burst into her room at night; she awoke, they fled.

Following her retirement from the university, Phyllida took up senior roles within the health service as chair of the Frenchay Hospital NHS Trust, and subsequently of the North Bristol NHS Trust (1999-2003). She lived in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire for many years, became a town councillor and its mayor three times. She served as a trustee of many local and national charities and was a founder of Dementia Voice which enables people with experience of the disease to contribute to the work of the Alzheimer’s Society.

The School for Policy Studies, the University of Bristol and her many colleagues and friends and students around the world owe her a great debt of gratitude. She once wrote of her concern to prepare social work students for the complex and often hostile world they were about to enter. She wanted to “…help them keep alive their faith in being able to change the world at least a little…”. Phyllida’s life was an inspiration and example.

If you would like to add a tribute or share a memory, please write in the comment box below.

It’s time to flip the sexist script

It's time to flip the sexist script cover images

This article was originally published by Women’s Aid in their Safe blog.


Tuesday 20th July 2021: Today, Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol publish new research, “Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for Policy and Practice”. Lizzie McCarthy (Knowledge Exchange Fellow – based in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research while undertaking this research) and Sarah Davidge explain why it is vital that we recognise the role sexism and misogyny play in setting the scene for domestic abuse. 

At Women’s Aid we often get asked, ‘why do you say domestic abuse is gendered?’

Our answer would be that even though anyone can experience domestic abuse and should have access to appropriate support, the evidence shows us that  there is a disproportionate impact on women. We know that women are more likely to experience domestic abuse, are more likely to be subjected to coercive control (those abusive actions that restrict personal freedom and instil fear) and are more likely to be seriously physically and mentally harmed or killed. The kinds of support they need also tend to be very different.  

The question we ask is, why are women so much more likely to experience abuse and why is this experience so different to men?

The answer is because domestic abuse perpetrated by men against women is part of wider sexism and misogyny. It is rooted in women’s unequal status in society and is part of the wider social problem of male violence against women and girls. The root causes of domestic abuse are different for women and so the responses to tackling that abuse in policy and practice have to be different  too.  Similarly, it is important to consider how other experiences of inequality shape survivors’ experiences of abuse- including the barriers and discrimination faced by Black and minoritised survivors, LGBT+ survivors, disabled survivors and older and teen survivors.   

We know from our work with survivors that sexism and misogyny permeate their experiences of domestic abuse.

Feminist writers and activists have been speaking out about harmful gendered stereotypes and their link to male violence against women and girls for decades. Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol have come together to take a fresh look at this. Together, we analysed the interview transcripts of 37 survivors who had taken part in the recent ESRC* funded Justice, Inequality and Gender-based Violence Project. We looked for ‘gendering discourses’ to see where sexism and misogyny had played a part in survivors’ experiences of abuse. 

Today (20th July 2021)  we’ve published a report on the findings, Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practice.   

We found that sexist myths which are part of everyday society had enabled and shaped the survivors’ experiences of abuse. Here are three common sexist scripts that featured in survivors’ experiences of abuse, with quotes from the survivors we interviewed:  

1. Sexist script: Women and men should play traditional roles in the household

Flipped script: Patriarchal roles in the home can enable domestic abuse

“It really became apparent to me in … we moved in together … and it was very much … it was my job to run the household, and his to basically tell me what to do.” 

“Just to be subservient and just do everything that he said and not to have a voice or an opinion,…”   

“…[he] didn’t lift a finger round the house but expected me to do it. I’d be called to account if things weren’t done.” 

“…kind of everything revolved around him…” 

Survivors spoke about a hierarchy of roles in their homes or intimate relationships. For the survivors we interviewed, the man was in charge as the ‘head of the household’, and the woman had the unchosen role of the ‘homemaker’. The survivors were tasked with household chores or running the home efficiently, without having any say in how this work was carried out. They spoke of how their male intimate partners often dictated exacting rules about how household work had to be performed, even though the men usually refused to participate in this work themselves. Male authority in the household or relationship was both underpinned and reinforced by male violence and abuse. Evan Stark in his 2007 book on Coercive Control argues that it is easier for men to coerce women through household work (rather than vice versa) because this is already socially accepted as ‘women’s work’ (i.e. these are household roles that women are already socially expected to perform).  

2. Sexist script: Women are sexual objects

Flipped script: The sexual objectification of women underpins domestic abuse

“And I think just sort of like the society that we live in at the moment it very much pushes that idea … women are objects and they’re very much sexualised and … like yeah, they’re there for men, like yeah there for the use of … which is … yeah that’s really bad.”   

The female survivors we interviewed often described themselves, and how they perceived others saw them, in terms of sexual objects. They were seen as existing for the pleasure of men and expected to engage in sexual activity that was controlled and defined by their abusive male intimate partners. The interview transcripts included reports of many offensive sexualised terms used against women (“dirty bitch”, “slag”, “slut”, “nympho”)  that were never applied to men. Women  were seen as possessions, aggressively and jealously guarded by their male partners or ‘owners’.  The survivors commonly described being routinely subjected to rape and sexual coercion and harassment in their intimate relationships. It was this most intimate part of a relationship that abusive men used to cement their power and control over women. 

3. Sexist script: Woman are crazy and over-emotional

Flipped script: Women are silenced with the labels of ‘crazy’ or ‘over-emotional’ when they try to talk about domestic abuse

“The courts are extremely sexist places, and there is still very much a thing about an angry loud woman is crazy, you know, and abusive men are charming … and charming with professionals.”  

“…they’re painting me as this crazy woman…”  

The survivors we interviewed told us how labels of mental illness had long-lasting negative implications for them. Survivors themselves were seen as problematic rather than the abuse and violence committed against them being identified as the problem. This label of ‘crazy’ was a tool perpetrators could use to threaten survivors or call their credibility into question. Being mentally ill, or showing mental or emotional distress, seemed to be all too easily linked into wider stereotypes about women as a group being supposedly unstable, over-emotional or hysterical. Labels of being mentally unwell overshadowed many of the survivors’ experiences of external responses to domestic abuse (including in court, in interactions with the police and responses from friends and family) and formed a significant barrier to accessing justice and support.  

How can we flip the sexist script?  

Along with our new report “Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse”, we have today launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #FlipTheSexistScript. It is impossible to disentangle women’s experiences of domestic abuse from the violence, abuse and harassment that they are subject to elsewhere in their lives. Here‘s what we think needs to happen to #FlipTheSexistScript: 

  • Specialist domestic abuse services that are run by women, for women, understand how women’s experiences of abuse have been shaped by lifelong experiences of sexism and misogyny, and only they can help women truly recover from abuse. Similarly, those services that are led by and for women from minoritised groups, such as services for Black and minoritised survivors, disabled survivors and LGBT+ survivors are often best placed to support survivors who have been subject to multiple forms of violence and oppression. They all desperately need sufficient, sustainable and long-term funding.  
  • The root causes of domestic abuse by men against women lie in the disempowerment, objectification and silencing of women. The response must be building empowering spaces for women, challenging inequality and giving all women a voice, including women from minoritised groups. But these are under severe threat from dangerous ‘gender neutral’ funding approaches. You can take action to flip the sexist script by signing  our petition to require local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women.  
  • Policy-makers and legislators must consistently recognise domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls. Unless we address inequality, we will never end domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has brought many positive changes for survivors, but in its statutory definition (the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse) the government missed the opportunity to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse in law. We are also very concerned that the government is currently proposing to fragment domestic abuse from the violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy. We strongly believe that domestic abuse must be part of single comprehensive, holistic and integrated framework to address VAWG.  
  • Structural inequalities create power imbalances in everyday life which enable violence, abuse and harassment. To end this we all must challenge all forms of discrimination and inequality. We all need to work together to call out the sexism and misogyny that enable and entitle men to demean, objectify, abuse and control women. We need to unlearn gender stereotypes, unpick power imbalances, and unteach misogyny.  

Feminist writers and activists around the time when Women’s Aid began in the 1970s (and even earlier than this) warned of the harm caused by social norms about masculinity and femininity. Our research shows that these warnings remain as pertinent today as ever. It is time (in fact, it is long overdue) to recognise that until we challenge sexism and misogyny and their prominence in our society, we cannot effectively tackle domestic abuse. In other words, it’s time to flip the sexist script.   

Want to join us in challenging sexism and misogyny?

  • Read our new report, Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practice here
  • Follow our social media campaign #FlipTheSexistScript   
  • Sign our petition to require local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women.  
  • Join the Women’s Aid Campaign Champions and support our national campaigns on a local level, give survivors of domestic abuse a voice and help to ensure that politicians and other key decision makers are listening.  
  • Women’s Aid is working in partnership with Yves Saint Laurent Beauty to educate children and young people about intimate partner violence and challenge assumptions about gender, power and equality. If you work with children and young people, sign up to become an Expect Respect Advocate.  

  *Economic and Social Research Council  

The benefits of Knowledge Exchange

This Fellowship has allowed us to work collaboratively with a well-respected and established charity, to foster more meaningful relationships with their research, policy, and media teams which will undoubtedly reap future benefits in terms of the sharing of knowledge and expertise in both research and impact activities in the future.


Knowledge Exchange Fellowships (KEF) usually involve an academic locating with an organisation or company. This was the first time a Fellow was brought into and located in the University from a National Charity.

The purpose of the KEF was for the Fellow (Lizzie McCarthy from Women’s Aid) alongside Womens Aid staff and UoB staff to: 1) benefit directly from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research’s expertise in compiling and analysing sensitive qualitative data, thereby aiding capacity building for Women’s Aid’s research and policy unit; 2) carry out secondary analysis on an existing dataset (ESRC Justice project) held by CGVR to establish evidence to directly inform national policy debates and practice; and 3) based on Womens Aid’s experience as the national Domestic Violence Charity, for the Fellow to provide specialist seminars for the School on working with Government departments to impact policy.

The Fellowship ran from December 2019 to April 2021 (extended due to covid restrictions).

This exchange of knowledge was made possible by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), Knowledge Exchange Fellowship awarded to colleagues from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, in collaboration with Women’s Aid In the autumn of 2019.

The IAA focused on exploring the ‘gendered experience of justice and domestic abuse – evidence for policy and practice’, and the final report will be published in a few days time, on 20 July. As such, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a very successful Knowledge Exchange Fellowship process, to identify key elements of learning and offer insights to colleagues who may be interested in doing similar work.

With regard to the KEF project, this proved to be an exciting opportunity to conduct rigorous data analysis to address a key policy problem facing the domestic abuse sector. There were inevitable practical issues in terms of access by the KEF to data and file-stores exacerbated by covid restrictions which limited access to on-site computing equipment.  But by sharing knowledge and approaches, we were able to learn from one another and create a piece of work which is both academically rigorous and policy relevant.  Womens Aid’s extensive practitioner and policy networks have meant that the work has been presented at the national Women’s Aid conference as well as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Initial presentations of the work to practitioners, academics, and policy makers has been positive and generated much interest and ideas about changes required in policy and practice.  The publication of the report and a related media campaign next week, will ensure that the research’s potential to inform wider public opinion, and challenge the ways sexism and misogyny are used by perpetrators of abuse, are also maximised.

The final report will be launched on 20 July 2021.  This will involve joint press and social media releases of key findings from Womens Aid and UoB, alongside the publication of the report itself.  Developing a joint press strategy for the launch has involved sharing knowledge and expertise across Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol in terms of policy, media, and impact work.

Written by Dr Emma Williamson, Reader in Gender Based Violence with Marianne Hester, Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, Sarah-Jane Walker, Senior Research Associate, and Lizzie McCarthy, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Woman’s Aid.

Dr Daryl James Dugdale, 1966-2021

Dr Daryl Dugdale, Lecturer in Social Work and Programme Director for the Social Work MSc, died on 26 May at the age of 55.

His colleagues, Dr Agnes Bezzina, Dr David Abbott and Dr Jon Symonds offer a remembrance. 

Daryl’s history within the School for Policy Studies (SPS) dates to the mid-90s when he undertook his social work professional qualification. After qualifying, he worked in child protection, initially as a practitioner, and subsequently as a training officer with Bristol City Council as well as Swindon Borough Council. Daryl joined the University of Bristol as a Teaching Fellow in 2007. He completed his professional Doctorate in 2012 and was appointed Programme Director (PD) of the MSc Social Work programme in 2014.

Daryl’s main professional and academic interests comprised social work and gender, masculinity, assessment in children and family social work, and inter-professional training. He researched fatherhood in society, with a particular focus on fathers with a learning disability and the implications for services. He had a critical pedagogical approach to leadership, teaching and student support, aspiring to an education that fosters self-awareness, helps students to question and challenge dominant oppressive discourses, and supports students’ identity-formation as critically conscious social work professionals. He was extremely popular with students!

But Daryl was not your conventional scholar. He found joy in sharing his many non-academic passions with those around him. He followed Bristol City FC and Newcastle United FC and was a regular supporter at Ashton Gate Stadium. He had unparalleled enthusiasm for music, most notably The Smiths, and his DJ-ing skills brought hours of entertainment to many a party, including at his retirement fundraiser in 2017 through which he and his family raised funds for Penny Brohn Cancer Charity.

Anyone who crossed paths with Daryl would say that he was larger than life. His physical presence will be sorely missed by colleagues and friends at SPS, but his genuine passion for human rights and social justice, and the positive energy he brought to social work teaching, leadership and research, will live on through the many social work practitioners, educators and students who Daryl touched by his life.

David Abbott, Head of School during Daryl’s appointment as Programme Director remembers him;

“I sat on Daryl’s initial interview panel. He sparkled and was our top choice. After his diagnosis, he came to see me in my then role of Head of School. We both cried and swore a lot. Even then he was as concerned about others as himself – family of course, but also students and colleagues here in the School. He was a bottle of pop or fizzy wine to be around. He didn’t, I think, ever mind me complementing him on his amazing hair. You’d want to clone some colleagues, if you could, such is their skill and effervescence. Daryl was one such for sure.”

Jon Symonds, colleague and friend recalls their first meeting;

“I met Daryl shortly after I started at the School for Policy Studies in 2010 and the first thing I remember was his bright yellow jumper, then his glasses, then his hair. We immediately bonded over shared research interests in music and our doctoral studies in social work with fathers. Before long he had taken me under his wing, buying me beers at Christmas, regaling me with tales of academic life, and keeping me up way too late at conferences. He was endlessly encouraging of others and brought his characteristic positivity to both his teaching, and his research with fathers with learning disabilities. For me, he will always be the irrepressible Daryl Dugdale.”

Daryl is survived by his wife Tracey, his son Zak and his daughter Ede.


A collection has been set up by the School for Policy Studies in celebration of the life of Daryl Dugdale. Daryl was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016. Although he retired in 2017, he remained in close contact with friends and colleagues within the school. He inspired many a person through his blog – The Hard C – through which he documented his journey living with cancer.

It is his family’s wish that, in celebration of his life, donations are collected for Penny Brohn Cancer Charity, which provided instrumental support to Daryl and his family throughout these last 5 years. To donate please click here.

Supporting vet practitioners to recognise signs of domestic abuse in animals and their owners: a PhD student-business collaboration

Q&A with Mary Wakeham on the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse, developing and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country and her experience of research/business collaboration.

The research – business partnership

In August 2020, Mary Wakeham – a PhD student in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol – was successful in bidding for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Accelerating Business Collaboration (ABC) award.  Funded through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), the awards seek to build the capacity and capability of social science doctoral students and early career researchers to engage with business.

Mary’s aim was to use her emerging PhD findings into the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse to develop and disseminate training resources to veterinary practices around the country.

To do this, she partnered with Dr Wendy Sneddon, Company Director of the Lodestone Lounge, a Business Coaching, HR and Recruitment Consultancy.  Wendy is also a qualified vet nurse and a Trustee for the Links Group.  The Links Group are an organisation who work to raise awareness about the relationships between the abuse of people and animals through support, training and inter-agency working.

Alongside her PhD research, Mary has founded the charity Refuge4Pets, who foster animals for victim-survivors of domestic abuse so that they can escape to safety before being reunited with their much-loved animals. Mary previously worked as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate prior to starting her PhD.  The combination of Mary and Wendy’s knowledge and networks was therefore formidable!

The Principal Investigator for the project was Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Lecturer in Criminology and researcher in the Centre of Gender and Violence Research.  Her role was to support Mary as needed through the project.  Here, Natasha interviews Mary about the outcomes of the project and what she learnt.


Mary, can you explain briefly the links between animal abuse and domestic abuse?

People often refer to animals as ‘family members’ and ‘best friends’, but for those experiencing domestic abuse, animals may provide their only source of comfort, companionship and love. Perpetrators may exploit this bond that someone has with animals and abuse those animals as a way to coerce and control their partner.

Animals experience similar types of abuse to human victim-survivors including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse and neglect.  Some perpetrators may even kill animals as a way to hurt their partner and demonstrate their power in the relationship. 

And what does your PhD look at?

My PhD it titled, Animal Abuse as a Strategy of Coercive Control. I set out to explore how and why animals are abused in the context of domestic abuse and the implications for victim-survivors (animals and people). I was also interested in exploring the extent to which professionals are aware about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse and how professionals respond to victim-survivors’ concerns about the welfare of animals.

What did you achieve over the ESRC-ABC project?

Our aim was to develop resources and training to increase veterinary practice managers’ knowledge about domestic abuse, both how it may present in animals and their owners, and how to support practice staff who may be affected.  Over the three-month collaboration period we produced:

  • a one-hour basic domestic abuse training for vet practice teams
  • a guidance document with basic information about the dynamics of domestic abuse, the link with animal abuse, how to spot the signs of abuse and how to support victim-survivors (animals and people)
  • a poster for vet practice staff rooms
  • a poster for vet practice waiting rooms
  • and a short animation to raise awareness about the link between domestic abuse and animal abuse

The resources that Wendy and I produced together are about to be distributed across 5000 vet practices in the UK.

What have been the unintended outcomes of the project?

This collaboration has opened up many new doors for me to talk about my research and awareness about the parallels between the abuse of people and animals. I have also been asked to comment on and provide information for policy and legislative changes.

Through the project, I have developed new professional relationships and have a collaboration in plan with Dogs Trust.  The Links Group have also asked me to join them to coordinate their research subgroup.

Looking back, why did the partnership with Wendy work so well?

Wendy brought to the collaboration expertise in HR and the issues and challenges that veterinary practices face.  I was able to apply my experience working in the field of domestic abuse as well as the new knowledge from my research which explores animal abuse as a strategy of coercive control.  We share a passion and determination for tackling domestic abuse and safeguarding people and animals.  It was a great combination of mutual knowledge and networks.

What were the challenges?

I think the main challenge is around building the relationship with your business partner at the start and having absolute clarity about what you are going to do and how you are going to work together. Once we had that clarity, the collaboration really started to blossom.  I have learnt so much from Wendy’s insight into how veterinary practices work.

Another big challenge at the end of the collaboration was ’signing off’ the resources, since by that point the key stakeholder group had grown quite large.  That was a key learning point for me and I will manage that process more efficiently in the future. But the benefit of that wide input was that we ended up with a quality set of resources, that will hopefully benefit many people and animals.

A final challenge was timing.  I think when you write a proposal, you tend to over-estimate what you can achieve in the timeframe and under-estimate how long things take.  The collaboration – originally funded August to November 2020 – overran with final resources not being signed off until late January 2021. And this at a time when I was about to submit my PhD…

So was it all worth it?

Absolutely!  Although the collaboration has come to an end it was just the start for me as it has helped me to get my research recognised and gain credibility as a researcher with practitioners. I now have lots of webinars in plan to continue to share my research findings.

And will people be able to see any of the resources that you produced online?

All of the resources will be available to members on the Links Group website  If you have animals you may see a poster in your veterinary practice reception area.

Natasha and Mary would like to thank Business Engagement Coordinator Ruth Welters in the Social Sciences and Law Faculty for her invaluable support in drafting the application; research impact experts Eloise Meller and Nikki Hicks in the Research and Enterprise Directorate and Cath Pullinger in Finance Services, for their work and endless patience with us.

Tackling COVID-19: Dr Emma Williamson

Dr Emma Williamson

As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research. 

Dr Emma Williamson, a Reader in Gender Based Violence and former head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, has been working with Women’s Aid to highlight how the pandemic has affected those experiencing domestic violence.



Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on domestic abuse. Could you tell us a little more?

We were aware quite early on that any lockdown was likely to have an impact on those experiencing domestic abuse. So we worked quickly and closely with Women’s Aid to look at how they could collect data in order to influence policy. A report called ‘A Perfect Storm’ came out in the summer based on a number of surveys with support services, victims and survivors. We found there was an increase in coercive control, with perpetrators using the restrictions as a tool to stop victims from leaving or seeking help. Many people didn’t realise that domestic abuse was an exemption, so they were worried they would be arrested if they left. This, coupled with a stark increase in homicides during the first six weeks of lockdown, showed there was a major issue. Some of our data was used in a Panorama documentary and we were able to feedback these crucial insights to policy makers.

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?

The biggest triumph for me was when Boris Johnson announced the second national lockdown and explicitly said that domestic abuse was an exemption. That was amazing and so important. It felt like we’d come a long way from it not being mentioned or discussed, to it being said to the nation by the Prime Minister. That’s testament to the hard work of people in the sector, collecting data and ultimately presenting evidence to the government to show what’s happening on the ground.

What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it? 

There have definitely been times when I’ve been sat in a room as one of the most senior people and there’s been an automatic assumption that I am more junior. I tend not to get it in my day-to-day work thankfully. Because of my area of research, I work with a lot of really great senior women and professors.

I think a lot of female academics experience discrimination, especially those with children. Take lockdown: there’s a lot of evidence that suggests women have picked-up more of the caring responsibilities so I expect we’ll see fewer publications from women because their research activities have been put on the backburner. The gender pay gap is one example, but there are other inequalities in academia that the sector needs to deal with, particularly around ethnicity. Although I think we have come quite a long way, there’s still a long way to go.

Which women have inspired you in your career?  

When I was doing my PhD in the mid-1990s, I travelled to London two or three times a year to attend meetings of the British Sociological Association’s Violence Against Women Research Group. It allowed me to meet the women whose work I’d been reading – the big names in our field of research such as Marianne Hester, Liz Kelly, Betsy Stanko amongst others. I feel lucky that over the years I got to know them and ultimately work with them.

Our PhD students here at Bristol always inspire me. Many are from overseas and have chosen to come to Bristol because of the expertise in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research; they want to take what they’ve learnt here to bring about positive change in their home country. The risk to them as individuals can be quite high but they’re absolutely determined to make a difference. I enjoy learning from them and vice-versa!

And, ultimately, I’m inspired by the bravery and courage shown by every single one of the victims and survivors who I’ve ever spoken to as part of my research.

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? 

Not to worry about things you can’t change. When we’re younger, we spend a lot of time when we could spend that energy on other things. It’s easy to get frustrated by everyday things but sometimes you have to accept them and focus on the things that really matter, the things that you can change.

What are you most proud of? 

I’m proud of what myself and colleagues have achieved in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Domestic abuse can be a tough area to work in but we know our research makes a difference. The Centre was due to celebrate its 30th birthday in the first lockdown, which obviously didn’t happen, and I guess ultimately it would be nice if our work was no longer needed. But for every step forward, a new challenge presents itself and we need to keep listening to the voices of people who experience domestic abuse and try to make a difference to their lives.

Tackling COVID-19: Dinithi Wijedasa

Dinithi Wijedasa

As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.  

Dinithi WijedasaSenior Lecturer at the Children and Families Research Centre is surveying the mental health of children in State Care in England through the COVID-19 pandemic




1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of children in care. Could you tell us a little more? 

Understanding whether COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on more vulnerable child populations, such as children in care, has been identified as a national-level priority by the SAGE committee.   

At any given time in England, there are nearly 80,000 children being looked after by the State (also referred to as children in care). Although high prevalence of mental illness in children in care is widely acknowledged as a serious concern, the current evidence base lacks understanding of long-term mental health trajectories and mental health service provision for children in care. Before the pandemic, we had already started two research studies funded by the ESRC and the Nuffield Foundation to answer these two questions.  

We were already planning to carry out a survey of children in care in 2020 for the ESRC funded study. This therefore provided a real-time opportunity to collect information on mental health and wellbeing of children in care during the Covid-19 pandemic. We were also able to collect information on other aspects of children’s lives, which have previously been associated with mental health such as the strength of their relationships with carers; their feelings about school; social work support; friends; access to green spaces; access to support; and their wishes and feelings. These are aspects in children’s lives that would have also been impacted by the pandemic.  We are currently analysing the data from the first wave of data collection where we had responses from 930 children in care from 18 local authorities. I am pleased that we also received further funding through the UKRI Covid-19 call to extend this survey to a longitudinal survey so that we can collect this information two more times to look at mental health of children in care over a period of 18 months.  

Our other research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is a collaboration with colleagues at the Bristol Medical School where we are working towards creating a new national-level linkage between the national pupil data held by the Department for Education and national mental health service data held by the NHS. As mental health service data on children are collected monthly, we are hoping that a successful linkage will enable us to establish a new and relevant evidence base on the characteristics of children in care who are referred to mental health services, their prognosis and pathways through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on mental health of children in State care. We are currently working closely with the Department for Education and NHS-Digital to agree the way forward as we are using new legal gateways and data sharing processes to access and link national-level inter-Departmental datasets.  

 2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic? 

The biggest research challenge was having to adapt our methodologies to suit the restrictions that came about due to the pandemic.  

All research fieldwork was stopped by the University as well as Government Departments as we went into the first lockdown. This had a drastic impact on the research timelines. We had to pause recruitment for the survey on the ESRC funded project and pause all project activities on the data linkage project as the Governmental Departments that we are working with paused all research activities to prioritise the Covid-19 response. All of us in the research teams were also working alongside extra pressures brought on by the pandemic such as adapting to homeworking, home-schooling and illness within the team. It was also a steep learning curve for us all in digital engagement and communication 

 For me, it is a triumph that despite all these challenges, we have been able to support each other with empathy, kindness, and trust through 352 days of home working and teamworking (as you can see, I have not been counting!). Not having face to face meetings has not been a barrier to team working. It is a triumph that the University was able to switch swiftly and provide us the right digital platforms so that we can continue with our research activities. Despite the setbacks at the beginning of the pandemic, it is a triumph that we have achieved and celebrated research milestones such as receiving NHS ethics clearance for the data linkage project with no amendments and having 18 local authorities and 930 children and young people opt-in to our research! 

 It is a triumph that I am working with such hard-working colleagues who share the same vision as me to make real change with research. There is a huge responsibility placed on us to give timely and accurate information on this vulnerable group of children, which we hope to deliver throughout the next two years.  Although it is extra pressure on the teams to report continuously rather than publishing end of project reports, we believe that sharing timely research information is important. We are continually engaging with local authorities at grass-roots level as well as well as the Governmental Departments at policy level and we will directly feedback our results at policy and practice levels so that we can help enable positive change in the mental health management and  service provision for children in care.  


Links to the research studies: 



Tackling COVID-19: Angeliki Papadaki

Dr Angeliki Papadaki

As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.  

Dr Angeliki PapadakiSenior Lecturer in Nutrition, has been Exploring the experiences of community service providers delivering meals to self-isolating adults during COVID-19



1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the Meals on Wheels service. Could you tell us a little more? 

 At the beginning of the first national lockdown, around 1.5 million people were instructed to shield and around 17.7 million adults aged ≥65 years, who were also at increased risk of infection, were instructed to stay at home as much as possible. Many of these people might not have had support from carers and community resources and/or enough money to be able to access food, nor the ability to prepare meals for themselves. So we realised early on the impact that the pandemic and this lockdown would have on these people accessing nutritious meals. But we also realised that this increased demand for meals will have an impact on Meals on Wheels services (local authority services delivering meals to older, vulnerable and housebound individuals). So we worked closely with different partners to explore this important issue.   

We just submitted evidence to an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee on ‘COVID-19: Supporting the vulnerable during lockdown’, on why Meals on Wheels should be supported by the Government to ensure the wellbeing of older, vulnerable, and self-isolating adults during lockdown. This was based on our qualitative research findings with service providers (drivers who deliver the meals, service coordinators and managers) in two local authorities in South West England. We found that Meals on Wheels exert important benefits to clients (by conducting welfare checks, encouraging independence and identifying and addressing isolation and loneliness), service providers (via a sense of pride, giving something back and developing reciprocal relationships with clients), but also the wider community (by reducing pressures on carers and the need for residential care). The pandemic brought many challenges, such as an increase in service users, concerns with sourcing food, increased demand on human resources, and uncertainty about how the service will cope in continuous lockdowns.  Although the service went above and beyond to continue supporting the most vulnerable, time to interact with clients decreased and there were concerns about clients’ wellbeing because of this. I specifically remember a driver sharing that for some clients of the service, he is the only person they see on any given day. So the importance of the service was even more profound during the national lockdown.  

As Meals on Wheels have been facing funding cuts and closures both globally and nationally, these findings are extremely important and provide crucial insights to policy makers for the need to protect, enhance and financially support the continuation of the service, in order to protect the most vulnerable during national lockdowns, and beyond.   

 2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?  

 During the first few weeks of the first national lockdown, and while we were all adapting to the new restrictions and working from home, I was trying to think of how I can use my skills and research experience to make a difference to people’s lives. I met with a colleague and after a long discussion, he casually suggested I do some reading on Meals on Wheels and establish what the evidence is in this field. I blocked my calendar for two days, read and researched. Within two weeks, we had together a team of four University of Bristol academics, a research associate, two local authorities who agreed to support the project, one national charity to help disseminate the findings, two collaborators from Brown University with expertise in the field and direct links to Meals on Wheels America, a grant application to the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and noted ideas for future research on this important service. I consider it a triumph that we all met under challenging circumstances but discovered we have a common vision and developed this important piece of research to help the most vulnerable.  

3. What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it? 

I have often felt that being a woman, and a non-British woman, can be a challenge. In the past, I have had colleagues talk sarcastically about my ideas in public and in front of me. I also find that more males than females ‘are in love with their own voice’ and barely leave time for you to speak during meetings. You have to learn how to be thick-skinned! Although these are challenging situations to be in, I have learnt to overcome it by acknowledging my weaknesses, but also reminding myself of what I’m worth. Nobody is perfect, but we all have our unique skills, strengths and personalities that are valuable in academia. We all need to remember this more often.  

4. Which women have inspired you in your career?  

I think the first woman who inspired me was my PhD supervisor, who was the most supportive but in her own way inspired my confidence, showing initiative and taking ownership of a project. I cannot pay this forward enough!  

A more recent female colleague, and her saying ‘you have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth; use them in this proportion’; showing me that keeping silent and digesting information before you speak does not indicate weakness as many think, but indeed the opposite.  

All my official and ‘unofficial’ mentors throughout the years, whose advice helped me look deep into myself, reflect on my strengths and weaknesses, speak out when necessary, and realise that we all have something valuable to offer. 

 5. What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? 

To be patient. To keep eyes and ears open as opportunities might arise from literally everywhere. To listen to your gut feeling. That’s it’s fine to not know where you want to go just yet, and that following the flow can also lead you to great things.  

Tackling COVID-19: Karen West

Karen West

As part of the University of Bristol’s #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re spotlighting women from the School for Policy Studies who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic by carrying out world-class research.  

Karen West, Professor of Social Policy and Ageing, has been looking at the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on bereavement in retirement communities.




1. Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic on bereavement in retirement communities. Could you tell us a little more? 

We have been working with the ExtraCare Charitable Trust and Cruse Bereavement Care for three years now on a project that is about developing a volunteer peer bereavement support programme and general ‘grief literacy’ for staff and residents in the retirement villages run by the Trust.  When the pandemic came, we weren’t able to continue the face to face field work that we had planned.  On the other hand, Covid presented us with an opportunity to try out some different methods of data collection and we applied for funding from the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute to collect diaries of the experience of supporting people through bereavement.  This turned out to be a great method for gaining the kind of real-time insight into the work and thoughts of the volunteers that we hadn’t really been able to capture before. We learned a lot about the challenges that people are facing when they have limited connection to the support of families and friends and when funerals and memorial events are very restricted.  On the other hand, we also learned that for many who are grieving, lockdown brings a kind of relief at not having to put on a smile and a brave face every day and to be able to manage sorrow at their own pace.  We also learned how the residents had been really creative in organising their own social-distanced memorial events.

2. What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic? 

The biggest challenge has been that of all researchers who do ethnographic field work – not being able to face to face field work. On the other hand, we’ve learned to be creative  in developing other methods.  This is also true of another Covid project on collaborative housing (funded by NIHR SSCR) that I have worked on.  Above all,  I feel so lucky to have been able to work with excellent teams of researchers.  Our regular Zoom meetings have really given a shape and purpose to my working week that I may not have had otherwise.  Oddly, I think my working with relationships with these colleagues has strengthened during the pandemic.

You can read about the projects here: