Introducing our academic partners Sania Shakoor, Heather McMullen and Mark Freestone-01

Introducing our academic partners Sania Shakoor, Heather McMullen and Mark Freestone

In Touch spoke with Sania Shakoor and Heather McMullen from London’s Queen Mary University, which has been selected as the academic partner to the NHS London Violence Reduction Academy.

Together with co-lead Mark Freestone, Sania and Heather, work for the University’s Wolfson Institute of Public Health WIPH – Wolfson Institute of Population Health ( and both have vast experience in research on violence affecting communities.

Sania Shakoor – Queen Mary University of London ( is a lecturer in mental health with an overarching interest in child and adolescent mental health. Her research has explored some of the underlying mechanisms that shape the mental health of vulnerable individuals exposed to violence.

Heather McMullen – Wolfson Institute of Population Health ( is a social scientist with experience of working on a project called HEAL ( (Health engagement to avoid interpersonal injury in young Londoners), which aims to understand why and how a public health approach to serious youth violence can improve wellbeing across the community.

Mark Freestone – Wolfson Institute of Population Health ( is a Reader in Mental Health. He works in public and forensic mental health conduction epidemiological and health services research into the efficacy of treatments for those with mental health problems, specifically those at risk of violence or becoming victims of violence.

“Working with the NHS London Violence Reduction Academy provides a wonderful opportunity for us to bring together all of our different learning.” Says Sania. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to really think about how we could bring together practitioners and those with lived experiences – to create a platform that’s important and useful for learning and for creating a community of practice.”

“It’s such a serious issue of inequality and injustice,” says Heather. “It affects so many young people and their families and communities. We really need everyone on board and having academic partners involved is really important to understand what works, where there gaps and areas of learning are.

They acknowledge there will be some challenges to overcome. “Even though you hear about this topic a lot on the news, there actually hasn’t been that much academic research and not enough funding for research in this area,” they explain. “There haven’t been very many robust evaluations of interventions, so the team will be dealing with lack of data.”

“Research into the factors that contribute to serious interpersonal violence has not been prioritised as much as it should be considering the severity of it as a health and wellbeing issue,” says Heather. “At the same time, there’s all kinds of exciting work that people have been doing at various levels. This is an exciting opportunity to gather that evidence and look at the issues in a systematic way.”

Sania observes that some work has been done but using multiple different methods and approaches: “One of the challenges will be to create a narrative that brings this work together to assess the importance of the differing approaches, whilst ensuring that the experiences of young people are heard.”

Sania says they will also be thinking about co-producing accessible formats, where information can be made digestible and shared easily – for example using infographics, and summaries of their reports. They also think one of the priorities will be helping commissioners, funders and policy makers to understand what has been working and what hasn’t.

One of their concerns is the importance of shifting the wider understanding of violence as a purely criminal issue to that of a social justice and public health concern.

“Young people involved in violence can experience challenging environments which include unmet financial needs, health inequalities and structural drivers of inequality, all of which are public health concerns.” says Sania. “So, to not use the public health lens to try and understand this in more detail would be missing a trick.”

“A key part of the public health approach is working towards joined up services and keeping young people at the centre, this is an important part of prevention,” adds Heather.

“We envisage the Academy to be the key enabler in embedding the public health approach and to help create and support collaborative communities of practice where resources and evidence based information can be shared with practitioners and those with lived experience,” explains Sania. “It will begin to pave the way for a clearer understanding of the needs of young people affected by violence and assist in achieving the goal of employing a public health approach.”

“Yes,” agrees Heather. “And we also hope that young people will be truly meaningful collaborators and co-creators in what we produce, and that people working on this issue feel that Violence Reduction Academy is accessible, and supportive – that it’s their academy.”

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