November blog post: reflections on DRILL so far

10 new research projects led by disabled people: reflections on DRILL so far.


We’re now beginning to see the fruits of our labour over recent months (and years!) in getting the DRILL project up and running.


Early in my career a group of mental health service users did some research into life in a long-stay hospital. Academics were already studying people’s mental state and the impact of particular treatments. The service users found that often people living in the hospital were expected to wear clothes that were not their own. They understandably hated this, and the research led to a change of policy.


40 years on, we are looking for present day solutions that come from the perspective of lived experience.


DRILL was always an ambitious project, but we knew when we started to get such good quality applications we were right to aim high.


We have had more than 200 applications thus far, seeking more than £15 million in grants – that’s nearly 40 times the amount of money available for this round of funding. This inevitably means we’ve had to disappoint a lot of people who submitted thoughtful and interesting projects for the central research committee to consider. We’re sorry we’ve not been able to say ‘yes’ to more projects at this stage.


It does show, however, the level of appetite there is amongst disabled people to build our own knowledge base and test out ideas which support disabled people to participate fully in society. We are both heartened and excited by this.


The 10 projects from across the UK we have picked in this first round of funding cover a multitude of subject areas. They include projects on the support needed for decision making by people with learning difficulties through to the design of peer to peer support programmes for people with mental health problems. There’s also the development of toolkits for professionals working with disabled women and girls who have experienced domestic abuse to looking at ways disabled people can participate in public life.


We’re pleased to be funding projects for groups of disabled people such as those with dementia, and those with learning disabilities; these groups often get left behind and struggle to get their voices heard by service providers or service commissioners.


The common thread to all these projects is that they are being driven by disabled people, for disabled people; these are core criteria when it comes to getting funding from the DRILL programme. The projects are rooted in questions and approaches which are designed and delivered by disabled people – questions and approaches which may be different to those undertaken by non-disabled people.


We hope this will lead to new insights and ways of looking at things which will help develop new solutions to the barriers disabled people face. But we also hope disabled people’s organisations will develop new partnerships and insights into building evidence; and researchers will learn more about how to work in genuine co-production with disabled people. We want the work funded by DRILL to be long lasting, and have an impact on future policy and practice development.


This is the first tranche of Big Lottery Fund money to be made available, worth around £400,000. We’ll be announcing a further £600,000 of awards in the spring of next year, which will be larger projects worth up to £150,000 each.


The journey has begun. We look forward to learning great things as this fantastic project unfolds over the coming years.


Liz Sayce is chief executive of Disability Rights UK, which is providing support for DRILL in England.

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