Engaging and involving the public with health sciences is essential for the future of research. It can encourages recruitment into studies, help people make healthy choices about their own lives, and is all part of creating a more fertile ground for the application of evidence based health policy.
In 2009, the University of Cambridge celebrated its 800 year anniversary, with events across the city. Seizing the opportunity for public engagement, the Institute teamed up with Stride Design, a Cambridge web design and software company, to create the guided walk 800 years of death and disease in Cambridge. It is an unusual topic, but one that tells a fascinating story of public health in Cambridge and the United Kingdom.
The two hour walk was made possible by the contributions of people across the Institute and beyond who provided their knowledge and expertise. It was designed to have a wide appeal, not just for medical specialists, and along the way walkers experience plenty of lurid details revealing just how pestilential the beautiful city of Cambridge once was. However, the walk is not just a history of illness, but provides a heartening story of the improvement in medical care and social welfare in Cambridge, reflected in the steadily improving standards of public health.
It stops at sixteen places which have played a role in shaping this story, from the Cambridge Folk Museum where walkers learn about health remedies applied before the rise of modern scientific medicine, to the University of Cambridge Biochemistry Department that has played a seminal role in the history of world health. Here, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, first Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, discovered that no animal could survive without “accessory food factors”, or vitamins as we now know them.
This walk traces a journey from times when lives were short and commonly blighted by disease. As knowledge advanced and people acted together for the common good so health improved – themes just as relevant in today’s world.