By Ed Pinches, Science Communications Officer, Alzheimer’s Research UK

Published: 16 December 2020

Tim Parry, Director of Communications, Engagement and Brand at Alzheimer’s Research UK has seen more than his fair share of change since he joined the charity in 2008.

From leading on communications during their massive period of growth to a brand change in 2011 and the roller coaster complexities of communicating during ‘the year like no other’ 2020, Tim shares his reflections with us.

In light of the COVID-19 vaccine, do you think there will be a long-term shift in the attitude towards medical research, having seen what can be achieved in such a short space of time?

Putting to one side the worrying doubts that have been seeded among the public through misinformation on vaccination, I nonetheless optimistically hope we’ve all been inspired by what can be done when resource, collaboration and scientific pursuit are concentrated in a single direction. We are witnessing an enormous scientific breakthrough that will change the lives of millions – the entire planet – and it’s being communicated about constantly. As science communicators ourselves, we are watching carefully and learning what we can to bring back to our work in dementia.

With the above question in mind, do you think that the public will still respond positively to Alzheimer’s Research UK’s mission of bringing about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025?

I do feel the breakthroughs in COVID-19 vaccination will now become the benchmark case study for what science can achieve in the right circumstances, and hopefully challenge anyone who lacks faith in medical research.

I hope it will inspire more people to share our belief at ARUK that research works and will deliver. However, even though we’ve demonstrated some admirable resilience to the twists and turns of the year at ARUK, we have still had to make some tough decisions about what we can fund and things have slowed. So, we’ll have to work doubly hard to demonstrate we can re-gain momentum, and we’ll need our supporters to share this vision with us more strongly than ever. 

The way we work has changed in many ways; how do you think this has impacted creativity in a team?

I think for some it has actually encouraged some lateral thinking. Sometimes constraints can breed creativity, and there’s no doubt we’ve still produced some great work in the face of adversity. However, and I’d include myself here, it can be hard to be creative when the pressure of circumstances is really on, as it has been for so much of this year. Needing to have ideas when there’s a metaphorical gun to your head doesn’t come easily to everyone, and I forgive any and all of my colleagues who have struggled with flat periods in 2020, as I know I have.

As we close out probably one of the strangest years on record, what will be your lasting memory of how those in the communications department have responded during this time?

I’ve been bowled over by the department’s agility and commitment throughout the year. They’ve had to make tough decisions about how they operate, embrace on-the-hop matrix working and still deliver for our projects and the teams we support across the charity. They have lived up to this challenge and I’m proud of them for doing so.

The first lockdown may seem like a long time ago now, but many people committed to learning new skills. Did you come out of lockdown 1 with a new talent?

I thought I’d be prone to the constant call of the snack cupboard – I’m known to eat all the kids’ snacks, which are much more interesting than adult foods. Yogurt in tubes, tiny cheeses etc. With this worry in mind, I consciously turned to fitness instead, so I’ve never been in better shape at the end of the lockdowns this year. I lost a load of weight and have run at least 25km a week as well as cycling and other training. I feel good for it, apart from a few injuries along the way! I’ve also grown an amazing moustache.

If 2020 was a movie, what would the title be?

I think just 2020 would immediately conjure the appropriate feeling of doom for moviegoers.

In 40 years, what will people be nostalgic for?

Face masks, Zoom calls and existential dread.