Dr Sarah Bell is a lecturer in health geography, whose research explores the role of everyday ‘nature’ encounters in shaping experiences of health, wellbeing, mobility and disability through the life course.
Her work is underpinned by a passion for qualitative methodological development, designing sensitive approaches that promote critical awareness of alternative ways of embodying, experiencing and interpreting diverse everyday geographies.
Sarah joined the European Centre in January 2012, where she developed a novel geo-narrative research approach to understand and situate people’s ‘green’ and ‘blue’ space encounters in the context of their everyday and whole lives.
This combined GPS and accelerometer data with in-depth narrative and mobile go along interviews to explore the dynamic ways in which people seek out and experience such settings to foster a sense of health and wellbeing (or otherwise) over time.
During this PhD, Sarah developed a particular interest in the varied ways in which people come to embody such nature-based settings with the onset and progression of sensory impairment, and how such settings could be managed and interpreted in more socially inclusive ways.
She was able to explore this further in a post-doctoral project, using in-depth narrative interviews to examine the mental health impacts of life with Ménière’s disease; a long-term progressive vestibular disorder, defined by episodes of severe and debilitating vertigo, aural fullness, tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss.
This work reiterated the importance of designing qualitative research methods that are carefully tailored to people’s everyday lives and sensory priorities.
Building on this, Sarah secured funding through the Economic and Social Research Council’s Future Research Leaders scheme to explore the role of diverse nature-based settings in the sensory, affective and emotional geographies of visual impairment through the life course.
In examining these aspects of experience, and forging new stakeholder collaborations (e.g. with landscape architects, environmental conservation and recreation organisations, and visual impairment support and advocacy groups), this research aimed to promote more inclusive, multisensory opportunities to experience a sense of wellbeing with nature.
Sarah is now extending this work through a new AHRC-funded network grant, designed to encourage more socially inclusive landscape decision-making to support health and wellbeing amongst diverse individuals and groups.