N8 15: ‘Asking the right questions, at the right time’ – Durham University’s Prof Nicole Westmarland reflects on how the N8 Policing Research Partnership has enhanced understanding of how domestic violence is policed


As part our celebrations of the N8’s 15th anniversary, we’re profiling individuals that have both benefitted from and contributed to the groundbreaking projects facilitated by the N8 that have helped make the Northern Powerhouse an international leader in academic and research excellence.

Today, we’re hearing from Nicole Westmarland, professor of criminology at Durham University. Nicole works in the area of violence and abuse, and is her university’s co-lead for the N8 Policing Research Partnership.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I’m working on a number of projects looking at perpetrators of violence and abuse. COVID-19 has influenced the way that interventions are being delivered, and we need to ensure that these types of interventions are high quality and safe within this new context.

How has being employed at a university within the N8 enabled you to advance your work?

I’ve found it a really good opportunity to join with partners in nearby universities and police forces. It came at a good time for me in terms of gaining opportunities when my children were babies and I was less able to travel a long way from home.

Has being part of the N8 enabled you to gain a better understanding of a discipline outside your expertise?

I focus on violence and abuse, some of which links into policing but some of which doesn’t. It’s been really useful to work with colleagues doing wider policing work. For example, it’s led me to think more about how domestic violence incidents come into the police control room, and how what happens in custody suites.

It’s also been interesting to think more about overlaps with my work, for example in terms of mental health and how the police respond to those in crisis.

Why is it important for the North’s research community to foster collaboration through the N8?

There have been so many clichéd tag lines about increasing the status of those of us in the North, and I’m trying my hardest not to use them! Ultimately, I truly do believe that we have wonderful people in the North and putting more of those great minds together can only be a good thing! 

What do you think the N8’s greatest achievement of its first fifteen years has been?

I think its greatest achievement has been to break down some of the barriers that are put up between universities. Often we end up seeing colleagues at other universities as competitors not as partners. This is linked to the marketisation of higher education and the way that some funding schemes have operated. The N8 does the opposite – it encourages and facilitates partnership working between universities.

What are the benefits of the N8’s work to forge closer ties with industry?

Forging closer ties with industry – or in the work of the N8 Policing Research Partnership – working more closely with the police and other statutory and voluntary sector organisations has been a real benefit to those who have led projects within the N8.

 It has led to continuous reflection on research and policy and practice agendas, and has made sure that academic research stays current and relevant. It helps us to ask the right questions, at the right time.

Why is continued investment in the research capabilities of the North important for the future prospects of the region, and the wider UK?

I think continued investment is really important for those who are ‘born and bred’ in the North as I am, but also those from other parts of the world who come and fall in love with the North when they meet our friendly people, see our beautiful countryside and coasts, the fresh air, more affordable housing, excellent schools … I could go on!

We need to retain the talent of those who have been educated, trained and/or worked in the North to continue to make the advances in research, policy and practice that are still needed both here and elsewhere.

How can the N8 support the next generation of researchers?

I think it has so many opportunities to help and support the next generation of researchers – both in terms of training and conferences but also in terms of making those links with people who can give them advice and support on with the next steps in their career.

What are your hopes for the next 15 years of the N8?

I hope that we can continue to grow, build and make the N8 as important for the next generation of researchers coming through as it has for so many of us.

How would you sum up the N8 in just three words?

Collaborative, collegial, contemporary.

To find out more about Nicole’s work, please visit: https://www.durham.ac.uk/staff/nicole-westmarland/