Accessibility statement

Meet the team

The work is being led by Dr Maria Bryant and includes an experienced multi-disciplinary team of experts with track records in the delivery of public health intervention research, including strengths in nutrition, systems research, intervention development and implementation science. We have school representation (including a Head teacher, and school governor), and have commitment from multiple stakeholders and partners (including Public Health England, Department for Education, School Food Matters, Children’s Food Campaign, Department of Education (NI), and representation from local authorities in all four sites).

Maria Bryant – Project Lead – University of York

Maria Bryant

Maria is the CONNECTS-Food study project lead. Maria is a reader in Public health Nutrition within the Health Sciences Department and Hull York Medical School at the University of York. She is a nutritionist with almost 20 years’ experience in the design and delivery of trials and related methodological research in the field of diet and obesity, with a special interest in early years and childhood. In addition to her academic role at the University of York, she is the Director of Nutrition Research for Born in Bradford, the lead for Diet and Obesity evaluation for a Better Start Bradford and the evaluation Chair of ‘ActEarly’, a MRC funded project aiming to promote a healthier, happier, and fairer future for children. Maria is also the Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO).

Jayne Woodside – Co-Investigator – Queens University Belfast

Jayne Woodside

Jayne Woodside is a co-investigator on the CONNECTS-Food study and site lead for Belfast. She is a professor of Human Nutrition within the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast.

She also leads the Food, Nutrition and Health theme and is Deputy Director of the Institute for Global Food Security. Her research is focused on how diet and lifestyle affect chronic disease risk.  Jayne also leads the UK Prevention Research Partnership-funded GENIUS School Food Network.

Charlotte Evans – Co-Investigator - University of Leeds

Charlotte Evans

Charlotte is a Co-Investigator for the CONNECTS-Food study and the site lead for Leeds. She is an Associate Professor within the School of Food and Nutrition at the University of Leeds.

Her research interests are focused on the evaluation of interventions and policies to improve nutritional behaviour, behavioural nutrition in children and young people, and factors affecting diet quality and health outcomes.

Suzanne Spence – Co-Investigator - Newcastle University

Suzanne Spence

Suzanne is a co-investigator and the site lead for Newcastle. Suzanne is a Newcastle University Research Fellow. Her research focuses on the school food environment and what children and young people consume in both primary and secondary school settings. To date, this has included evaluating the impact of national food and nutrient based standards on children’s diets in both primary and secondary aged children, and more recently a pilot study evaluating the impact of the Universal Infant Free School Meal policy on children’s diets (aged 4-7y) attending primary school. Her research also explores how secondary school-based interventions can potentially influence pupil’s food and drink choices through product placement. 

Sara Ahern – Co-Investigator - Bradford Institute of Health Research

Sara Ahern

Sara Ahern is a Co-Investigator and site lead for Bradford. Sara is the Programme Manager of the Better Start Bradford Innovation Hub and works closely with the research team to develop and implement evaluations of community based projects delivered as part of the Better Start Bradford programme.

Sara also leads the Community Engagement workstream of the Innovation Hub. Her current work focuses on building capacity around evaluation and understanding engagement with and access to community based projects and services. Sara has a background in Psychology, gaining her PhD at the University of Leeds. She joined the Born in Bradford team in 2014 and since then her research has focused on exploring the determinants of health related behaviours and promoting healthier lifestyles for families and children using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Amir Sharif – Co-Investigator - University of Bradford

Amir Sharif

Amir is a Co-Investigator, providing expertise and support for the systems mapping work. Amir is Associate Dean (International & Accreditations) and Professor of Circular Economy. Prior to this, Amir worked for several companies including JPMorgan, UBS Investment Bank and KPMG gaining deep experience across technology, manufacturing and the public sector as a result.

Amir continues to research and teach in the areas of food security, circular economy, healthcare, operations/supply chain management, decision-making and humanitarian logistics (he was also an AI researcher early in his academic career). His specific area of interest is in the application of systems thinking, causal and cognitive models to explore human decision-making behaviours in complex environments.

Harry Rutter – Co-Investigator - University of Bath

Harry Rutter

Harry Rutter is a Co-Investigator providing expertise in public health and systems. He is professor of global public health at the University of Bath. Harry was the founder director of the English National Obesity Observatory; led the development of the English National Child Measurement Programme; chaired the UK NICE group on guidance on walking and cycling; was a member of the 2020 NHS England net zero carbon expert panel; attends SAGE, and co-chairs the SAGE Environmental and Modelling Group; co-chairs the Lancet-Chatham House Commission on population health post COVID-19; and is an adviser to WHO Euro and headquarters on physical activity, obesity, environment and health.

His research is focused on effective, sustainable and equitable mechanisms for improving the research, policy and practice responses to complex systems problems in public health, with a particular focus on obesity, physical activity, built environment, and both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Tim Baker – Co-Investigator – Head Teacher

Tim Baker

Tim Baker is a co-applicant and a headteacher of a school that leads in whole school approaches to food. He has been Head teacher of Charlton Manor Primary School for 17 years. He is also a board member of the School Food Plan Alliance, National Childhood Measurement Programme and the RHS Education Committee.

Tim also serves on the London Child Obesity Taskforce where he provides expertise and support to the London Mayor Sadiq Khan. He passionately believes that children learn best when they are engaged and enjoying what they are doing. He has found that through gardening and cooking behaviour is much improved and this impacts greatly on attainment. The school is also linked to European schools and others in India, China and Nepal where it leads in food growing projects. Tim has formed a charity called Roots4Life. The aim of this charity is to provide access to cooking, food growing and nutritional knowledge. The school also keeps bees and produces its own honey as well as chickens for eggs.

Wendy Burton – Research Associate, University of York

Wendy Burton

Wendy Burton is a research fellow on the CONNECTS-Food study based within the Health Sciences department at the University of York.

Wendy is involved in the systems mapping and intervention development work. Her background is in public health nutrition. Her PhD explored parent engagement with obesity prevention programmes and the implementation of public health programmes in children’s centres.

Niamh O’Kane –Research Fellow - Queens University Belfast

Nimah OKane

Niamh O’Kane is a research fellow on the CONNECTS-Food study based in Belfast, involved in the systems mapping and intervention development work.

Niamh completed her PhD at Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Public Health in 2018, before going on to work at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s for two years as a post-doctoral research fellow on a pan-European project aiming to improve young people’s engagement with food.

Niamh now works for both the Centre for Public Health and Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s, working on projects with a focus on nutrition in young people.

Advisory Group

Robbie Foy - University of Leeds

Robbie Foy

Robbie Foy is a Professor of Primary Care at the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences and a general practitioner in Leeds.

His field of work, implementation research, aims to inform policy decisions about how best to use resources to improve the uptake of research findings by evaluating approaches to change professional and organisational behaviour.

Ashley Adamson – Newcastle University

Ashley Adamson

Ashley Adamson is a Professor of Public Health Nutrition and NIHR Research Professor. Ashley worked as a dietitian in the NHS before moving to Newcastle University as a Research Associate to work on the Northumberland cross sectional cohort studies. She was awarded PhD from Faculty of Medicine Newcastle University in 1993. From 1992-95 she worked in clinical practice in a number of community dietetic posts and in primary care in London.

Ashley returned to Newcastle University in 1995 to take up a post as Lecturer in the then newly created Human Nutrition Research Centre to develop a research programme in Public Health Nutrition. In 2009 she joined the Institute of Health & Society where she led the Public Health Improvement research theme until 2017. Ashley was awarded a personal chair in 2010, Fellowship of Faculty of Public Health in 2011, an NIHR Professorship in 2012 and appointed an NIHR Senior Investigator in 2018.  She was appointed Director of Fuse in 2014 and National Director of NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) in 2017.

Jane West - National Institute for Health Research

Jane West

Dr Jane West is Director of Public Health Research and ActEarly Consultant in Public Health at Bradford Institute for Health Research. She is also the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) National Specialty Lead for Public Health.

She is a fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, has UKPHR registration, and sits on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Public Health Advisory Committees.

Her research interests include income and ethnic inequalities and their impact on child health especially size and adiposity, wider determinants of health and wellbeing, and systems approaches to disease prevention and population health.


  • School Food Matters
  • Department for Education
  • Public Health England
  • DE Northern Ireland
  • Public Health Agency Northern Ireland
  • Children’s Food Campaign
  • Leeds council
  • Newcastle council
  • Bradford council
  • Charleston Primary School