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Belfast testbed to tackle isolation and loneliness in older people

Date: 27 Aug 2021

Category: Digital Innovation


older woman smiling, walking along the street

A new testbed is being set up in Belfast to trial innovative approaches to tackling isolation and loneliness in older people.

Communities in the Markets area of the city will be taking part in the project this autumn – an initiative of the £2.5 million Connected Places Catapult ‘Homes for Healthy Ageing’ Programme - with an additional testbed being created in a rural location outside of the city.

The testbeds will provide community-centred and real-world scenarios for local innovators to trial and develop the most promising solutions to address challenges in healthy ageing.

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl said: “With the over-65 demographic set to rise to one quarter of the UK population by 2050, this programme will work directly with people to explore their needs and to consider how the latest ideas and technologies can help. It’s a welcome opportunity to tap into world-leading research from business and universities and test these ideas in a real-life setting. 

“The project is part of Belfast’s Smart district, a place where partners from industry, academia, government and communities work together to develop innovative solutions to major urban challenges associated with health, mobility and decarbonisation.”

A Northern Ireland consortium made up of Belfast City Council, Age NI, Connected Health Innovation Centre (CHIC), Markets Development Association (MDA), Public Health Agency NI, Queen’s University Belfast, the Health Innovation Research Alliance (HIRANI) and Ulster University, is one of two UK partners selected for the programme, and has secured £50,000. 

Over the next two years, the NI consortium and a similar consortium in Sunderland aim to address the Government’s Grand Challenge Mission to ensure people live longer in their homes and enjoy healthy, active lives as they age.  
 
The Northern Ireland consortium’s funding will support a dedicated task force responsible for ensuring the effective rollout of the local testbed. As well as gaining access to the tools, user insights and know-how needed, they’ll be able to draw on Catapult’s network of key changemakers who’ll help guide their healthy ageing strategies and drive real change for their communities. 

Professor Joan Condell, Ulster University, lead partner of the Northern Ireland consortium said: “The strength and depth of this delivery consortium will be of great benefit to the active community of businesses addressing the needs of healthy ageing through their products and services. As the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the consortium sees the testbed as a great opportunity to cement Northern Ireland as a centre for innovation and research, addressing key societal challenges.”

Natalie Record, Housing Innovation Lead, Connected Places Catapult added: “The UK is waking up to the very immediate need not only for innovative thinking, but for a clear roadmap around home- and place-based solutions that build a healthier future for all. After a long research stage that has helped us build a fuller picture of the current challenges to healthy ageing across the UK, I’m really excited to see what real-world insights we can gather from our first two testbeds.” 

Connected Places Catapult will launch a total of five testbeds over two phases that will enable location partners and UK innovators to trial and develop the most promising solutions to address national challenges in Healthy Ageing locally in community-centred, real-world scenarios. The learnings and outcomes will then form the basis of a business case for future funding opportunities and support.

As the Homes for Healthy Ageing programme enters its first testing phase, Connected Places Catapult is inviting SMEs to learn more about challenges to healthy ageing and opportunities for innovation, and funding opportunities available. There are two upcoming webinars on 1 September and 15 September. To find out more and register, visit www.smartbelfast.city 

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