Tuesday March 31st, 2015 11:42

Design and care: Moving beyond utility towards beauty

Mat Hunter

Regular readers will be aware of my interest in the £4 million Long Term Care Revolution. LTCR aims to give UK businesses a head start in a global race to transform long term care from an “end of life” institutional model, widely regarded as unfit for purpose, to a dynamic market that helps facilitate the construction of flexible, personalised platforms that empower us to live as we choose, regardless of age.

Well, the Revolution is gathering momentum and I am pleased to report that creative thinking is very much to the fore. I have written in these pages about participating in a LTCR sandpit. Underwritten by Innovate UK, this intensive innovation workshop gave rise to some far out new design concepts such as ‘RITA’ a Responsive InTeractive Advocate. If you follow this link you can meet the lovely RITA, a humanised avatar, could she represent a future model of personalised care?

Avatars and robotics were also flavour of the day at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where I chaired the first of a series of LTCR roadshows and workshops being staged in London, Edinburgh and Belfast. We had some excellent speakers, including Daisy Coles Director of Wellbeing and Empowerment at the Welsh Commission for Older People, who can count on the force of law backing an ambitious commitment to improve the quality of life for ageing Welsh citizens. Another expert, Sebastian Conran, Designer in Residence at Sheffield University, spoke passionately about what he calls the “uncanny valley” where robots are perceived to be too lifelike. Sebastian also waxed lyrically about the use of robotics to extend people’s independence by “transforming science, technology and engineering into experience, lifestyle and culture.

Innovation and independent living, the need for risk and people centric design, were prominent themes at the EU Summit on Innovation in Active and Healthy Ageing in Brussels. Where, in addition to presenting LTCR with Innovate UK’s Über-radical Jackie Marshall-Balloch, the leading force behind the Revolution; I was involved in planning a session looking at new approaches to design in long term care, chaired by Mat Hunter Chief Design Officer at the UK’s Design Council, pictured above.

I asked Mat to share his experience…


What was most interesting was that the room was packed, every chair filled, every bit of floor used by someone sitting or standing, every windowsill with a brave soul perching on it. This is a marked change from my experiences of the previous three years of similar events where the only seats filled were usually filled with other designers.

Normally when I say that I am a designer interested in the world of adult social care, I get bemused looks. Design is thought of as selfish and superficial; care is thought of as a person to person activity that one cannot and should not design. Neither thought is true and the worlds of public health and private consumerism could learn a lot from each other.

With the over 85s the fastest growing demographic in the UK, many experts agree that an already creaking health and care system will reach full-blown crisis during the next parliament. This is a system that is already stripped so far back to the bone that private care companies are pulling back from loss-making government contracts, care workers are thoroughly demoralised because of low pay and poor career prospects and the media is full of abuse of the frail elderly that deserve better. This UK picture is similar in the wider EU.

The good news is that some realise this crisis represents an opportunity. If necessity is the mother of invention then we ought to be encouraging some pretty wild ideas at this point – and there are definitely pockets of wild ideas out there. Here are three of my favourites:

1. Goodgym was started by Ivo Gormley, a designer, who devised a very different type of running club. The runner is assigned a coach (let’s call her ‘Anne’) and especially on those cold and dark winters’ evenings, Anne is there to encourage the runner up off the sofa and out of the house. The twist in the tale is that Anne is in fact someone who finds it hard to get out of her own house and therefore can get a bit lonely – and her role as coach is to provide the cup of tea or whatever when the runner arrives. Different needs aligned to create mutual benefit – and a proposition that feels more attractive for both sides than a typical ‘befriending service’. It’s not that befriending services are bad, it’s just that not everyone thinks it’s for them.

2. Ode was founded by an industrial designer and a fragrance expert, and uses high quality food fragrances to stimulate appetite and combat malnutrition for frail older adults that so often lose interest in food. A simple and elegant device, it wafts out the smells of bakewell tart, chicken curry, orange juice and others (for some reason sweet food smells work better than savory) and has been proven both to increase the amount of food that is eaten, but also the range of foods, so helping maintain as much of a balanced diet as possible. It’s these sorts of productivity aids that help carers cope with the challenging and sometimes relentless demands.

3. Casserole is an Uber-style meals on wheels. It’s a food sharing scheme where neighbours cook for neighbours. Now running in Australia as well as the UK, not only does this make up for the fact that meals on wheel funding has been cut by up to 25% in recent years, so leaving many people without a hot meal once a day, but it increases social contact too, so reducing isolation and loneliness. It’s hard to overcome the challenges that all peer-peer services face, of managing security and safety, but it has captured the imagination of ‘cooks’ (aka volunteers), ‘diners’ (aka recipients) and commissioners of local authority adult social services that normally pay for these things.

What’s important in all of these examples is not just creativity and imagination – the optimism with which to see all these challenges as opportunities – but the humanity to see that they must all move beyond utility towards beauty. Each solution is beautifully simple, but also life affirming – they all bring joy, be that of good food or human company.

Equally important is the recognition that effective innovation requires an effective business model. Someone has to want your innovation, buy it and then implement it. Each of the good ideas above continues to evolve its business model in order to grow, often blending private and public revenue streams.

The inconvenient truth is that none of the ideas above came from the existing health and care system. As we all know, it’s very hard for transformative ideas to come from existing institutions. So while this is ostensibly a public sector problem, it is in fact an opportunity for all – for the voluntary sector to show the power of resilient communities, for the private sector to show its powers of innovation and for the public sector to help unlock this growing market, such as via personal care budgets, or at least get out of the way a bit more.

I’ve been delighted to hear EU Commission leaders talk engagingly about all of the above at the Healthy Ageing Summit – about moving beyond utility to joy and about disruptive business models – and most have suggested that the power of the health consumer, facilitated by digital technology, is the force most likely to change things. It’s why design is now being taken seriously in health and care innovation, because design shapes things so that they really work for people who need health and care support, not just for those that provide such services.


If you’d like to get engaged with Innovate UK’s £4 million SBRI Long Term Care Revolution National Challenge click here to register your interest in attending events in London and Edinburgh where you’ll have the opportunity to engage with the likes of Mat Hunter, Sebastian Conran together with many other far sighted experts and thought leaders.

And don’t forget to follow CSL on Twitter, where we shine a regular spotlight on innovative, digitally enabled creative developments in healthcare.

Photo provided by Mat Hunter and used with permission

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Sections: CSL Insights

Thursday September 12th, 2013 16:36

CSL ambassador Greg Wilford has the last word


Creative Skills For Life today formally shares the very sad news that Greg Wilford, a young writer who passionately supported and informed the wider CSL initiative died on 1st September from neuromuscular degenerative disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Explaining his passion for CSL, Greg said: “In a lifestyle where a lot of physical control has to be surrendered; the feeling of having something you can ‘be yourself’ with – truly yourself – is a triumphant one. Technology and social media gives every disabled person the chance to dabble in the arts. To paint, to compose, to write – and most of all, to say something that’s never been said before. All that’s needed is an over-active imagination, the right inspiration and an audience adventurous enough to go along for the ride”.

According to CSL Founder Ian Spero “Greg had a wicked sense of humour a brilliant creative imagination and an insatiable appetite for life as is demonstrated by the following email he sent me just a couple of days before he passed…

‘Hey Ian, Yeah, I’m better thank you. Just been getting my strength back really. I would say I’m at 90% now, still get tired but I’m much improved. Started to get back to writing again. Some interesting topics – one is basically an edited 2hr debate between me and a friend about the relationship between Superman and disability. Really surprising stuff and interesting. I’ve even started story making with an idea I came up with. Haven’t done that for months. It has a Tokyo noir/ god myth/ lovecraft/ mankind hope feel to it. We need to catch up. I’m away this weekend taking advantage of the free bar at the wedding I’m at – but talk mid-week?'”

Greg wrote a number of really funny and inspirational blog posts for the CSL website, and the section of the site that aims to give young people living with life threatening conditions an opportunity to share their experiences and opinions will be named in his honour, Greg Says.


Sections: CSL Updates

Tuesday September 10th, 2013 18:04

CLS founder introduces the programme in Huffington Post blog


Creative Skills For Life founder Ian Spero has written about the programme in a blog post for The Huffington Post.

Explaining the rationale behind the initiative, Ian notes the goods news that the number of young people surviving life changing conditions has nearly doubles in the past decade, but adds: “The bad news is that the quality and quantity of palliative care being provided to support these youngsters isn’t improving. Stuck in a no man’s land between paediatric care and adult services disabled adolescents have become a forgotten segment of society whose needs are simply not being addressed”.

He goes on: “Ironically when it comes to the potential to really improve the life experience for these young people there has never been a better time. Digital technology has given us the opportunity to connect, create and share in a way that has never been possible before. For those who often have limited mobility it provides a link to communities and conversations that would previously have been impossible”.

Linking this potential of digital technologies to the role of creativity in providing palliative care, Ian continues: “According to Cancer Research UK ‘art therapy can be a safe way for people with cancer and their families to explore emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety about the cancer and treatment’. It is out of this belief that Creative Skills For Life was born. A social venture and campaigning organisation exploring the interface between wellbeing, technology and creativity, Creative Skills For Life is designed to be a catalyst to promote healing and personal development”.

Read the full blog here.


Sections: CSL Updates

Monday June 24th, 2013 17:45

“Big data could be saving us all” says Telegraph in new report on CSL


The Daily Telegraph this weekend put Creative Skills For Life under the spotlight in a new article looking at the ways big data and online technologies are enabling a revolution in healthcare.

The paper’s Monty Munford writes: “Creative Skills for Life is … using technology and the data from its research-driven healthcare programme to empower people with life-threatening and limiting medical conditions. It does this by encouraging them to unlock their creative potential ‘as a catalyst for healing and personal development'”.

Discussing the different strands of the CSL project, he continues: “Firstly there is a research strand that builds a body of evidence on the value of creativity as a medical tool and builds on the shoulders of previous giants to do so. There is also a community element that brings together experts and doctors and a campaign element that brings the programme together. The endgame is to use its findings to encourage government to support greater investment in palliative care across all disciplines”.

Concluding, the piece adds: “Creative Skills for Life describes itself as a social enterprise, not a traditional charity,and its ambitions are the noblest of all and an innovation that does credit to everybody involved. Big data, it would appear, could be the saving of us all”.

Read the full piece here.

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Sections: CSL Updates

Monday June 3rd, 2013 10:13

Ruder Finn to provide PR and digital support to Creative Skills For Life


Ruder Finn UK has announced that its digital health division will be working with Creative Skills For Life, providing strategic communications to support its pioneering work for young people living with life-threatening conditions.

Ruder Finn will provide communications support to CSL, targeting a range of national, broadcast, trade and consumer press, as well as key influential bloggers, to promote the programme at large and specific initiatives, such as the CSL competition fund being staged in partnership with Creative England and NHS England. In addition, Ruder Finn will provide digital services and consultancy across a range of social media platforms.

“Creative Skills For Life is a perfect example of how the healthcare industry is emerging as a hotbed of digital innovation and groundbreaking ideas”, said Emma Sinden, Head of Corporate & Technology at Ruder Finn. “What particularly drew us to CSL was the focus on what digital tools can deliver in terms of a better quality of life rather than on the tool or technology itself. To be able to share the expertise of our digital health team with such an exciting and worthwhile cause is a fantastic opportunity. We look forward to delivering impactful results for Creative Skills For Life across the media and digital platforms”.

Creative Skills For Life Founder Ian Spero added: “We believe that providing creative therapies for these young people can improve quality of life and boost their chances of survival. With a number of exciting initiatives set to take place as part of the overall programme, we are confident that our partnership with Ruder Finn will add significant value and our cause will be clearly communicated to a wide but targeted audience”.


Sections: CSL Updates

Thursday May 23rd, 2013 12:54

CSL founder speaks to Mobile Marketing about the initiative at Digital Shoreditch

Digital Shoreditch

Creative Skills For Life founder Ian Spero spoke to Mobile Marketing earlier this week ahead of launching the CSL Creative England Competition Fund at the Digital Shoreditch festival in East London.

Ian later used the annual tech industry event to formally announce the Competition Fund, which will invest in prototypes that leverage digital technologies and media to enhance the quality of life for young people with long-term life-threatening and lifelimiting conditions.

You can listen to the interview here below, or on the Mobile Marketing website.

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Monday May 20th, 2013 11:47

Creative England’s Creative Skills For Life Competition Fund launches

Creative England

Today, Creative England in partnership with NHS England launches a new initiative which will support development projects that use digital technology to give young people being treated for cancer and other life-limiting conditions the chance to explore their creative potential as a catalyst for healing and personal development, in collaboration with the Creative Skills For Life programme.

Creative England now invites applications for its Creative Skills For Life competition fund totalling £100,000, which aims to develop prototypes that leverage digital technologies and media to enhance the quality of life for young people with long-term life-threatening and lifelimiting conditions. This fund is targeted at creative businesses who wish to bring innovative concepts or prototype to success in the market place in support of the Creative Skills For Life Creative Skills For Life introduces participants to creative disciplines, such as music/film making, photography and design; with a view to equipping them with the confidence, skills and motivation to address the challenges they face and boost the recovery process during and post

Commenting on his agency’s participation in Creative Skills For Life, Creative England Development Director Jim Farmery said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Creative Skills For Life to initiate this ground-breaking programme. We are committed to opening up practical opportunities for creative businesses to work with business clusters in other sectors and this is the first time that our focus has been on healthcare.”

Ian Spero, Founder, Creative Skills For Life commented, “Creative England’s enthusiastic and on-going encouragement has been instrumental in the development of Creative Skills For Life. We are now looking forward to receiving some exciting creative ideas for apps or games that will enable young people facing potentially isolating situations to explore their creative potential and engage with a wider world in new, more meaningful ways.”

For NHS England Creative Skills For Life represents an opportunity to explore the impact of creativity and enabling technologies applied to long term conditions in a way that can enhance and enrich people’s lives, particularly in the delivery of healthcare to the younger population.

According to Alex Abbott Chief Technology Officer for NHS England, who will be participating in the assessment process: “Creating economic opportunities for the UK health informatics sector, particularly new, emerging micro-enterprises and SMEs, is a priority for NHS England. I will be on the lookout for great ideas that benefit young people living with life-threatening conditions which are potentially sustainable and commercially viable given appropriate support.”

This exciting new initiative from Creative England in collaboration with Creative Skills For Life and NHS England will help enable patients to take greater direct control of situations that affect them, such as maintaining their social network and academic life during and after treatment.

This is in alignment with the Health Secretary’s aim of providing people with control over their own care through information technologies as this saves the country £3 on every £1 spent.

The Creative Skills For Life Programme is a direct response to a new Government NHS Mandate which includes seizing the opportunities of new technology, enhancing quality of life for people with long term conditions and improving standards of care, not just treatment. A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that the number of 16 to 19 year olds living with these conditions in the UK has nearly doubled in the last decade. As advances in medical science means this trend will continue, the report identified a real need to help young people manage the day to day impact of long term health related conditions and terminal illness.

The fund will provide ten investments of up to £10,000 each, to facilitate development of innovative concepts or prototypes, for apps or other creative tools that will enable young people living with life-threatening or life-restricting conditions to explore their creative potential and interact and co-create with friends and family. The assessment panel will welcome proposals that encourage and enable the collaborative generation of creative activities among users, based on cross-media formats and consumption.

Greg Wilford, an ambassador for CSL, illustrates how utilising creativity has provided him with a better quality of life. Greg lives with the condition Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a neuromuscular degenerative disease. He benefits from a workspace which facilitates his interest in creativity and writing, and he has been working on a short film which is extremely important to him and values an interest that is based on his own ability. “In a lifestyle where a lot of physical control has to be surrendered; the feeling of having something you can ‘be yourself’ with – truly yourself, is a triumphant one. Technology and social media gives every disabled person the chance to dabble in the arts. To paint, to compose, to write – and most of all, to say something that’s never been said before. All that’s needed is an over-active imagination, the right inspiration and an audience adventurous enough to go along for the ride.”

This initiative is funded by Creative England via the Government’s Regional Growth Fund, and managed by Creative England in collaboration with Creative Skills For Life and NHS England.

The deadline is 5 July 2013 and more information can be found here.

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Sections: CSL Updates