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AAA Embarking on a €21 Million Age-Friendly Environments R&D Project

Funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020*, AAA is one of 36 partners across 14 European countries sharing a €21m 4 year research grant. Led by the ALL (Assisting Living & Learning) Institute at Maynooth University, the "SHAPES" project aims to explore interactions between people, technology and the built environment.

According to Mac MacLachlan, Professor of Psychology and Social Inclusion at ALL, who is co-leading the project: “The emphasis of the SHAPES research is on providing quality community and living experiences which will lead to maintaining people in their homes. As of now, we have many different technologies available to older individuals and people with disabilities. Someone might have a hearing aid, a wheelchair, home sensors and perhaps a ‘smart’ pillbox - but they don’t necessarily all work together. In collaboration with our European colleagues, we aim to bring assistive technologies and connected health together”

Cultivating Age-Friendliness

AAA, is delighted to have been invited to join such an exciting cross-border collaborative initiative, especially during these times of uncertainty for the UK’s relationship with our friends in the European science and technology community.

Building on the latest WHO Housing & Health guideline, co-authored by Professor MacLachlan, AAA will focus on qualifying what constitutes an optimum age-friendly home, and promoting the development of multigenerational communities and neighbourhoods,

With over 70% of European housing stock not fit for purpose and 80% of the homes that people will be occupying in 2050 already built, our workstream will prioritize retrofit environments as settings to test novel solutions designed to help people remain independent, productive, active and socially connected for longer.

Taking account of the escalating housing crises in the UK and Europe our work will tap into AAA’s ongoing Neighbourhoods of the Future R&D, looking at new housing, with specific regard to modern methods of construction, as detailed in our most recent report BETTER HOMES FOR AN AGEING POPULATION published in partnership with Tata Steel.

Placing people at the heart of our research, age-friendliness necessitates cultivating attitudes and behaviours that promote the dignity and worth of older individuals, their sense of security and of being wanted and valued members of a multigenerational society.

While digital technologies can act as catalysts for bringing communities together and streamlining services - which are gateways to employment, voluntary work and social activities - there is an increasing awareness that many products aimed at older people are marketed to a demographic that doesn’t exist, as people do not generally self-identify as ‘elderly’ and will not buy stigmatising products or services.

Brands and marketers have an important part to play in challenging the status quo. Like everyone else, older people want suppliers to focus on them as customers, not as patients, end users, or care clients. This is particularly relevant when it comes to marketing new technologies that support independent living.

A Commitment to Open Innovation and Collaboration

The good news is this project is committed to inclusion and is being encouraged by the European Commission to operate in a spirit of open innovation.

From the outset SHAPES includes 6 test sites where new solutions will be trialled and evaluated. Over the next 4 years AAA is looking to integrate additional innovation sites and interoperable systems in the UK and further afield, so that the ecosystem takes on a life of its own and is sustainable beyond the funding period.

There are also plans to launch a €1 million Open Innovation Challenge for entrepreneurs to design solutions that will be tested in these innovation sites, and we are hopeful that UK SMEs will be invited to participate.

Barriers to Innovation

Two years ago AAA joined forces with the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre, exploring options for a large prize to address the challenges of an ageing population. Nesta concluded that “There is significant scope for challenge prizes to reimagine our neighbourhoods of the future. Not only is there significant market potential in this emerging sector but there is a lot of unmet need.”

“Innovative start-ups struggle to both experiment and scale however, because of risk averse providers and regulators. There needs to be more space created to take risks and to build evidence of the case for novel solutions. This requires work between private, public and third sectors to create pilots and share the evidence and data created."

To further this agenda AAA has forged a coalition involving a wide range of academic institutions and research organisations including, Coventry and Bath Universities, the Royal College of Art, UCL and the Bartlett Real Estate Institute. (BREI).

According to BREI Director Andrew Edkins “Our coalition will act as an open innovation hub, enabling academia, businesses large and small, regional and national government, third sector and community partners to create a more holistic, collaborative and open approach to R&D, data sharing, commercialisation, engagement and dissemination.”

If you or your organisation are interested in participating in AAA initiatives and would like to be kept up to date with the SHAPES project, register here.

'SHAPES' stands for Smart and Healthy Ageing through People Engaging in supportive Systems.

The project is funded through *Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Watch this space for further insights as the project evolves.

Image David Crocket