Around forty people working in public health, adult social care, health, sport and leisure and third sector organisations working with older people from across the North West took part in an ‘Innovation Lab’ hosted by Stockport Council.

The problem

Our mission, if we chose to accept it (and we relished it!) was to address the problem that as a nation we’re living longer, but not necessarily healthier lives.  As a result, services are struggling to cope with rising healthcare costs.

We were tasked with reframing the discussion around healthy and active lifestyles and exploring innovative and affordable solutions that could enable our older citizens to live independently for longer within their communities.

The attendees were split into four teams to address the four key problem areas identified:

  • Living independently and preventing falls
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Isolation
  • Preventative activity for body and mind

Each team had a Developer and UX Designer to help turn their ideas into a technological solution.  There was a great deal of energy in the room, with academics, practitioners and specialists from across Greater Manchester and beyond all committed to being creative in response to this exciting brief.

The demographic challenge

After a welcome by Lee Emery, Project Manager from Stockport’s Digital by Design team, Dr Donna Sager, Stockport’s Deputy Director of Public Health set the scene, reminding us of not only the challenge but also the opportunities that our changing population brings.

Twenty years from now in Greater Manchester 1.1m people will be aged over 50, accounting for 37% of the population and 650,000 people will be aged over 65, with the fastest population growth among older cohorts. More data for Stockport can be found in our Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.

Donna asked us to keep three key points in mind:

  • Older people don’t use tech? Rubbish!
  • Older people aren’t a homogenous group – think of and value the diversity of our older population
  • Get it right for me!

Buoyed by this enthusiastic welcome, the teams set about generating ideas. This hour flew by in a blur of post-it notes, coffee and chuckles.

Donna Sagar

Idea generation

When presenting back to the group we heard some great early ideas. The food and drink table pitched their idea of an HGV (HEALTHY goods vehicle), with the idea of working with supermarkets, local businesses and having an online map of where the cooking/eating/health promoting bus would be visiting.

The ‘living independently and falls prevention’ table had struck upon the promotion of physical activity, but in particular trying to tackle what motivates people. They wanted to develop an app where wellbeing goals could be set and shared with your network (family, friends, neighbours, whoever you’re close to). This would integrate with a directory of services to offer prompts about groups and community settings which could help you achieve your goals.

Innovation Lab 1 (2)
The table themed around isolation were going to develop a tool for checking on someone’s loneliness, with both a GP interface and a public interface, that asks question and gives ideas for how to address this based on someone’s interests and likes.

Finally, the preventative activity table whilst perhaps not as far on with the exact solution, were clear that they wanted a way of making physical activity more accessible and supporting someone’s confidence with taking the first step and knowing what’s out there.

We had a final half hour setting our developers and designers to task, before a well-deserved lunch break gave us all chance to refuel and network with colleagues from different tables.

Over to the developers

The afternoon meant one of two things. Developers and designers donned headphones, plugged in and started generating the code to drive these innovative ideas.

Innovation Lab 2

Continuing the conversation

Meanwhile the rest of us were treated to three excellent presentations related to our theme of healthy ageing.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Paul McGarry from Greater Manchester’s Ageing Hub, who set out the ambitious commitment that Greater Manchester has made to become the UK’s first Age Friendly City region, and some of the innovative ways we can go about achieving this.

Secondly, we got to not only hear about, but actually take part in, an innovative new functional exercise class for older people – ‘SMILE’ from LifeLeisure. It got us moving after lunch and certainly generated plenty of smiles from the group!

Innovation Lab 3
Finally, Stephen Blackburn from DataMill North, originator of the idea for the day’s event, gave us a great insight into the uses and benefits of open source data and how using data in innovation labs such as this one can really make a difference with product development.

Presentations and outputs

So, back then to our teams for the final presentations on what the developers had been doing whilst we were belly dancing and singing along to Sweet Caroline.

WOW! We were seriously impressed with the output from the development teams. The solutions had been prototyped and meant that we could see the potential of how these ideas had been turned in to something approaching reality so quickly.

Most people had been unsure what to expect from the day in advance but feedback has been brilliant, with 95% of attendees agreeing that it was a worthwhile and useful process for identifying solutions to issues.
It was great to see ideas being developed in such a short span.  Definitely something to feedback to colleagues.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions – well done!”

“The outputs were impressive, exceeded expectations.  Worth joining up and further developing.”

“It shows what can be achieved in a day with committed, talented and enthusiastic people.”

“What sets the day apart from other similar events I’ve attended is that a product is developed throughout the day.  This is a great idea and ensures the day and ideas are not wasted.”

What happens next?

Our ideas go forward to DataMill North, along with outputs from two other similar events happening in Leeds and Newcastle. One idea will then be selected for further development.

It’s well timed for Stockport, given that we’re developing our ‘Ageing Well’ strategy, so we will make sure that the ideas generated on the day are used in Stockport.

Here’s hoping we can have more of this sort of innovation for Stockport, especially on such important issues as ageing well.

For more information about Stockport’s Ageing Well strategy please contact Jennifer Connolly, Specialty Registrar in Public Health at:

Read the next blog on this project.

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