Create4Dementia winner announced

After three months, 15 ideas and dozens of conversations about technology and dementia, the winner of the Create4Dementia competition has been announced. Family Connections, an idea proposed by Ali Taylor, will be produced by iResources, a small development company based in Newcastle.

Family Connections will use family photos to help people with dementia identify important people in their lives. The app will bring together photos, including those from social media, to show family members and friends, and also the connections between. This combination of family tree and photo album can help people with dementia to recognise their relatives and how they relate to one another.

After Family Connections was chosen as the winning idea, local developers and small businesses were invited to submit tenders via the LaunchSpot platform, to bid for a work contract worth £20,000. These tenders were scrutinised by the community and finally judged by a panel of dementia and technological experts. This panel decided to award the contract to iResources, who they felt could best deliver the Family Connections app.

Once the development of the app is completed it will be made freely available to the community to aid families living with a diagnosis of dementia.


For more information please contact Nataly Birbeck or Kellie Morrissey.

Technologies and mental health

Digital Civics projects exploring technologies and mental health were showcased at a student-led mental health conference in Newcastle.

The fourth annual Mind the Gap Conference was organised by Nataly Birbeck, a Digital Civics doctoral researcher and included workshops, panel discussions and live music performances. There were also stalls showcasing local organisations working in the area of mental health, such as charities, meditation providers, and LaunchSpot.

The conference offered an opportunity to discuss and explore many different aspects of mental health. LaunchSpot’s opening competition, Create4Dementia, invites the public to submit ideas for technology they believe could help people living with a diagnosis of dementia. These ideas, having been collaboratively refined by the community, have now been judged by experts in technology and dementia and three ideas have been shortlisted for development. Small businesses and individual developers can now bid for a work contract worth £20,000 to make the winning idea a reality.

People attending the conference were interested to find out more about the ideas and the collaborative design process. Future competitions using the LaunchSpot platform could focus on other mental health issues such as self-harm and eating disorders.

Kellie Morrissey, a researcher involved with LaunchSpot, also ran a workshop session with Jayne Wallace exploring non-verbal communication with people with dementia. Workshop participants made playlists to investigate how music could empower people with dementia, and how fabrics and different textiles could be used to create engaging objects.

Other sessions focussed on subjects such as poetry, peer support and comedy relating to mental health, while discussion panels held throughout the day explored the particular issues around mental health for students, men, people with disabilities and those who are part of the LGBT+ and BAME communities or who belong to a faith group.

Students, researchers, clinicians and members of the local community all took part in the conference, which encouraged discussion about mental health issues. Platforms such as LaunchSpot suggest ways in which digital technologies can intersect with mental health and how technologies developed by the community could shape the way we think and talk about mental health in the future.


For more information please contact Nataly Birbeck.

Creating technologies for people with dementia

850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia, but new technologies can offer ways to help them and their families. With Create4Dementia, an online competition delivered by digital civics researchers, these technologies could be designed by the local community.

As well as proposing ideas for technologies to help enrich the lives of people with dementia, members of the local community will be able to vote on and discuss each other’s ideas and shape each stage of the design process. The most popular ideas will go forward to a judging panel, which will include experts from Dementia Care and Sunderland Software City, partners in the project.

Even the development of the technologies themselves will be open to the public. Software developers will submit bids to make the winning design a reality, which the community will be able to scrutinise. Ultimately the process will lead to a new technology for people with dementia, their carers and families, designed by people with experience of dementia, whether in the personal or professional lives.

“It’s exciting to be a part of a process which aims to give the designing power explicitly back to the people who will benefit from the technology at hand,” said Shaun Lawson, Professor of Social Computing at Northumbria University.

Kellie Morrissey, another member of the LaunchSpot team, added: “People with dementia are often underestimated – they’re often still able to contribute in many meaningful ways to their families and to their communities. However, with quite limited treatment available at the moment, it’s really important that we pay attention to the sensitive design of new technologies to help people with dementia live happier, more connected lives for longer.”

Create4Dementia is the first in a series of competitions to design technologies for mental health, all run through the LaunchSpot platform developed by Ed Jenkins at Open Lab. This allows for community participation in every stage of the development process.

Shaun continued: “Create4Dementia by LaunchSpot is the first foray into doing this on a wider scale than our usual academic workshops, and of course with the potential for real life impact at the end of the process.”


For more information please contact Kellie Morrissey.

Metro day

One of the projects Open Lab is working on at the moment is an engagement with Nexus, who operate the Tyne & Wear Metro service. In order to scope some of our research activities, we recently headed out to explore the system ourselves.

Our day-long adventure on the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Metro saw me taking on the persona of Patricia, a 67-year old lady who was a new arrival to the city. Patricia and I have that in common – I’d just moved to the city less than two months previously, and so when I read my persona card for Patricia, her jaunts to the museum, shopping and coffee in the centre of town, it rang pretty true for me. Coupled with my background of working with older people, I felt right at home, though I also made sure to speak to people I met along the way.

Seeing Metro journeys through new eyes

I worked with Simon Bowen, whose persona that day was of a dad with young kids, and we boarded at Monument to begin our journey east towards the sea, where I lived and where Simon was visiting with his kids.

We got off at Byker to have a poke around the station. As Simon imagined the dangers the outside roads posed for his imaginary kids, I engaged the two attendants at the ticket gates.

I asked them about their experience with older people throughout the Metro stations. They reported the escalators as dangerous for some older people, who may often be commuting alone to carry out their shopping and for whom the combination of steep, moving steps and heavy bags poses a challenge.

Metro data dayThe gates themselves, they explained, could be difficult as well – for some older people, the ticketing system was confusing, and barring that, the gates themselves were problematic. Sometimes they just didn’t work, they said, and demonstrated by passing a staff card multiple times over a nearby sensor to no response from the system. This seemed to be a bone of contention, as were the ‘jumpers’ who would vault themselves over the gates, often in full view of attendants.

“It’s like Cheltenham around here,” said one of the attendants.

I’d seen this happen a few times and it can contribute to a slight sense of danger in the stations, which are often dark and unmanned at night-time. Beyond this, the existence of petty, low-level incidents like this can have a serious impact on the experience of older people around the Metro system. At North Shields, I spoke to a lady whose experience travelling home on the Metro one night was marred by abuse from a group of young boys.

“They had a sharp knife … and were slashing up the seats. They were only about 12.”

She scolded them, and they turned on her, shouting abuse and threats. She thought the other passengers would stand up for her, but they weren’t interested. Once she reached her home station, she disembarked only for the boys to follow her, shouting, all the way to her house.

She must have been very frightened, and indeed she said she modified her journey after this so that she would not have to take the Metro at night. A pity, as one of the reasons she had moved to the house she lived in now was because of its proximity to the Metro.

Our Metro

From the perspective of people with dementia and their carers – my particular research area – the scarcity of toilets and the lack of clarity surrounding where they actually might be was a problem. Beyond this, although staff at the barriers were kind, funny and helpful, I was unsure as to how they would react to a person with dementia who couldn’t operate the gate, or a carer who needed help finding a way down to the platform.

Of course, there were upsides to the experiences of older people on the Metro as well. As we travelled back to Monument, I sat down with a group of three sisters, all retired, who spoke about using the Metro to explore areas around the city where they have rarely visited. All three spoke about how the Metro allowed them to explore and make the most out of days together, even if it just meant getting a coffee in a nice café in Sunderland, or going for a walk along the beachfront at Tynemouth.

It’s easy to consider the negatives of the Metro system, especially from the perspective of older people – the dangers, the confusion, problems with accessibility – and indeed these gaps are where we should start our work to ensure the Metro is safe and open to all.

However, what I also encountered on my day on the Metro was a sense of ownership and civic pride in the system – it broadened horizons, connected families, and was an opportunity to sit down, read a book and have a coffee on the way out to the seaside or in to the shops. The people I spoke to felt like they travelled on “our” Metro – of course, it is theirs, which is why it’s imperative to engage diverse citizens like this before important design decisions are made.


For more information please contact Simon Bowen.