New ideas to stop isolation in old age tested by Nesta and Cabinet Office 

Daily headlines are bursting with statistics about the UK’s ageing population and the impact on people, services and loneliness. The UK needs radically different solutions – not just for the Winter Crisis of 2013-2014 but for the next thirty, forty and fifty years, says Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation.

Nesta, together with Cabinet Office, called for new ideas that would help reduce isolation in old age. Over 18 months, the Ageing Well challenge prize developed 25 concepts – proposed from community groups to established charities – and piloted five in regions from Exeter to Birmingham.

The piloted ideas ranged from a ‘radio club’ where participants chat live on air, a post-work networking club to help men redefine their retirement and a community café run by ‘Nanas’ for the local community.

Each idea put older people at the heart of the solution, rather than viewing them as beneficiaries alone. Participants in the projects reported feeling empowered and a sense of being valued.

Awarded a prize of £50,000 for demonstrating the biggest effect in reducing isolation among older people was NANA, a community café run by older ladies (‘Nanas’) in Clapton, London. Nanas involved in the pilot reported that interacting with other generations in the café environment made them feel valued.

Tris Dyson, director of Nesta’s centre for challenge prizes said: “Loneliness and isolation unfortunately is a reality for many elderly people in the UK all year round. Today’s older generation have such an important role to play in the community – we need solutions for the longer term, not just for the next few years. These piloted ideas are already making a real difference to people’s lives.”

Minister for Civil Socity Nick Hurd said: “This challenge has unearthed some great new ideas about how communities can come together to tackle the growing issue of isolation in old age, and provide opportunities for elderly people to use their skills in a rewarding way. We need more new approaches like these to support our ageing population, make better use of the wealth of resources within communities, and to help us all age better.”

Two additional grants of £25,000 each have been awarded to two runners up: Age UK’s Tools Company and Radio Club from Pargiter Trust. 

Notes to editors

  • Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year for older people; it’s estimated that half a million older people spend Christmas alone (Age UK research). But it is a growing problem all year round. With over 700,000 people (7%) aged 65 or over saying they always or often feel lonely (ICM Research: Christmas and Laughter Survey for Age UK, November 2011) and half of all older people considering the television their main form of company (ICM Research survey for Age UK, December 2009), new ideas are needed to solve this widespread issue.
  • The Giving Challenge Prizes – Waste Reduction and Ageing Well – were set to encourage community innovation in the giving of time, skills and resources for social good. The challenges were run by Nesta’s Centre for Challenge Prizes and funded by the Cabinet Office and saw one idea from each of the challenges awarded £50,000.
  • The Ageing Well challenge prize tasked organisations and groups to develop ideas to reduce the isolation and / or increase the mobility of vulnerable older people by creating new opportunities for people to give time, skills and resources
  • For each challenge, 25 entries were shortlisted and given the support and opportunity to develop a detailed plan for their idea. Five concepts, with the potential for sustainability and scale, then received up to £10,000 and professional advice to set up and test their projects. The winner would be the one that best met the challenge during the test period.