Highlights from Accelerating Ideas

From 2016 to 2021, Nesta and the National Lottery Community Fund supported eight innovations aiming to mobilise people and communities across the UK to address the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.

The eight Accelerating Ideas grantees shared £5.48 million in funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to help develop and scale their innovation. They received intensive support from Nesta, who acted as a coach and critical friend, and became part of a cohort who met regularly to share experiences and learning. In addition, the programme offered non-financial support from a panel of experts in fields including communications, research and business planning.

The programme focused on four key areas of innovation:

  1. Neighbourhood networks Strong inter-generational friendships at the street and neighbourhood level can make a significant difference to older people’s lives – enabling them to feel supported and safe, enabling them to connect, have fun and give back to others and addressing low-level needs such as shopping or fixing something at home (eg, Cares Family, GoodGym).
  2. Volunteers to support older people Local volunteers, including older volunteers, can make a great deal of difference to older people. High-quality, structured volunteering schemes can train volunteers to respond at a time of particular need or at a point of transition, such as bereavement or leaving hospital (eg, British Red Cross’ First Call, GoodSAM). Many of the volunteers are older people themselves.
  3. Connecting people to make a difference Very significant and deep levels of voluntary connections and mutual support can be created with the right approach. These relationships can be transformational and prove that connecting people together can be life-changing (eg, Shared Lives for older people).
  4. Peer support to manage day to day Older people are living with more long-term conditions, so managing their health on a day-to-day basis is a real concern of older people and their carers. Peer support groups connect older people who share similar experiences and enable them to provide one another with valuable social and emotional support (eg, British Lung Foundation’s Integrated Breathe Easy, Carers UK’s National Volunteering Programme or Stroke Association’s Hand in Hand).

Meet the Innovators: Five years on

In 2021, each of the Accelerating Ideas grantees has expanded the reach of their activities, progressed towards long-term sustainability, and worked to influence the wider health and care system.

It should be noted that Covid-19 has affected the innovations in different ways. Some had greater demand than ever before, some had to pause much of their activity at the height of lockdowns, and others pivoted to digital.

You can read more about each of their stories below.

British Lung Foundation

British Lung Foundation’s Integrated Breathe Easy peer support groups connect people living with chronic lung conditions with each other and healthcare professionals. From 2016 to 2019, British Lung Foundation grew from running 43 Integrated Breathe Easy peer support groups for around 3,000 older people, to 219 groups supporting 8,289 people. This is set to continue to grow.

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Peer Support: Connecting people in a time of isolation including British Lung Foundation’s experience (June 2021)

British Red Cross

British Red Cross’ First Call service supports people as they recover from a crisis and helps them remain independent at home for longer. From 2016 to 2021, First Call’s offer grew from five areas of the country to nine. Through First Call they have now supported 6,495 people in their recovery at home, with 63% of referrals coming from hospitals. They, too, are set to continue to grow in the next few years.

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The Cares Family

The Cares Family creates community networks of younger and older neighbours who hang out and help one another in our rapidly changing cities. From 2016 to 2021, The Cares Family grew from supporting 2,000 people in north and south London to 5,430 older and 4,827 younger people in north, south and east London, Manchester and Liverpool.

It is now spreading best practice and examples of community connection through its Multiplier programme.

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Carers UK

Carers UK has a national volunteering programme that enables people with experience of caring to provide valued support to help others better manage their caring role. From 2016 to 2021, its volunteering programme grew from around 500 volunteers, almost all based in England, to a national volunteering programme, with 1,568 volunteers recruited and 150,000 carers supported.

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GoodGym is a new way of supporting older people. It’s powered by a growing community of runners who work to reduce isolation among older people and bring communities together. In 2016, GoodGym was in 24 areas with 3,500 active members and 700 older people engaged: it now operates in 58 different cities and boroughs across England and Wales, involving almost 30,000 runners and older people.

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GoodSAM is a collaborative platform and community of first responders that can increase the chances of survival after a cardiac arrest. In September 2017 there were 1500 GoodSAM Cardiac Responders and 600 GoodSAM Cardiac Alerters in the UK. Only one ambulance service was integrated into the system. In 2020, there were 100,000 GoodSAM Cardiac Responders in the UK, 180,000 Cardiac Alerters in the UK and 11 Ambulance Services integrated.

During Covid-19, GoodSAM repurposed their Cardiac application to support the NHS Volunteer Responder programme. This programme has supported 750,000 Volunteers in England to support the NHS during Covid-19.

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Impact stories: GoodSAM (December 2019)

Shared Lives Plus

Shared Lives Plus is a national membership organisation supporting an innovative form of social care based around sharing home and family life. The scheme involves a Shared Lives carer sharing their home and family life with an adult in need of care or support. Over the last five years, they have grown to support many more people. 150 Shared Lives schemes connect nearly 15,000 people living ordinary lives with over 10,000 carers sharing their home and community across the UK. Between 2016 and 2021, one of the scaling priorities for Shared Lives was to expand in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and over the last five years they grew from no older people supported in Northern Ireland and only 65 in Scotland to 246 total new clients using Shared Lives across these areas.

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Stroke Association

Stroke Association’s peer support network brings people living with the effects of stroke together to reduce isolation and promote recovery. From 2016 to 2021, the Stroke Association’s Hand in Hand peer support groups grew from 140 across the UK to 216 groups, reaching 6,530 people affected by stroke.

Read more

Learning from Accelerating Ideas

Accelerating Ideas represented a new approach to funding for Nesta and the National Lottery Community Fund, with a flexible and long-term commitment to supporting scale and impact. This success was based on four key pillars:

  • Supporting innovations to scale in different ways. We have worked closely with the Accelerating Ideas cohort and eight other Nesta grantees to publish Nurturing the seeds of change, which captures their experience and insights from scaling people-powered health and care innovations.
  • Knowledge and learning. Nesta wanted to build an evidence base across each of the four key themes, particularly focusing on how these interventions impact on people, communities and on the wider sector. Key to this was finding the right approach to impact measurement for each innovation. Many of the organisations partnered with universities or research agencies to complete more robust evaluations on their behalf and this was encouraged and funded throughout the programme.
  • Fostering a network. From the outset there was a strong emphasis on encouraging the organisations to learn from each other and to work together. This has also resulted in practical collaboration, such as the partnership between British Red Cross and GoodGym, which thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Amplify their work to help influence the system. It had always been a wider programme ambition to advocate for and create demand for more people-led health and care innovations rather than just scaling the handful of high potential innovations through the fund. Nesta used its resources and networks to amplify the innovators’ voices, building bridges between policymakers, commissioners and frontline innovators.


Chris Norris

Chris Norris

Chris Norris

Senior Programme Manager, Innovation Programmes

Chris Norris is a Senior Programme Manager working on the Accelerating Ideas programme.

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Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Head of Adult Skills Innovation, Innovation Programmes

Amy works in the Education team.

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