Digital social innovation is often most vibrant when leaders from different sectors come together. The fusion of respective knowledge sets, skills and resources cause creative sparks to fly that can deliver impact at both a practical and policy level. That's why Nominet Trust is collaborating with The Baring Foundation, pulling on the expertise from both organisations to create a fund which encourages and actively supports entrepreneurial organisations taking the creative arts to older people, using digital tech.
Last month, together with The Baring Foundation, we launched our £0.5m fund, Digital Arts & Creative Ageing. The programme explores how digital technologies can bring scale to innovative projects that help older people overcome the constraints that location and mobility often place on their ability to continue or develop their passion for the creative arts.
The Baring Foundation's 2015 publication Technically Older, reports positive outcomes for the general health and wellbeing of the over 65s when provided with access to digital arts. It also poses a number of challenges, including the need for funders to do more to address older audiences directly. Despite digital media being a high-profile area of mainstream artistic practice, digital arts funding and opportunities are still focused almost exclusively on the young.
On 12th July, to mark the start of this two-year programme, we co-hosted a stimulating event at the delightful St Martin-in-the-Fields. Guests from the three key sectors - the creative arts, digital technology, and service provision for those in later life - joined us for a thought-provoking discussion. The panel, skilfully chaired by Lord Geoffrey Filkin CBE, Chair of the Centre of Ageing Better, presented us with different perspectives on the potential of digital technology to connect older people with the creative arts.
The discussion highlighted a persistent challenge faced by the ageing population; isolation and loneliness. Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, spoke of technology's role in challenging expectations and perceptions and its ability to break down community barriers, something we have personal experience of at Nominet Trust. Madeleine Starr MBE, Director of Business Development and Innovation at Carers UK, highlighted how digital technology can break through the isolation often felt by older people, who are often carers themselves.
Dr Amanda Windle, DigiLab Fellow at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, encouraged us to think about generating evidence of impact so we can "move beyond anecdotes", and emphasised the importance of a "with, not for" approach. The importance of collaboration and co-design when developing digital services and solutions for older people was echoed by Rebekah Polding, Director of Archive, Heritage & Exhibitions at BAFTA, who observed that "older people are everywhere - and nowhere". A thought-provoking statement given that there will be 19 million over 65s in the UK by 2050; so it's vital we engage with this growing community.
One of the areas the panel collectively noted was the challenge of building the confidence of older people and their carers in using digital tools. This led to a discussion from the floor, profiling the inspirational work of Bristol-based organisation Alive!, who have pioneered the use of touchscreen technology working with older people in care homes, much of which has included digital arts. Through intergenerational projects such as iPals, Alive! are using art and technology to create community connections. However, they highlighted the on-going challenges presented when working in an estimated 80% of care homes where residents do not have access to Wi-Fi.
Image courtesy of Alive!
Liverpool-based FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), have worked extensively with older people in sheltered accommodation to encourage digital literacy through creative expression - emphasising the power of peer support by mentors in their 60s.
We were inspired to hear about two pilot projects working to engage older people. Firstly, Cisco's 'Ageing Well' programme in the Netherlands, which used live video conferencing technology to facilitate the creation of a virtual choir for the over-60s, including a global sing-along with a choir in Melbourne, Australia. Secondly, Land Care, which connects care home residents in London with members of their local community. Through a common interest in growing food and gardening, a series of moving digital plant animations located in public spaces appear when a sensor is activated by the movement of people working in the care home garden. Both great examples of how digital tech can bring communities from different generations and localities together to enjoy common interests.
Our programme provides a real opportunity for imaginative organisations to develop their provision, to demonstrate their impact and to promote the adoption of digital technology as a solution for engaging older people in the creative arts - enriching lives and improving wellbeing.
Digital Arts & Creative Ageing is open for funding applications from UK-based organisations until 16th August. Apply online via http://www.nominettrust.org.uk/how-to-apply/digital-arts