UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing

Our Expertise

Our Expertise

Why we're experts in ageing

The UK's National Innovation Centre for Ageing provides a dynamic environment within which multiple stakeholders can come together to share knowledge, ideas, experience and innovation. The considerable breadth and depth of our ageing research is coordinated by the globally recognised ageing research conducted by Newcastle University.

We bring together experts from across Newcastle University looking at how we age, how we can age better, and how the world around us can be adapted to make the most of the opportunities that arise from demographic change. Based in the North East we work nationally and internationally and have close links with other major centres of innovation and commercialisation expertise, and are continually expanding.

Our unique access to expertise drawn from a wide range of disciplines, businesses, and older consumers means that we are aware of market trends, health and social care challenges, and the latest innovations in industry. Our focus on horizon scanning ensures that we are always one step ahead.

The involvement of VOICE members in research helps to focus knowledge, creativity and expertise on finding solutions and innovations that will make a difference to and have an impact on people's lives.

Ageing for Innovators

 Introduction to Ageing for Innovators - A free online course

Introduction to Ageing for Innovators - A free online course

The UK's National Innovation Centre for Ageing has created a free online course where innovators can learn about the ageing population and it's impact. The course gives an introduction to the changing age demographics and how it has impacted areas as diverse as housing, transport, finance and healthcare. 

Topics include:

  • Trajectories of global longevity
  • Inequalities of ageing
  • Opportunities of an ageing society

Find out how to innovate products and services for an ageing population

Industrial Strategy & Rural Diversity

Leaving nobody behind - Industrial strategy must not neglect the places with the oldest populations

This article was originally written for Research Fortnight, and was published on 15th May 2019.

In the UK, the proportion of people aged 65 and over is forecast to increase from 11.8 million in 2016 to 20.4m by 2041. Similar trends are playing out worldwide, particularly in Europe, North America and Asia.

This presents both challenges and a huge opportunity for UK businesses to work with citizens and researchers. A 2018 report estimated that Europe’s “silver economy” of over-50s is worth at least €3.7 trillion (£3.1trn) each year.

Given the potential opportunities and the economic and social costs of not responding, some UK cities, city-regions and rural areas are developing their own responses. Ageing is one of the four grand challenges in the government’s industrial strategy, with emphasis on ageing well and helping UK businesses serve an ageing population.

The older population, however, is not equally spread. Rural areas are ageing more quickly than urban areas.

In Scotland, for example, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland are ageing significantly faster than the mainland. There are also marked differences in life expectancy across the different islands. In North East England, districts such as Teesdale in County Durham and areas of rural Northumberland are the fastest ageing in the region.

Often, industrial strategy and innovation defaults to an urban focus. New technologies—based around, say, broadband internet or mass public transport—are designed for, and adapted to, urban settings. Rural areas, which can lack research capacity and where small businesses dominate the economy, can appear marginal to innovation systems.

Challenges such as ageing need more than technological fixes. But this can’t be an excuse for leaving rural areas at the margins of innovation systems or seeing them as innovation-free zones.

Evidence shows that rural firms can be just as innovative as urban firms. And the very constraints imposed by rural environments could stimulate innovative responses that reach far beyond rural areas.

How we respond to the needs and aspirations of an ageing society will have an important impact on many rural communities. At the same time, rural areas can offer test beds for an ageing society and the commercial opportunities for new developments, services and products , giving insights into what all our futures will look like.

So how can innovation policy and processes be sensitive to rural circumstances and settings? What qualities of rural economies might encourage or hamper the development of technological and social innovations?

Answering these questions requires better dialogue between applied researchers—who provide the knowledge base for business and can act as innovation catalysts—industry, health and social care services, charities, and public and private innovation funders.

In March, Newcastle University hosted a conference to bring these groups together and discuss how to best deliver the industrial strategy in and for rural areas. The event, at the university’s Centre for Rural Economy and Business School, brought together participants from across the country to discuss progressing the rural contributions and opportunities in the industrial strategy. Researchers were joined by representatives from the private and public sectors, including senior civil servants from the business department, transport department, environment department and the Scottish office.

The meeting considered what the grand challenges mean for rural Britain, why ageing requires specific UK policy interventions, and why rural areas in particular can be innovation test beds— living labs for healthy ageing.

Discussions emphasised the economic opportunities offered by rural areas, including the importance of treating them as an equal partner in the future economy and their central role in the industrial strategy.

The diversity of the UK’s rural areas presents an opportunity to understand what an ageing society will look like in different economic, social and service-delivery contexts. Capitalising on rural areas’ potential to be generators and test beds for ideas and innovation would recognise their role in pioneering society’s response to ageing populations.

More generally, rural economies can and should make an important contribution to the UK’s industrial strategy. A place-based, geographically sensitive approach is needed. Users of services and technologies must be centre stage, with clear mechanisms to enable their requirements and participation in co-designing innovation solutions through mechanisms such the National Innovation Centre for Ageing’s VOICE global network.

Matching what’s needed in rural areas with what’s possible will be critical to ensuring that the industrial strategy benefits all areas of the UK.

Written by Patrick Bonnett (Acting-director of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing), Jeremy Phillipson (Professor of rural development) and Anja McCarthy (Senior Innovation Associate at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University)

POTRA Future of Leadership

Produced by the UK Govt’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) whose role is to ensure that innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK. The People: Opportunities, Threats and Radical Approaches (POTRA) Project Team which forms part of the wider Dstl Future Workforce and Human Performance (FWaHP) Programme specifically consider developments in technologies, methods and/or societal attitudes relevant to and beyond the future Defence workforce.

Professor Bonnett is Development Director of the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University. One of the focus areas of the centre is to understand the impact of an ageing population on leadership in the future.

What does the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing do?

The centre was established in 2014 by Newcastle University in collaboration with the UK government. The centre helps companies to understand how to gain older customers. This can become very lucrative as over 50’s own over 50% of the country’s disposable income. An example Patrick provided was a multigenerational kitchen with functionality for both young and old people. Products such as these can be very lucrative as 61 million households in the US are multigenerational.

Ageing population in the workplace

As the age of the working population increases and new technologies emerge, people across the workforce are being required to work differently. To address this, leaders need to ensure that the right structures and processes are in place to support this new way of working.

Changes should consider the implementation of older age-friendly workplaces. For example the use of exoskeletons, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to facilitate support for those extending their careers in places such as laboratories and workshops. Evidence is already available of the impact of not addressing this issue. For example, The Innovation Research & Technology (IRT) sector employs 57,000 people and contributes >£32Bn to the UK economy annually, generating £13Bn in tax revenue. If leaders do not develop suitable workplace adjustments, a skills shortage in the future could instigate an economic decline.

Future leaders should also adapt business activities to support this growing population by considering more flexible options for part-time or phased retirement activities that could include the mentoring of new starters to encourage the transference of knowledge and expertise.

Thought: How can Defence look to implement phased retirement and put measures in place to support ageing workers as well as sharing their experience?

Ageing & Sustainability

Ageing and sustainability: an agenda for success

 This article was part of the Green GB Week blog post series on Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage, posted on 19th October 2018.

 It’s no secret that the global population is ageing, and whilst this presents social and economic challenges, it also presents a huge opportunity to develop cutting edge innovation. And with climate change on everyone’s agenda, we take a look at the cross section between design for demographic change and design for environmental sustainability.

Home is where the heart is

The UK’s population is at its largest ever. In 2016 nearly 20% of people were aged over 65 years old. While the increase in life expectancy is an achievement to be celebrated, healthy life expectancy has not increased at the same rate.

Prime Minister Theresa May addressed this discrepancy when she stated her ambition for us to “enjoy five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035”.

The suitability and quality of our homes has a direct impact on how well we age, yet it’s estimated that 4.8 million properties in the UK are classified as non-decent, of which roughly 35% are inhabited by older people.

There’s a causal link between poor quality housing and long term conditions such as heart and respiratory diseases, and injuries caused by falling in our home environment can be devastating for older people.

Our homes also contribute to our mental wellbeing – our feeling of safety, identity and the quality of our social interactions. Overall, it’s estimated that poor housing costs the NHS at least £600 million per year.

Ageing and the environment

Age inclusive design and environmental sustainability should go hand to hand, and visionary thinking is needed to truly address the opportunity in housing. For me, flexibility and genuinely “smart” application of technology offer exciting opportunities.

Flexible living

The need for better homes for an ageing population does not necessarily equate to better homes for older people – it means designing homes that adapt to our changing needs as we age, and accommodates a growing trend in multigenerational living.

This calls for flexible living spaces that we can expand, contract and customise as our requirements for the space around us change.

Construction techniques such as a modular housing and demountable walls could offer interesting solutions. They also invite opportunities for the use of innovative new materials that can play a role in the circular economy by being recycled or re-used.


Smart home systems for energy automation and control can double up as health and wellbeing monitors. As our homes and devices become more integrated, the development of functions such as voice recognition will be key in managing our health and our homes.

“Smart” homes should be just that: smart in how they enable us to live well, retain independence, how they work, how they relate to and minimise their impact on the environment.

Housing that responds to demographic change

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing, based at the University of Newcastle, is privileged to be working with a number of pioneering housing developments that take a fabric-first approach which recognises and responds to demographic change.

Developments such as the Future Homes Alliance and South Seaham, both in the north east of England are meaningful and visible examples of what can be achieved. Let’s have more of them!

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing will soon be located in its own building of the future, which is currently taking shape on the Newcastle Helix site. The building will be also be home to the National Innovation Centre for Data, along with global research companies, academics, businesses and innovators. The building design has been driven by core principles of collaboration, accessibility and inclusive design, and a variety of stakeholders have been consulted throughout the design process. This is a space that everyone will have a stake in; we’ll have an exciting programme of public events and exhibitions when the building opens in 2020.

Written by Patrick Bonnett (Acting Director) and Rosie Hetherington (Senior Innovation Associate) - National Innovation Centre for Ageing