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New funding awarded to tackle social isolation as we age through digital innovation

8 March 2021

An interdisciplinary team from across the University of Bristol, has received funding for the ‘Connecting through culture as we age: digital innovation for healthy ageing’ project as part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Health Ageing Challenge Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP).

Today (8 March 2021) marks the launch of the SBDRP which is part of the Government’s Healthy Ageing Challenge. ‘Connecting through culture as we age’ is one of seven research projects which received funding from UKRI to embark on ambitious programmes of work over 3 years.

Led by the School of Education’s Dr Helen Manchester, the project aims to tackle inequalities related to the accessibility and content of digital arts and culture, enable vital research and development, and establish new business models to encourage inclusive digital innovation in the arts and cultural sector.

Many in society are experiencing isolation and loneliness that is accelerated by COVID-19 restrictions and is resulting in increased reliance on digital devices. These same restrictions are also having catastrophic impacts on the arts and cultural sector, with venues closed and artists and creatives struggling to find work. This project will tackle the strong demand for digital innovation with a focus on both building audiences for the arts and benefitting socially isolated older people leading to improved wellbeing and quality of life. The project will work alongside disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic older people and those experiencing poverty. It aims to support the creative industries to better understand diverse older audiences, co-design new digital, cultural products and provide a new evidence base for policy-making that tackles inequalities in arts and cultural provision for healthy ageing outcomes.

The research team also includes, Professor Kirsten Cater, Dr Paul Clarke, Dr Kirsty Sedgman, Dr Paul Mitchell and Dr. Stuart Gray, and will work with a community of 60 to 75-year-old co-researchers to understand both their cultural and social values and their experiences of digital exclusion. The research will take place in Bristol and involves a range of city partners including West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, Knowle West Alliance, Black South West Network, Knowle West Media Centre, Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol Culture and Alive.

Dr Helen Manchester said, “I am absolutely delighted to have received this funding which will enable our team to work in collaboration with older people and city partners on some of the most vital concerns we face in society. We are hopeful the project will lead to increased understanding of how digital innovation might improve the arts and cultural lives and quality of life of those older people experiencing the most inequalities”.

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