Out with the old in with the new
Funding for SPARC finished at the end of December 2008. We are now in transition to KT-EQUAL, a new project designed specifically to exploit a decade of investment by EPSRC in ageing and disability research. EPSRC's EQUAL initiative showed that by keeping researchers close to research users and beneficiaries as well as ensuring that that they were networked to policy makers, major improvements, locally and nationally, could be achieved very quickly. EQUAL has had a significant influence on official regulations, standards, good practice and, importantly, expectations about the quality of the built environment, about the design of products and systems, and about the support which information technologies can provide to older and disabled people, in good and in poor health.
Through the EQUAL Network and more recently SPARC (funded jointly by EPSRC and BBSRC), researchers throughout the UK have become familiar with the realities of growing older, frailty and disability. They know that these do not respect the boundaries of the scientific disciplines. Seeking out solutions, improving quality of life and wellbeing, requires multidisciplinary research teams, engagement with the many organisations and agencies which work with older and disabled people, and recognising the preferences, knowledge and expertise of older and disabled people and their carers.
Over the last seven years, EQUAL and SPARC have introduced many new scientists to the exciting challenges of ageing research, and have secured their long-term commitment to the area. They have helped to build a superb rapport across many different communities of stakeholders and interest groups, by showing that ageing and disability research can and does make a difference to the lives of people. This has resulted in an incredible level of support, interest and encouragement in this next stage of getting research into practice.
That next stage is to build on the confidence which comes from this widespread support. We plan to make a enduring difference by establishing an even stronger influence on those who are designing environments and products for a world which is rapidly growing older and in which more people are limited by disability or frailty. We will need to tackle those who influence specifications to which designers work, the compilers of building regulations, British Standards, planning bodies, manufacturers and marketing executives. At the same time we have to find ways of influencing those who are concerned with the adoption of those new technologies which can assist with the care of those who are suffering from the effects of frailty, accident or illness. This is a technological mine-field, with much innovation and associated successes and failures. Helping with the integration of new technology with the routines of the medical, health and social services professions, so that individuals can manage for themselves and gain greater independence, will not be straightforward. However, after 10 years of EPSRC support for ageing and disability research the time is ripe for these challenges.
Over the next four years KT-EQUAL will be pursuing many activities, working with stakeholders and facilitating knowledge exchange. Of course, it will continue with activities established by EQUAL and pursued by SPARC such as workshops for all-comers and advocacy. But, in particular, it will exploit work to date in the areas of built environment, inclusive design and rehabilitation and at the same time develop a stronger presence in areas of health and wellbeing, independent living and self management.
KT-EQUAL is a complex undertaking, directly involving experts from seven universities, but engaging with many more in the UK and abroad. By April 2009, KT-EQUAL will be eagerly recruiting staff and putting its plans into operation, by the summer it will be in full-flight. However the show is already on the road with workshops, meetings and vigorous representation of the interests of older and disabled people to policy makers and politicians.
Keeping up to date
For the time being news about KT-EQUAL will be carried by the SPARC website www.sparc.ac.uk . It is from here that you can find out about forthcoming workshops and register for them and be kept up to date with other developments in the world of ageing research.
If you register your interest on the SPARC/KT-EQUAL membership page of www.sparc.ac.uk then you will be sure of receiving regular updates. Membership is free. Existing SPARC members are already registered. Before long we will have a dedicated KT-EQUAL website.
All members of the KT-EQUAL team are available and keen to hear from you. The SPARC Reading office is transforming into the KT-EQUAL Reading office. So please feel free contact them with any questions of suggestions.
Helen Haigh , KT-EQUAL Coordinator