Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Healthy ageing

This challenge aims to help people remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible. It does this by enabling businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver beneficial products, services and business models.

£98 million
Partners involved:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Innovate UK

The scope and what we're doing

Our vision

The vision of this challenge is a society where people stay healthy for as long as possible as they age. We do this by enabling businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver beneficial products, services and business models that will be adopted at scale.

This will allow people to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible.

Our funding

During the five-year lifespan of the challenge, we are investing up to £98 million in healthy ageing via diverse competitions providing grant funding.

By investing in UK-wide innovation and research we aim to support both our ageing society and the economy through the delivery of market innovations within the growing healthy ageing domain, while also addressing inequalities in healthy life expectancy.

The challenge is funding social, behavioural and design research, drawing on a wide range of academic disciplines, to provide market insight and evidence that will enable businesses to maximise their commercial opportunities and address key challenges in the field of healthy ageing.

Representing a wide range of industries, sectors and academic disciplines, funded projects align to seven key themes which provide the greatest opportunity to tackle market failures and stimulate innovation in healthy ageing.

The seven themes of the healthy ageing challenge are:

  • creating healthy active places
  • design for age-friendly homes
  • living well with cognitive impairment
  • managing common complaints of ageing
  • maintaining health at work
  • supporting social connections
  • sustaining physical activity

The challenge consists of several strands of work:

  • trailblazer projects
  • investment partnerships
  • supporting social enterprise
  • Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP)
  • Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards
  • Designed for Ageing competition
  • UKRI Healthy Ageing Community of Practise

Trailblazer projects

Our ‘trailblazers’ are major collaborative projects involving large businesses, social enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that span the UK, from Buckie in the north of Scotland to Brighton in the south.

These innovative teams (listed in ‘past project, outcomes and impacts’) have committed to spend over £44 million, including £23.9 million of the challenge fund, on ambitious three-year projects to create brand new services with sustainable impact ‘at scale’ benefitting communities all across the UK.

Investment partnerships

The investment partnership programme is providing UKRI funding alongside private investment for business-led research and development.

The funded businesses are producing innovative products and services for healthy ageing that can be adopted at scale.

Supporting social enterprise

Social enterprises play an important part in addressing inequalities in health longevity, yet recent research has highlighted the difficulties they face in raising funds to grow and deliver social impact.

To address this, the UKRI healthy ageing challenge has committed up to £3 million, through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), to support social enterprises that have an ambition to expand their products and services to help people age well.

For more information, please read our report on the future of impact investment in healthy ageing.

Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP)

As part of the healthy ageing challenge, UKRI has funded seven research projects (listed in ‘past projects, outcomes and impacts’).

Sharing a pot of nearly £11 million, these projects are examining the social, behavioural and design aspects of healthy ageing, to support innovation within the field.

Specifically, they:

  • engage with businesses and social enterprises, sharing vital knowledge
  • provide insights into the needs and opportunities of an ageing population
  • help inform ‘evidence-based’ innovation

Find out about the Social Behavioural and Design Research Programme, along with related news and events.

Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards

Video credit: UKRI. An autogenerated transcript of the video is available on YouTube.

The Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards aim to inspire innovations that have the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of older people across the world.

The awards are the UK’s contribution to the healthy longevity grand challenge, a global collaboration led by the US National Academy of Medicine.

To date we have supported 33 catalyst projects, which are led by university-based researchers at all stages in their career.

The projects are exploring innovations across a huge range of topics, including:

  • the use of digital technology to support social engagement and physical activity
  • design and service-led innovations to address loneliness and ageism
  • innovative solutions tackling issues related to menopause, impaired vision and diabetes

Many of these funded projects will go on to develop into self-sustaining enterprises or play a critical role in informing businesses working on innovations in the healthy ageing domain.

Designed for Ageing

The Designed for Ageing competition is investing up to £20 million in game-changing, service-led innovations to help people as they age.

The aim of the competition is to support businesses with near-to-market innovations that have potential to scale, and which enforce people-centred design principles.

Applications closed in November 2021, and the funded investments will be announced in 2022.

Community of Practice

The UKRI Healthy Ageing Challenge Community of Practice is a learning community which brings together our funded projects to connect, collaborate and overcome common challenges.

Why we're doing it

We are an ageing society. A third of children born today will live to 100 (Office for National Statistics (ONS) life expectancy calculator).

By 2050, the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to double in size (ONS report ‘Living longer: is age 70 the new age 65?’ .

While this is good news in terms of longevity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these extended years are spent in good health. In fact, on average, those aged 65 today will only live just over half of their remaining life without disability (ONS report ‘Health state life expectancies, UK: 2018 to 2020’.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Investment partnerships

A fund of £31 million comprised of £15.5 million grant funding together with aligned private equity investment is available for eligible SMEs, with projects of up to £2 million in eligible costs.

Challenge investment partners currently open to new investments are:

Please contact the partners directly to find out current routes to investment.

Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards

Expressions of interest for the next round of the catalyst awards are open in February 2023.

Find out more about the upcoming 2023 funding opportunity or contact our partner, Zinc.

Funding opportunities

Find out about our competitions so far, upcoming opportunities, and wider opportunities from UKRI related to healthy ageing.

Funding opportunities may fund research and development projects that are classed as feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development.

For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, the following intervention rates may apply:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, the following intervention rates may apply:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • up to 25% if you are a large organisation

Capital costs may be funded through some funding opportunities with intervention rates of up to 80%.

Join the community of practice

In 2021 the Community of Practice opened up its membership to businesses, researchers, policymakers and others working in and around the healthy ageing domain to ensure that the knowledge and expertise generated by the challenge is available to all.

Get involved with the UKRI Healthy Ageing Community of Practice.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Our story so far

This report looks at how the healthy ageing challenge has impacted on academia, social enterprise and industry, including first-hand testimony from projects.

Our story so far: Healthy Ageing Challenge report 2022

Trailblazer projects

The five ‘trailblazer’ projects funded through this strand are:

Business Health Matters

A collaboration including Active Lancashire and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) focusing on the promotion of workplace health in smaller businesses to enable people to live healthier working lives in Lancashire and beyond.


A consortium led by Blackwood Homes and Care is working across three demonstrator neighbourhoods in urban and rural Scotland to bring together a wide range of innovative services, products and infrastructure to support people to live independently.

Healthy Homes, Healthy Lives

Led by the London Rebuilding Society, a social enterprise focused on designing fair and affordable, person-centred financial products.

The project is helping people in unfit homes unlock value to transform their homes so they can live independently in age-friendly, healthier homes for longer.

Homes for Living

A collaboration led by E.ON working with Newcastle University and a number of age-friendly design experts is supporting people to age well with attractive, desirable and affordable home adaptations that allow people in later life to live safely and more rewardingly in their own homes for longer.

Tribe Project

Led by Bronze Software Labs, this project has a mission to create a trusted digital platform to match local care needs with thousands of ‘tribes’ of locally focused solution providers able to deliver adult social care exactly where it’s needed, closing care gaps across the UK.

Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP) projects

The seven research projects funded through this strand are:

Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work (SHAW)

Led by the University of Edinburgh, the project works with employers and older workers to understand ways in which health needs can be addressed to enable productive later-life employment.

Connecting Through Culture as We Age

Led by the University of Bristol, the project aims to tackle inequalities related to the accessibility and content of digital arts and culture.

Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD)

Led by the University of Stirling in collaboration with the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology, this project aims to improve access to online resources for older people in a bid to enhance life-course health and wellbeing.

Designing Homes for Healthy Cognitive Ageing (DesHCA)

Led by the University of Stirling, this project aims to identify housing innovations that can better support people living with cognitive conditions, such as dementia, to stay in their homes for longer.

Extending Active Life for Older People with Cognitive Impairment Through Innovations in the Visitor Economy of the Natural Environment (ENLIVEN)

Led by the University of Exeter, this project supports older people living with cognitive impairment to be more active and independent, helping them experience a better quality of life through increasing their contact with the natural environment.

Healthier Working Lives (HWL)

Led by the University of Edinburgh, this project looks at ways of improving the employment experiences of residential care workers, focusing on those aged over 50. The project addresses challenges in their recruitment and retention.

Supportive Environments for Physical and Social Activity, Healthy Ageing, and Cognitive Health (SPACE)

Led by Queens University Belfast, this project explores how where we live affects dementia and brain health as we get older, providing evidence for policies and practices that provide supportive urban environments to promote healthy ageing.

Last updated: 13 April 2023

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