The social lives of older people living in Wingrove

Our project aims to explore how older people living in the Wingrove ward in Newcastle feel about their social lives, including their relationships with friends, family, neighbours and more informal contacts and connections.

An individual’s experiences and perceptions of their social lives and relationships can have an impact on other aspects of their lives, such as health and wellbeing. For example, older adults with weaker social ties are at greater risk of early death, ill health and poor wellbeing. Where people live can also play an important part in shaping relationships and interactions. Wingrove is a diverse area of Newcastle in terms of the age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics of residents. Around 10% of people living in Wingrove are aged 60 or over, and the average age of residents is around 30 years old.

We will adopt a locally embedded, participatory approach to exploring the complex issue of social interaction in later life. The project will begin with 20-30 interviews with older people (aged 60 and over) living in Wingrove, focusing on their social lives and interactions. We will then hold a series of co-design workshops with older people living in Wingrove and other stakeholders, researchers and developers. The specific focus of these workshops will be determined by the findings from thematic analysis of the interviews. The aim of the workshops will be to develop ideas about opportunities for innovative digital technologies to support, promote and/or capture social interaction in Wingrove.

Four Corners

Four Corners allows a photographer to add context to their photographs and is a collaboration between Open Lab, the World Press Photo Foundation, based in Amsterdam, and the International Centre for Photography, New York.

Four Corners shows the reader before and after frames, the backstory, technical and copyright information and links to even more. All of this is accessed by rolling over or swiping through the four corners of the picture.

Readers and subjects can add their own perspectives and even attach audio and video content to the photograph using Four Corners Plus. This technology also gives the reader control over how they filter this new material, and can also see how the photograph has been altered from the photographer’s original – something which has enormous implications for improving trust and reliability within the media.

This ability to verify authenticity and provenance of photographs has never been possible but by using distributed ledger technologies (such as those that BitCoin is built on) researchers at Open Lab have, for the first time in the history of photography, found a way.


Accessible and validation methods for collecting and assessing dietary information is critical to the many public health interventions. Traditionally, a nutritionist interview participants to capture what has been consumed in the previous 24 hours, and this is repeated several times to estimate average consumption. To conduct such interviews at scale requires large numbers of trained nutritionists, who use their expertise to probe for additional information which is often missed or forgotten. To analyse dietary information, each food and amount is then manually coded and entered into a database to produce the nutritional output, a process which is timely, expensive and can be prone to error.

Intake24 is a free multilingual online dietary capture and analysis tool which provides the same quality of data at a significantly lower cost. Based on the multiple-pass 24 hour recall method, the system enables participants to input all food and drink consumed, estimate portion size using visual guides, and review their input at each stage. The system has been designed to ask a series of prompt questions if food or drink items are considered missing, such as “did you have any butter on your toast?”

Intake24 automatically links to the food composition data and the weight of the food from the chosen portion size to calculate the nutritional output. The data from dietary surveys using Intake24 is available online and can be downloaded straight into a spreadsheet for easy analysis.


There is a growing body of research examining the role of technology in supporting the care of – and relationships surrounding – people with dementia, yet little attention has been given to how this relates to younger family members. We conducted workshops with young people who had personal experience with dementia to understand the difficulties they face when engaging, interacting and being with people with dementia. Initial analysis of workshop data informed the design of three digital tool concepts that were used as the basis for user enactment workshops. Our findings highlight the young people’s desire to be more involved in their family discussions around dementia and a need for them to find new ways to connect with their loved ones with dementia.

This research aims to enhance the six week Match Fit programme currently delivered by Newcastle United Foundation (NUF) to primary aged pupils in the North East. This programme is successful in raising the activity and awareness food intake in its participants.

The project uses inexpensive fitness trackers (Xiaomi Mi Bands) to evidence behaviour change through reporting on step counts during the Match Fit programme.

Students will engage with activities that encourage food intake recall to further support the Match Fit programme and evidence changes in nutrition. – Band and design drawings


Shortly after Easter 2017 the medieval St Andrew’s Church in Heckington, Lincolnshire witnessed an immersive world of art, sound and history. A collection of artworks and performances used digital technologies to show the church’s past and its place in local life in new and interactive ways.

illuminations’ was the culmination of a collaboration between academics, creative businesses, St Andrew’s church and the local community. Open Lab’s Simon Bowen was involved in the project and said: “St Andrew’s church is a fascinating building – visually, acoustically, and historically. We have tried to create artworks that encourage people to explore all these aspects and discover new things about this place and its role in everyday life.” During the day an exhibition of several interactive artworks invited visitors to experience the church in intriguing new ways, while in the evening performances of medieval plainsong and sound explorations accompanied by visual projections encouraged visitors to see and hear the building differently.

But illuminations was not just about historic sites. It also explored the role of digital technologies in heritage projects and even the role of churches themselves. By bringing the character, history, and community of St Andrew’s church to life, the project demonstrated how such places make a strong cultural contribution and strengthen the connections between people and where they live.

Lesley Pinchbeck, St Andrew’s Church Warden, commented: “This project is the catalyst for which Heckington has been waiting for centuries – where the creativity of the 14th century community meets and inspires that of the 21st”

Pete Banks, Engagement Team Leader for the church, added: “This has opened our eyes to the possibilities of developing the amazing attractions of St Andrew’s and delivering them in a way that we had never considered.

“In addition, the relevance of this project to all the people in the village, and particularly the young, in this digital age is even more prescient and will help us convince our audience that the building has a wide range of uses and is a place for everyone.”

Simon, along with other researchers at Newcastle University, including Magnus Williamson, John Bowers and Tim Shaw, worked on the project in collaboration with Draw & Code, a Liverpool-based digital design company; and Allan T Adams, an architectural illustrator.

Often, digital technology in heritage sites attempts to accurately recreate what has been lost. But this pretence at precision can be misleading and this project used more impressionistic means to evoke elements of ‘lost heritage’ and encourage visitors to make their own interpretations from the evidence provided by the artists and researchers.

Magnus Williamson, Professor of Early Music, explained: “Attending church in medieval times would have been very different to today. There is evidence that St. Andrew’s had a rood screen dividing the church in two, but its exact form and precisely how it and other church features were part of choral practices are not known. In this project we are letting visitors see how we are investigating this puzzle using singing, drawing, and their digital integration into the space.”

By involving the Heckington community in creating content for the exhibition, and in activities that will follow it, illuminations serves as an example of digital civics research, which seeks to use digital technologies to enable individuals and local communities to directly influence public services and community resources, such as heritage sites.

Several of the artworks will remain in place after the exhibition to support St Andrew’s in continuing to connect the church with the wider community in new ways.

Let’s Talk Parks

Faced with a 90% reduction in its parks budget, Newcastle City Council is considering transferring the city’s parks and allotments to a new charitable trust. Open Lab researchers worked with the Council to design a consultation programme to help local people contribute meaningfully to the decision-making processes on how the city’s parks should be managed in the future.

Through a series of workshops and online discussions, the consultation examined a series of future-oriented scenarios organised around four broad themes: how parks should be funded, the activities they should support, how decisions should be made, and what role volunteers should play.

Let’s Talk Parks workshops invited residents, allotment holders, the business community, local volunteer groups, park managers and rangers, and other interested parties to work as a team using a bespoke board game-style process to share values and then consider different scenarios and bring their ideas together into a collective response. In addition, weekly hour-long debates on Twitter provided opportunities to discuss options and engage with dynamic polls around alternative futures for Newcastle’s parks. The Let’s Talk Parks website acted as a repository for ideas and a platform for further discussion.

The values, ideas and opinions shared during the digital civics engagement process, alongside the Council’s own consultation, will shape the new charitable trust.

Metro Futures

The Tyne and Wear Metro has used the same trains since it opened in 1980, but these will soon need to be replaced. Nexus, which owns and manages the Metro collaborated with Open Lab to design methods and digital tools to involve more of Metro’s 40 million passengers in the consultation process around the design of the next generation of Metro trains.

Open Lab ran workshops with local residents, which included using Bootlegger to share their experiences of Metro journeys and developing design ideas for the new trains. The videos and design concepts were uploaded to the Metro Futures website, where members of the public could vote and comment on the issues and ideas shared.

Drop-in ‘pop-up labs’ were also held across Tyne and Wear to engage the public directly. Tools developed in Open Lab such as ThoughtCloud and JigsAudio were used to capture ideas, while social media and the Metro Futures website provided an online platform for discussion. Local schoolchildren also made video ads for ‘Metro 2036’ on board an empty Metro train, imagining everything from solar panels to disco balls.

Nexus will use the ideas from the consultation, together with their own online surveys and feedback from a transport watchdog, to shape the requirements for the new Metro trains.

Out of Bounds

Charting an Alternative A-Z of the Nation

This project reimagines the poetic map of Britain. During 2016 literary critics, poets, computer scientists, students, teachers and arts organizations will digitally develop the critically acclaimed poetry anthology, Out of Bounds. We will be working to capture poetry as performance, sound, accent, image, and much more. Watch this space as we create a range of innovative online resources for use in classrooms and beyond. Follow the project on tour, as a host of poets think about place poetry in the 21st century.

Out of Bounds

Out of Bounds: British Black and Asian Poets


DERC: Digital Economy Research Centre

To complement the Digital Civics research undertaken in our Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics, the Digital Economy Research Centre funds 25 post-doctoral researchers across a range of disciplines.

DERC will deliver a sustained program of multi- and cross- disciplinary research using research methods that are participatory, action-based, and embedded in the real world. The research approach will operate across multiple scales (e.g. individual, family, community, institution) and involve long-term embedded research activity at scale. Like the CDT in Digital Civics, DERC aims to support research to design, develop, and evaluate new digitally mediated models of citizen participation that engage communities, the third sector, local government and (crucially) the commercial digital economy in developing the future of local service provision and local democracy.

Date: November 2015 – October 2020

Funding: EPSRC £4,051,357

Researchers: Patrick Olivier (PI), Peter Wright.