Design Council announces fund for new environments that improve the health and wellbeing of children under five

Design Council has announced a national early years Challenge, offering grants of up to £180,000 to turn great ideas into reality. The aim of this Challenge is to kick start the development of innovative environments, products or services that will radically improve the health and wellbeing of young children living in Southwark and Lambeth.

Design Council is inviting architects, planners and designers to get involved. The search for ideas, called the Knee High Design Challenge, is run by Design Council in collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, who are the sole funder of the programme, and the London Boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth.

Working in partnership with the borough’s Public Health teams, a six month research programme was undertaken with local families and professionals to identify where the greatest opportunities lay to make the most significant impact on a child’s early development. Designers, early years specialists, and ethnographers connected with over one hundred local families, and followed their daily routines to identify and prioritise opportunities for change.

The research found that many families became isolated when their children were born, due to the anxieties and practicalities of leaving the home. Isolation and loneliness can cause serious and long-term effects on families’ emotional and social wellbeing.

The research also found that many children needed more opportunities to play and interact with others in the very early years, in order to develop social, emotional and cognitive skills. It is important that this development happens early on, as by the time a child is three years old their brain is already largely developed.

The Knee High Design Challenge seeks to uncover radical new ideas to tackle these complex issues by putting local families at the heart of the change and supporting start-ups.

Following the research phase, Design Council has created three briefs to guide and inspire people to come up with innovative ideas that will;

Connect more families to the people and places beyond the boundaries of their homes

Make it possible for more young children to learn and develop in their everyday lives

Alleviate the stress, anxiety and depression experienced by parents during the ups and downs of everyday family life.

The winning teams will be selected in October 2013 and will receive funding and mentoring from the Design Council to develop and rapidly prototype their ideas. The winning teams will receive support from an advisory board of entrepreneurs, designers, psychologists, and healthcare professionals convened by Design Council. The new environments, products or services will be launched in autumn 2014.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at Design Council, said:

“If you want to make positive impact in the world, there is no better way than to support the youngest in our society, to help them get the best start in life. We are delighted to be kicking-off this programme which will enable designers, entrepreneurs and the families of Southwark and Lambeth to imagine and create better forms of support. I look forward to being amazed by their passion and inventiveness.”

Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said:

“The Charity places the highest priority on health improvement and radical health care innovation of benefit to our local population in Lambeth and Southwark. Our investment and partnership with the Design Council through Knee High will bring a community of talented people, networks and organisations together to support the formulation of early interventions that improve the health and wellbeing of children under five years of age.”

Dr Ruth Wallis, Joint Director of Public Health for Lambeth and Southwark, said:

“This work with the Design Council is both exciting and interesting. In partnership with local families and professionals, The Knee High Project is bringing valuable new insights to improving health and reducing inequalities.”