Going outdoors is essential for maintaining health and wellbeing into later life, but many older people find it becomes less easy, enjoyable and meaningful as they age. Meanwhile, our society is growing older; across Europe, the number of people aged 60+ is expected to increase by around two million, annually, for the foreseeable future.

To help ensure that living longer is a positive experience for everyone, we need evidence-based solutions to known challenges. The Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP) research project has been exploring how places can be designed collaboratively to support mobility, health, wellbeing and participation as people age.

The research phase of Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP) ran from mid 2013 to early 2017, funded by the UK Research Councils’ Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme.

Through a range of methods, including co-design, mobile neuroimaging and a life course approach, the project has engaged over 750 older people.

Participants include stroke survivors and people with dementia, opening up participatory research to a demographic which is often left out of consultative processes.

Activities to enhance the impact of the research, and drive forward change in age-friendly approaches to place, are ongoing until March 2018 supported by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award.

The research team

Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP) brings together experts from the Universities of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, York, Virginia and King’s College London.

Stimulated through ECA's partnership with Edinburgh Neuroscience (now known as FUSION), the multidisciplinary team draws expertise from a range of fields, from environmental psychology to epidemiology, and builds on the earlier success of ageing-related projects such as Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I'DGO).

The Principal Investigator is Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, Director of OPENspace and I'DGO, and Professor of Landscape Architecture at ECA, working closely with colleagues including Iain Scott, Professor Richard Coyne and study manager, Dr Katherine Brookfield.

The project has a network of partners, including national charities, professional practices and institutes, health services and city councils.

Iain Scott, students and participants talk about the project's co-design element

"This research is important and timely, not least because of demographic change, but also because it uses neuroscience to explore people 'in the round' and helps challenge an increasingly developer-led discourse around the built environment and public space"

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA

Three interdisciplinary topics

MMP is a multidisciplinary project comprising three research topics and a range of knowledge exchange activities, including Habitats for Happy Ageing, a mini-project based on a science festival format.

The first topic has brought together researchers, postgraduate students from the Master of Architecture (MArch) programme at ECA and older participants to co-design places which are inclusive, enabling and inspirational.

Over the course of the study, site-based work has taken place in Manchester, London, the Scottish islands of Orkney and Copenhagen.

In the other topics, researchers have been looking at the emotional dimensions of place using mobile neuroimaging methods and walking interviews, and using archival data - including from the Lothian Birth Cohort - to explore how physical, built and social environments evolve over time.

Project progress

The research phase of the project has produced seven published papers to date, with more in development, multiple conference presentations and a practical guide to co-design for professionals.

Two of the co-design projects have won architectural design prizes, including for sustainability, and a training course based on its methods is currently being developed with the Centre for Accessible Environments.

An international conference based on the project took place in Edinburgh in October 2016, with over 100 delegates, 50+ presentations and three day-long practical workshops.

An exhibition of co-design proposals from the project was supported by Architecture and Design Scotland as part of Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 and toured to Stirling, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, with highlights shown in the House of Lords in January 2017.

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