Sunderland issues challenge to combat cold and damp housing

Sunderland will begin testing new solutions to tackle cold and damp housing in a trial from November onwards.

The city, together with Belfast, has been chosen by Connected Places Catapult to find innovative solutions for its £2.5-million programme, Homes for Healthy Ageing. The cities will each receive funding of £50,000 to support their testbeds.

“People receive healthcare treatments like increased medication or interventions but actually it may be the home environment which is a large part in the actual causation,” says Dave Young, Deputy Business Development and Resilience Manager at Sunderland City Council.

Poor housing costs the NHS £1.4 billion per year and the overall cost to health risk on society is estimated to be £18.6 billion. This has particular implications for the 1.3 million older people who live in sub-standard homes as 21.5 percent of all excess winter deaths are attributable to cold housing.

Cold and damp houses often aren’t identified until they become a crisis. In some cases, patients are in and out of hospital with respiratory conditions several times before the root cause is identified.

It is for this reason Sunderland has chosen to tackle the issue which has UK-wide implications. Any solution coming from the challenge could be scaled up to other local authorities which Connected Places Catapult will help facilitate.

“This programme is a great example of how we work to identify an area of market need which is under-exploited and bring together a range of stakeholders to unlock the opportunity,” explains Erin Walsh, Director of Built Environment from Connected Places Catapult.

“Through the testing, improvement and validation of solutions in a real-life environment we help innovators and buyers build confidence and establish the conditions for the procurement of solutions at greater scale. This maximises our impact–both for the organisations involved–and in helping address the very real and pressing issue of cold and damp housing.”

Next steps

A call was issued in September to SMEs who have the potential to create solutions (technical and non-technical) that can address the challenge through deploying or developing their solutions within the Sunderland testbed.

Young says being a Connected Places Catapult testbed was a chance to “try before you buy”.

“It’s an opportunity to get innovators on board and get some fresh ideas by just putting challenges out in the market,” he says. “We can look at the products, and we might not even get finished products, but we can help develop those with the company. And the solution could end up being replicated elsewhere, not just in Sunderland.”

It also opens the marketplace up to smaller SMEs who have often been unable to compete in local government and NHS procurement processes.

Although the solution does not have to be technical, Young says if it is then it will align well with what the city has undertaken so far digitally with health. Last year Digital Leaders UK named Sunderland as Smart City of the Year and it has been recognised with various awards for its leadership.

“For a small city we are fighting above our weight,” Young explains. “The health sector and universities, the whole economy, every player has come on board to start to look at the issues not just affecting older people but other things that affect the city.”

Once the open call is closed, eight winners will be announced in each city who will share £80,000 from Connected Places Catapult–two with a more finished solution and six winners that will be able to tap into the local resources and expert advice from Connected Places Catapult to further develop their solution.

“If they’re not quite ready, we’ll be assisting them to get across that line, and then help them showcase it to our local stakeholders later on,” adds Young. “This will be in the hope that there might be an opening for that product to eventually get in the marketplace.”

Young says while the city is putting in some resources the important thing is that Sunderland will get to work with the solution providers and test it. He also has faith in the innovators who have the freedom to solve a problem the city has put forward and that might come up with solutions the city would never have thought of.

“It’s a bit of an unknown as we’re not sure what will come back and if it will be successful or not but we’re confident,” he says. “Even if we don’t get everything from this trial, what we have certainly got out of it is the work methodology and a work plan to tackle the issue going forward.”

The Homes for Healthy Ageing Programme will:

  • Create testbeds in five locations in the UK with Location Partners or local consortiums
  • Test, demonstrate and showcase innovative approaches, products and services
  • Focus efforts on delivering replicable, impactful solutions to move forward the UK’s healthy ageing agenda. To achieve this Connected Places Catapult is contributing:
  • £2.5 million programme funding over two years
  • £250,000 of funding to support five local testbeds across the UK
  • £400,000 investment to trial innovative solutions across five locations to test and demonstrate early and late-stage solutions to Healthy Ageing challenges.

For more information about how your local authority could become one of the next five testbeds, see: