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Vodafone and Mencap: improving independence in care with Connected Living

Amit Chakrabarti

Amit Chakrabarti

Head of Vodafone Business Ventures

Recently, I was pleased to introduce Vodafone Business Ventures, a social enterprise designed to deliver lasting, positive change using Vodafone technology and a business-led, commercially viable approach.

When agreeing our focus for the project, we decided on two key areas that pose a serious challenge to society today; inequalities in education access and an increasing demand on public care services.

Around that time we were approached by Mencap, a leading UK charity which supports people with a broad spectrum of learning disabilities, as well as their families and carers.

Mencap was looking for a partner to help them design a new approach to care that leveraged recent advances in technology; specifically IoT, home automation and mobile enabled digital services.

So began an 18-month partnership which has fundamentally improved the quality of life for Mencap care users with an entirely new solution: Connected Living.

The need for change

Today, we are generally living for longer. As our population is increasing, so too is the demand for care and this is challenging traditional mechanisms of care management and delivery.

The Heath Foundation identified the total spend on health in the UK in 2015, including that on care, was worth 9.9% of total GDP. This is 11 times greater than it was at the inception of the British National Health Service in 1948.

It was against this backdrop that conversations began. Mencap felt that it was time for a new approach; one that delivered greater independence and self-management to their care users and staff through the use of technology.

Introducing connectivity

Image-Vodafone and Mencap-Connected Living

With the challenge, and benefit, of being completely new to the sector, our team began to design a solution centred around the needs of the care users providers.

Independence, accessibility to the community, easy communication with staff and safety of the environment were quickly identified as the key factors in a positive experience.

Based on this information sensors were installed in Mencap homes, connecting users with a custom designed mobile app that offers control of smart lighting, a doorbell entry system and smart plugs for energy efficiency alongside several other features.

The app also contains a modified time management system that the service user, or their support staff, can programme to enable a greater level of autonomy and independence.

Communication for all

The MyTalk feature supports those with speech difficulties, complete with a library of images to help convey day-to-day messages.

During trials, the team learned that one care user had been receiving orange juice for years but actually preferred blackcurrant squash. It’s hard to convey just how powerful it was for this person to be able to express a preference, perhaps for the first time.

Another person with speech difficulties was able to show their feelings and emotions by pressing 'I love my daddy' to their father. They had never previously been able to showcase affection in a way the family or support workers could understand

With the app, they could deliver this message loud and clear, providing huge emotional relief.

Experiences most of us enjoy without thinking were having a tremendous and positive impact on Mencap care users.

Over time, these successes built confidence and freed up time for support workers. In some cases, Mencap could reduce the number of workers needed per care user, allowing the organisations to re-distribute their skills to those most in need.


Inclusion for all

While there is no doubt that the project delivered against its objective for Mencap, some might ask ‘why Vodafone?’

With a very public focus on diversity, be it gender equality or our award winning LGBT+ community, we really mean it when we say we believe in inclusion for all and using technology for good.

That means addressing all areas of society who are perhaps not benefitting fully from digital technology.

To the average person in Europe, a mobile app or smart home sensor holds little mystery, but the impact these had on the care community shows just how far we have to go to ensure equal access.

From a business perspective, there are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK alone. Mencap supports only a fraction of those.

We knew that if we could offer good value at an affordable price then it might be commercially sustainable and viable for the long term.

The need for a social enterprise

During the course of our engagement with Mencap we moved from concept development to solution design, prototyping, beta deployment in one house, to three homes and then to 30 with support services growing in parallel, all within 18 months.

It can be difficult for a revenue generating business, or a charity, to embark and persevere on such an initiative without expecting a return over that period.

Fortunately, Vodafone Business Ventures can take a long-term perspective We pooled our expertise from engineering, products, operations and customers support from across the Vodafone Group to develop a solution that delivered positive impact with commercial viability.

Being able to do so while also solving a real human need has been a privilege for all involved. It underscores Vodafone’s commitment to be purpose-led; one that has galvanised the business.


What’s next?

When we first embarked on this journey, few could have predicted the solution we would deliver to Mencap. By working with the needs of their care users at the heart of the solution, we have delivered a product that has positively changed lives and can continue to grow well beyond a single use case.

Look out for my next post, where I look forward to sharing more progress with you on our other focus area, as we look to reduce the inequalities in education access with Connected Education.

You can find out more about Vodafone Business Ventures here.

Building an IoT ecosystem with Vodafone Invent

The Mencap Connected Living solution was designed using Vodafone Invent, a user-friendly development platform that puts the power of IoT in the hands of any business.

Applications can be built from concept stage to completion on one of the largest IoT networks in the world. It is customisable to suit the needs of a particular industry or sector, with the added benefit of past application successes on the platform.

It also contains an inbuilt catalogue of API’s (application programming interfaces) which allows for smooth integration with third party applications, such as analytics platforms, and a user-friendly device management tool that allows users to remotely manage the performance of devices.

To find out more about Vodafone Invent, click here.

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