Social interactions identified as key to encouraging physical activity in tech project
Learning disability charity Hft, in partnership with AI start-up Tendertec, has identified social connectivity as the most important factor in the next phase of FitBees, a £1.8 million UKRI-funded project supporting under-represented groups to get more active.
FitBees combines Tendertec’s connected care platform, Hestia, and AI home sensors with wearable technologies, motivational encouragement, and community connections to support activity. Hestia enables the remote monitoring of daily living activities of people with carers.
As part of the next phase, the support service will be further developed as a social app that drives users to improve their activity levels through the social connections they make.
Tendertec announced last July that it had secured a grant of £1.4 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of the Healthy Ageing Challenge. This grant has gone towards the overall project cost of developing FitBees, which is currently being tested in Bristol, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Kent.
Other partners in the project include KYMIRA, a company producing patented smart garments that provide biomechanical assessment of the lower extremities, the Community Housing Group, and the University of the West of England.
The development of the social aspect of the app is driven by market research among current FitBees participants, many of whom expressed interest in shared fitness activities as a means of connecting with others through the Buddy Up feature in the app.
Ben Williams, Hft Project Co-ordinator for FitBees, explained: “One of our users who was struggling with motivating herself tried the Buddy Up feature to connect with another user and join a shared online class, something neither of them had done before. In subsequent conversations, we learnt that this connection led the user to feel she was supporting others, not just herself, which really helped to improve her self-confidence.
“The social connection will also help with loneliness issues which are common among learning disabled people.
“Research conducted last year by Hft found that, for many people with a learning disability, feeling disconnected from society is a longstanding experience. In the research, Lockdown on Loneliness, a third reported they did not feel part of their local community, so the Buddy Up feature will not only help to alleviate these feelings of disconnection, but will also help to increase physical activity.”
Another user joined FitBees because he wanted to return to golf after surgery. Signing up to the project and completing a fitness diary gave him enough motivation to do this, which corresponds with feedback from Hft’s steering group that initial motivation is one of the most important steps towards increased physical activity.
“People with learning disabilities often struggle to access mainstream online platforms,” commented Emma Nichols, Personalised Technology Manager at Hft. “There is a need for more platforms like FitBees that are easy to use and provide people with learning disabilities with the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Afroditi Konidari, CEO and Co-Founder at Tendertec, says that future plans for FitBees include encouraging fitness providers to join the network to enable users to get more active and have better visibility of what activities are offered in their area.
“By increasing visibility and transparency, we will also help providers to drive more footfall to their sites and to engage more with silver and learning disabilities groups,” she said.
“We also plan to create a FitBees volunteering pool with the scope to support and assist FitBees users in activities such as going for walks, assisting them to attend classes and helping with shopping as well as other daily activities.
“Our motto is ‘Inside, outside, together’ and, with the continued support from the UKRI grant, we are aiming to make this a reality for so many more learning-disabled people.”