UCL Grand Challenges


Examples of what we have done

The UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing has funded over £112,000 in Small Grants to UCL researchers, hosted events in London and around the world, including roundtables, seminars and public events, and helped create the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change.

Here are just a few examples of the cross-disciplinary work that the Grand Challenge has brought about and the important impact the work has had in the world. For more details about other work funded by this Grand Challenge since its inception, please contact the co-ordinator Nina Quach: n.quach@ucl.ac.uk.

Small Grant: Research into the use of foodbanks in the UK

A recent rise in the use of foodbanks in the UK has unmasked food poverty - a condition that leads to poorer health and reduced wellbeing in millions of British people.

Thanks to a Human Wellbeing Small Grant, researchers from UCL Life Sciences and UCL Medical Sciences came together to examine who attends foodbanks in the UK and why.

The team looked into the drivers of foodbank use in the UK and the impact of food poverty on the users' quality of diet and their health. They hosted an event presenting their findings alongside foodbank charities. The researchers have gone on to publish a number of academic papers and are using their research to develop future recommendations for people in food poverty. Find out more


This graph visualises the collaborations between researchers in UCL departments and divisions facilitated by UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants in Human Wellbeing, from its establishment in 2010 to the end of the 2016/17 academic year.

New academic unit: UCL Centre for Behaviour Change

Behaviour change is increasingly recognised as central to human wellbeing, social cohesion and sustainability. Changing behaviour is a challenging and complex process, requiring theories, methods and evidence from many academic disciplines. The Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing played a key role in supporting the creation of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, which harnesses the breadth and depth of academic expertise in behaviour change at UCL to address key challenges facing society. 

Our cross-disciplinary Behaviour Change Month held in 2012, and a series of follow-up events, challenged researchers to answer such questions as What shapes human behaviour? What stands in the way of long-term, positive behaviour change? How can research inform the design of effective interventions to change behaviour? How do we measure behaviour change?

The Centre for Behaviour Change offers a range of services to both academic researchers and external practitioners: cross-disciplinary taught courses throughout the year, including a third year BSc module on Behaviour Change, a range of training courses, a popular summer school, a consultancy service, and monthly Behaviour Change Clinics where UCL academics will meet teams of policymakers, practitioners and researchers working in behaviour change, to discuss their current work and proposals for future projects.

Event and app: The UCL Festival of Ageing and RecommendMe

Human Wellbeing convened a Festival of Ageing in response to a House of Lords report, Ready for Ageing, warning that the UK is 'woefully underprepared for ageing'. The Festival included exhibitions, lectures and symposia, and concluded with a research prize workshop that awarded £10,000 to a cross-disciplinary team of early career researchers from the Bartlett, Computer Science, Ear Institute, Eastman Dental Institute and the School of Life & Medical Sciences.

The team's winning project, RecommendMe, is an innovative digital platform that targets and tailors services to support healthy ageing. It provides a unique solution to a growing problem among ageing people in the UK and other developed countries: social isolation and physical inactivity amongst older adults.

RecommendMe can offer personalised recommendations based on factors that include physical, mental and social capacity, personal interests, geographical location and the activities undertaken by their peer group. RecommendMe's active partnership with a huge breath of organisations, such as AgeUK, Camden Council, Holborn Community Centre and OurCamden, gives it an advantage over other standalone wellbeing apps.

The project also secured £70,000 of additional funding from the Ageing Better in Camden network. As the project develops there will be potential for further policy stakeholder engagement and policy-focused activity.

Small Grant: Research into chronic pain

Research supported by a Human Wellbeing Small Grant helped to challenge the traditional numerical models of pain. The work suggested a new image based system, co-created with pain patients. The project brought together a multi-disciplinary team to analyse this unique material. UCL Grand Challenges funding supported non-verbal analysis, linguistic analysis and input from of an art psychotherapist. Find out more

Research prize competition winning project: improving the wellbeing of students and staff at UCL

In 2012, the Windows to Wellbeing project was awarded a £10,000 grant from the Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing and the CRUCIBLE centre at UCL. The interdisciplinary team was tasked with designing and running an intervention for new students at UCL alongside staff at the end of their UCL careers, to ascertain whether wellbeing could be improved for people undergoing these periods of change. Anxiety was reduced and life satisfaction increased among the participants after three months, showing that the intervention appears to have been successful in increasing wellbeing. This project has already had a significant impact on students and staff at UCL and further research should investigate the possibility of expanding its reach. Find out more.

New initiative: UCL Legal Advice Clinic

A grant of £4,000 was awarded to Professor Dame Hazel Genn (UCL Laws) and Professor Martin Marshall (UCL Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health) by the Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing in 2015-16. It supported a project to provide legal advice within a GP surgery in the London borough of Newham, which was successful. So successful in fact that it led to the creation of the UCL Legal Advice Clinic, which has now assisted over 100 clients with housing and welfare issues. Find out more.