UCL Grand Challenges


Our Work

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.

Details of awards are listed below - click on the relevant academic year for further information.


Small Grants

Displaced Children's Experiences of Places: Improving Rohingya children's learning, health and well-being at temporary settlements in Bangladesh (£7,500)

  • Dr Matluba Khan, Epidemiology and Public Health, Population Health Sciences
  • Professor Alexi Marmot, Bartlett Real Estate Institute, Bartlett

What about the Dads? Towards Gender Inclusive Research on the Influence of Family Environment on Child Health and Wellbeing. A Scoping Review of Administrative Data Linkage to Understand Paternal Influences on Child Health, with Prioritisation of Next Steps (£7,500)

  • Dr Jenny Woodman, Department of Social Sciences, Institute of Education
  • Dr Katie Harron, Institute of Child Health, Population Health Sciences

Doctoral Students' Small Grants

llness: Migrating Narratives. In Search of Artistic and Literary Methods for Incorporating Experiences of Illness into Academic Discourse. A Public Engagement Project (£2,500)

  • Dr Malgorzata Dawidek, Slade School of Fine Art
  • Dr Urszula Chowaniec, SSEES

Moral components of environment-friendly behaviour and their application to real life (£2,500)

  • Ms Laura Zaikauskaite, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Brain Sciences
  • Ms Jennifer Hodge, Department of Political Science, Social & Historical Sciences

Small Grants

Ableism in Academia: developing institutional approaches to inclusivity (£3,928)

  • Nicole Brown, Department of Culture, Communication & Media, Institute of Education
  • Karen Smith, Occupational Health & Wellbeing, Human Resources Division, Professional Services

Boosting Positive Development in Adolescence: a pilot study on meditation in school (£3,990)

  • Dr Gabriele Conti, Department of Social Sciences, Institute of Education
  • Professor Pasco Fearon, Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, Brain Sciences

Doctoral Student Small Grants

Mental Health Crisis in Midlife – generating hypotheses to guide future research on potential causes of the crisis (£1,950)

  • Dawid Gondek, PhD student in Social Science, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education 
  • Bettina Moltrecht, PhD student in Evidence based Children and Adolescents Mental Health, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Brain Sciences

What are you looking for?: Development of a novel spatial memory test for children (£850)

  • Melanie Koelbel, MPhil/PhD student in0 Developmental Neuroscience, Institute of Child Health, Population Health Sciences
  • Mina Jeon, PhD student in Psychology and Human Development, Psychology and Human Development, LiLAS Lab, Institute of Education

Using Ecological Momentary Assessment to Identify Within-Person Influences on Health- Related Behaviours: A Workshop to Inform Cancer Prevention Research at UCL and Beyond (£1,062)

  • Claire Stevens, PhD student in the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, Behavioural Science and Health, Population Health Sciences 
  • Olga Perski, PhD student in the Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Brain Sciences

Special Initiative - Environment and Wellbeing

Water in London: Scoping the Health and Wellbeing Elements of a London Water Centre (£3,300)

  • Professor Dan Osborn, Department of Earth Sciences, Mathematics & Physical Sciences
  • Professor Luiza Campos, Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, Engineering Sciences

Exploring a Psycho-social-spatial Approach to Loneliness among Young Adults (£4,992)

  • Dr Gemma Moore, Institute of Environmental Design & Engineering, Bartlett
  • Mr Sam Fardghassemi, Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, Population Health Sciences
  • Dr Kellie Payne [External partner – Campaign to End Loneliness]

Growing Wellbeing for the Present and Future Environments (£4,300)

  • Dr Robert Biel, Developmental Planning Unit, Bartlett
  • Dr Rodney Reynolds, Institute for Global Health, Population Health Sciences 
  • Benn Stubbs, UCL Sustainability; Professional Services – Estates & Facilities
  • Eve Nelson, UCL Sustainability; Professional Services – Estates & Facilities
  • Dr Marina Chang [External partner – The Calthorpe Project]

Driving Local Improvement: Applying behavioural and social science to optimise the design of a Carbon Accountability Scheme to reduce UCL's building-related carbon emissions (£4,960)

  • Dr Fabiano Lorencatto, Centre for Behaviour Change, Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, Brain Sciences
  • Dr Michelle Shipworth, School of Environment, Energy & Resources, Bartlett
  • Dr Joanna Marshall-Cook, UCL Sustainability; Professional Services – Estates & Facilities

There's Something in the Water: going waterless to save lives in Zimbabwean baby units (£4,998)

  • Dr Felicity Fitzgerald, Institute of Child Health, Population Health Sciences
  • Professor Nick Tyler, Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, Engineering Sciences
  • Dr Simbarashe Chimhuya [External partner - University of Zimbabwe]
  • Dr Gwendoline Chimhini [External partner - University of Zimbabwe]

Leave a Trace: Increasing the visibility of beneficial health and pro-environmental behavioural traces as a novel tool for behaviour change: Addressing inequalities in access to health-promoting cultural community engagements (£2,459)

  • Ms Sabine Topf, Division of Psychology & Language Science, Brain Sciences
  • Professor Nick Tyler, Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, Engineering Sciences

Addressing Inequalities in Access to Health-promoting Cultural Community Engagements (£3,243)

  • Dr Karen Mak, Institute of Epidemiology & Healthcare; Population Health Sciences
  • Dr Rory Coulter, Geography, Social & Historical Sciences
  • Dr Gundi Knies, [External partner - University of Essex]
  • Ms Elly Wilson Wickenden [External partner - Creative Arts East
  • Ms Lynn Shaw [External partner - Young Promoters Scheme at North East Arts Touring]

Small Grants

Social Empowerment of Women in Immersive Virtual Environments (£4,000)

  • Dr Eva Krumhuber, Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, Brain Sciences
  • Professor Anthony Steed, Department of Computer Sciences, Engineering Sciences

Enhancing Well-being and Resilience in Junior Doctors (£4,000)

  • Dr Antonia Rich, Department for Medical Education, Medical Sciences
  • Professor Anna Cox, Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, Brain Sciences

Between Spaces: Museums and Mental Wellbeing in Young People (£3,550)

  • Dr Humera Iqbal, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education
  •  Dean Veall, UCL Grant Museum

Researching the Intersection between the Neurobiology and Sociology of Sleep and Sleeplessness in Adolescents (£3,862)

  • Dr Kimberley Whitehead, Division of Biosciences, Life Sciences
  • Professor Matthew Beaumont, Department of English Language & Literature, Arts & Humanities

Doctoral Student Small Grants

Identifying Vulnerabilities in School-based Infrastructure that Facilitate Violence against Girls/Female Students in Schools in New Delhi, India

  • Ana Margarita Garfias Royo (Engineering Sciences)
  • Kusha Anand (Institute of Education)

Bridging the Gap: environment and well-being across disciplines

  • Stijn van Ewijk, Bartlett
  • Judith Ament, Life Sciences

Men's Reading Forum: discussing masculinity and ageing

  • Stefano Rossoni, Arts and Humanities
  • Joanna Blodgett, Population Health Sciences

Evaluating Assessment Tools for Anxiety in Boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

  • Kate Maresh, Population Health Sciences
  • Rachel Trimmer, Brain Sciences

Interdisciplinary Approach to Research on Social Relationships and Health across the Lifespan

  • Jean Stafford, Brain Sciences
  • Aleksandra Blokland, Population Health Sciences

Small Grants

The Effect of Housing Density on Social Isolation following Mega-events such as the Olympics: a community engagement exercise to facilitate comparisons with London and Rio housing (£4,000)

  • Dr Linda Ng Fat, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Life Sciences 
  • Professor Julio Davila, Development Planning Unit, Bartlett 

Getting Back Up: the development of a technology-enabled intervention and wrap-around teaching content to reduce mental health stigma and promote help-seeking in schools (£4,000)

  • Dr Julian Edbrooke-Childs, Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Brain Sciences 
  • Dr Paul Marshall, UCL Interaction Centre, Engineering Sciences

Measuring Wellbeing Creatively: Co-production of a Non-Verbal Wellbeing Measure (£4,000)

  • Dr Nuala Morse, Honorary Research Associate, Public and Cultural Engagement (PACE)
  • Jo Volley, Senior Lecturer, Slade School of Fine Art, Arts & Humanities 

Small Grants

Improving Health and Wellbeing through the Provision of In-house Legal Advice within a GP Surgery (£4,000)

  • Professor Hazel Genn, Department of Laws, Laws
  • Professor Martin Marshall, Department of Primary Care and Population Health, Population Health Sciences 

Bringing together Feminism and the Politics of Childhood for the Well-being of Women and Children (£2,000)

  • Dr Rachel Rosen, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education
  • Professor Ann Varley, Department of Geography, Social & Historical Sciences

PhysFeeling: Mapping material properties onto emotions (£2,505)   

  • Dr Andy Fugard, Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Brain Sciences
  • Dr Sarah Wilkes, UCL Institute of Making, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Sciences

Distorting the Structure of Urban Space: impacts on human cognition, emotions, brain rhythms and future design (£4,000)

  • Dr Hugo Spiers, Department of Experimental Psychology, Brain Sciences
  • Dr Andy Hudson-Smith, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Bartlett

“Dying Well”: Enacting Medical Ethics (£2,000)

  • Dr Judith Beniston, German/SELCS, Arts & Humanities
  • Dr James Wilson, Department of Philosophy, Arts & Humanities

Autistic People’s Access to Justice: understanding experiences in the family court (£2,500)

  • Dr Rob George, Faculty of Laws
  • Dr Anna Remington, Department of Psychology and Human Development, UCL Institute of Education        

Small Grants

Relations with Objects - Developing holistic-participatory interventions to enhance wellbeing, recovery and cure in patients undergoing chemotherapy for treatable cancer (£4,000)

  • Dr Beverley Butler, Institute of Archaeology
  • Dr Anne Lanceley, Institute for Women’s Health

Using Citizen Science Data to Assess the Impact of Biodiversity on Human Wellbeing (£4,000)

  • Professor Muki Haklay, Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering
  • Dr Elizabeth Boakes, Genetics, Evolution and Environment

MORE-T2: Mobility Research Trajectory Tracker (£4,000)

  • Dr Tom Carlson, Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science
  • Dr Catherine Holloway, Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering

Incontinence-related Anxiety: excess disability due to fear of incontinence in functional and organic bowel disorders (£4,000)

  • Dr Sunjeev Kamboj, Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology
  • Dr Anton Emmanuel, Gastro-Intestional Physiology

The Space Between - Analysis of material from the interdisciplinary project ‘Pain: speaking the threshold focusing on non-verbal behaviour and therapeutic benefits’ (£4,000) 

  • Dr Deborah Padfield, Slade School of Fine Art
  • Professor Joanna M. Zakrzewska, Eastman Dental Hospital

Exploring the Psycho-social Determinants of Food Consumption in Parents and Individuals who attend Foodbanks (£3,960)

  • Dr Angel Chater, Practice and Policy, UCL School of Pharmacy
  • Dr George Grimble, UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health

The Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing has facilitated the UCL Festival of Ageing, a series of events looking at issues affecting older people, work examining the links between cultures and health systems, disability, and the relationship between environment and wellness. It was also a key driver in the creation of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, following UCL Behaviour Change Month, a period of intense collaborations and creative thinking held in 2012. 

Case Studies

Below are a few examples of the cross-disciplinary work that GCHW has brought about and the 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.