Working together to change the future of the care industry

We talk to Catherine Butcher, our Knowledge Exchange Manager, about the importance of innovation within the care industry, challenging the way we think about care and how this knowledge from both unpaid and paid carers will drive innovation within the care industry.


We recently teamed up with two local filmmakers to create a series of emotive short films about what it means to care and to celebrate the difference people in our communities are making. Using real people and real experiences, these films gave carers a platform to share their story, challenging stereotypes, and inspiring change.

Tell us a bit more about the rationale for these films. Why it was important to use real people?

At NICA, our work and everything we do is underpinned by the narratives of real people, telling their stories and sharing their insights, experiences and ideas. It’s this ‘lived experience’ that helps us to understand better some of the challenges and opportunities we encounter during different phases of our lives. And it’s this knowledge, which we often refer to at NICA as Ageing Intelligence®, that enables us to innovate and shape the products and services that will improve all of our lives. ‘The Carer in Us’ gave us a glimpse into the lives of five very different people, each with their own unique experience of caring and the effect that their caring role has on them personally and the people around them. I’m sure these stories will really resonate with lots of people who may have similar experiences but also with those who may not have realized that they have a caring role.

You played a vital role in co-producing these films. Can you tell us more about that creative process, working with both the filmmakers and the carers themselves to make it authentic?

We’re very lucky in that we have a vibrant network of people to reach out to through our VOICE® community, so it was easy to find people who wanted to share their experiences with us in the films. Our Director Nic Palmarini had stumbled across the filmmaker Dan Prince’s work via social media and was impressed with the quality of his work and his creative ideas.  In fact, Lee’s story was created as a ‘one-off’ film by Dan, but it inspired us to think about creating the series and exploring a range of different experiences, from formal carers who caring role is part of their job, to people who have become carers unexpectedly, particularly during the pandemic. In terms of the creative process, it was so important to take the time to listen carefully to each person’s experiences and reflections on their caring roles to make sure that we captured the essence of why they care, what it means to the people they care for and the impact it has on themselves personally. Once we’d understood each person’s story, Dan set out to create a ‘visual narrative’; a way of exploring the day-to-day experiences of each carer but also capturing the emotional impact their caring role in the films. It was such a privilege to work with our five carers who candidly shared their very personal stories with us and we were determined that the films would do the stories justice. We wanted the films to have a lasting impact, perhaps even prompting the viewer to look at caring in a new perspective and the films have succeeded in doing that.

What do you think the carers themselves got out of being in these films?

I think the carers surprised themselves with the impact that this film project has had on them personally. Most hadn’t really thought about their caring role in any depth and like many carers just dismissed it as something they do. So to actually reflect on their caring was a revelation. The process of making the films allowed the carers to think about the effect their caring has, not only on the person or people they care for but also on themselves. It made them realise just what a difference their care and compassion makes and how it has actually shaped their own lives and aspirations.

Why is it important to highlight all types of carers, whether it is a career choice or life choice?

We really wanted to shine a light on the breadth of caring roles and to offer a different perspective. It’s easy to be drawn into the usual stereotypes of caring being a low or unpaid, challenging role, with little respite and scarce moments of joy. But we know through engaging with carers through our networks that caring is all around us but sometimes we don’t recognise it. We also wanted to show that caring can bring all sorts of opportunities, whether that is a sense of wellbeing from giving something back, as we’ve also found through another NICA collaboration with OnHand and Newcastle Building Society, or even inspiring new business ideas such as Victoria’s story, which led her to set up the creative arts based initiative Unforgettable Experiences.

The skills of caregivers can benefit employers and innovators. Can you tell us a bit more about why that is important for the future of the care industry?

Through our life transitions, such as such as getting on the housing ladder, becoming parents, right through to caring for older parents or family members, we acquire skills and valuable learning experiences without even realizing it. As a carer you become skilled in time management, problem solver, expert negotiator, financial management, advocate, the list goes on… Research by Carers UK has shown that around 600 people leave work to look after older and disabled relatives every day, draining skills and experience from the workforce. There is real potential for employers to benefit from this untapped skills base and we need to think more creatively about how we can bring this talent back and build on it. What the pandemic has shown us is that we’re on the cusp of a new way of working, with blended working becoming possible in many occupations. So I’m hopeful that carers will be able to combine their work with their caring role or even develop their skills as entrepreneurs and create new businesses that will support the care industry.

Knowledge is power. How will this knowledge be used to drive innovation?

Locked inside each carer is a deep understanding of what is needed to improve the lives of the people they care for and for themselves as carers. By tapping into these deep insights and linking with innovators, NICA aims to inspire the next generation of product and service designers. By paying careful attention to the real life experiences of carers who are, in essence, experts in their situation we can stimulate thinking and ideas that will drive innovation and ensure it succeeds.

You focus on the skills and competencies we all acquire though our human, lived experiences. How can we use this to tackle the rising number of carers needed in our communities?

We’re all living longer and our population is getting older, which is wonderful. But this does mean that in later life we may need some extra support. Carers UK estimates that we will need 2.6 million extra carers by 2037 so its paramount that we start to explore all possible options to fill these roles. Many informal carers will have acquired the skills and competencies that are needed, so there is a real opportunity for people to transfer these skills into new careers within the care industry. But the industry is likely to look very different in the future, with technological solutions also playing a part. I’m excited about the prospect of bringing together practical skills with technological innovations which will create new job opportunities in the care industry of the future.

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing is one of the most experienced organisations in the world engaging citizens in innovation. If I wanted to share my insights and experiences, how do I get involved?

Human insights, ideas, and experience people bring can help shape research that can improve products and services we need now, and in the future, to live longer, healthier and happier lives.  To get involved visit

Thanks, Catherine!

You can watch ‘The Carer in Us’ here.