The South London Partnership (SLP) Internet of Things (IoT) project is a multi-purpose collaboration between the boroughs of Sutton, Kingston, Richmond, Croydon and Merton. Funded through a £4m grant from London Councils, the initiative has highlighted the benefits of councils coming together, just as the pandemic has brought the need for this into sharper focus.
Sixteen months into a global pandemic, cross-borough collaboration is more important than ever. As resources continue to be severely stretched, it is the small innovative projects that have the potential to make the biggest difference to our communities.
The IoT project, run by the InnOvaTe Project team, has started to make an impact as councils grapple with the need to change and adjust to a ‘new normal’. The IoT programme is one of the biggest in the country and is testing ways technology can make a practical and lasting difference to the lives of residents and help businesses to flourish.
The collaborative approach of the five south west London boroughs involved has also demonstrated the potential to stretch the benefit across a great many communities simultaneously.
The project has already had an impact on the pandemic recovery in Sutton and Kingston. Working with Vivacity Labs, our two boroughs have come together to install sensors that capture cycle lanes data and traffic and social distancing information from key areas in the boroughs. This could enable the councils and businesses to make decisions on how to manage this based on objective, real-time data. It’s a perfect example of technological innovation having a practical impact on an issue facing many councils.
Similar technology is also having a big impact on our adult social care and health services. Through ‘connected care’ the project has been trialling 100 in-home sensors across Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) with early benefits quickly emerging for vulnerable residents. The ability of the sensor to highlight a lack of activity inside the property, provided a crucial indicator that a resident had fallen down or been taken ill. This was crucial for those shielding during the coronavirus lockdowns at a time when face to face visits were affected. The solution monitors your activity (cooking, heating a meal, boiling a kettle) through environmental changes. This is a move away from reactive care monitoring to proactive. It is becoming increasingly more common for this to be the way with reactive alarms (pendants, buttons) not being worn, meaning when an incident occurs the resident is unable to summon help.
But the benefits of IoT have extended beyond the impact of COVID-19. One example has been Sutton and Kingston councils partnering with Aquasition to help prevent flooding by monitoring rising water levels through an early warning system. We can all remember that only a few years ago flooding was as big a crisis as we were likely to face. How things have changed.
A lesson for all of us through this project has been the number of common challenges we face and the ability of technology to improve our knowledge just enough to make a huge difference to so many people in multiple different ways.
The coming together of five councils means we have the potential to trial so many more things that can benefit our communities enormously and improve how we run services for years to come. Five times the benefit for a fifth of the effort.
As we move forwards, the challenge will be to keep looking for opportunities which will use technology to improve the way we do things. Viewed in isolation, using technology to enhance parking facilities or monitor water flow through gullies and culverts may not sound very exciting. However, the potential of these small improvements to make life better for our communities is significant. Taken together, they will have real impact.
Pilots on the horizon also include Sutton and Kingston’s partnership with Breathe London to effectively monitor air quality outside local primary schools. With the capital facing a climate emergency, this targeted knowledge will be crucial for us in understanding how we can protect the health of the next generation as well as our wider communities.
Local government has a brilliant culture of sharing knowledge as well as mining the potential of technology. With so much of what we are used to changing, now is a great time for us to be taking it to the next level.
Cllr Sunita Gordon is lead member for finance and resources at Sutton LBC and Cllr Stephanie Archer is portfolio holder for environment and sustainable transport at Kingston RLBC
@SouthLonP @South London Partnership