UWE Bristol Alumni wins prestigious award

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UWE Bristol alumnus Neha Chaudhry was announced as the winner of the Innovation Award for the South West Region at the Medilink Healthcare and Business Awards 2019 for her business Walk to Beat.

Consequently, Walk to Beat came second in the national Medilink Healthcare and Business Awards and was the only company from the South West region to be nominated for the Innovation award. 

Walk to Beat is a med-tech start-up that aims to develop smart assisted living products to empower the ageing population. Their first product is a Smart Walking Stick designed for Parkinson’s sufferers to help them overcome freezing and walking problems.

Freezing in Parkinson’s feels like your feet getting glued to the ground and not being able to walk any further, eventually leading to falls. Scientific research has shown that any type of rhythm can help the patients to get moving again.

The Smart Stick monitors walking patterns and gives a cue through the handle in the form rhythmic vibration when a person freezes. This prompts the user to come out of the freezing episode and keep walking. This results in reduced duration of the freezing episode and lower number of falls.

Neha, who completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees at UWE Bristol, is based within Launch Space, a graduate incubator within the Universities Enterprise Zone. The start-up also has support from the Health Tech Hub to progress the development.

A new version of the stick is now in development to further meet the needs of its users. Walk to Beat is currently looking for investment in order to mass produce the product. 

Congratulations to Neha! For more information on Walk to Beat please visit their website

Gestural musical gloves now available on pre-order

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Featured Researcher: Dr Tom Mitchell

Gestural musical gloves, technology originally developed at UWE Bristol by Dr Tom Mitchell, are now available for pre-order through a company called MI.MU. The gloves use motion capture and AI to enable wearers to create music with their movements.

The technology, which has been developed in partnership with Grammy Award-winning musician Imogen Heap, has already produced a small run of bespoke and handmade gloves for a select few musicians.

The product’s commercialisation now means that the gloves are half their original price and currently cost £2500 a pair. They have been designed according to the needs of musical artists and contain enhanced build quality and gesture control, improved electronics, and faster wireless communication.

In 2014, Ms Heap founded MI.MU, a partnership with UWE Bristol that also comprises fashion designer Rachel Freire, E-textiles designer Hannah Perner-Wilson, electronic engineer Sebastian Madgwick, scientist and musician Kelly Snook, musician and UX designer Chagall van den Berg, as well as Managing Director Adam Stark.

It was then made available to the public and saw the growth of a burgeoning community of performers making use of the gloves’ potential – from classical pianists, to film composers, beatboxers, and pop stars including Ariana Grande, who used the gloves on her 2015 ‘Honeymoon’ world tour.

Since 2014, Dr Mitchell and colleagues have refined the technology, streamlining designs with initial support from private investors and a range of academic and enterprise support including the EU Commission and Innovate UK.

Dr Mitchell said: “It’s exciting that we have managed to get to a point where the gloves will soon be available to all musicians. The gloves bring a new creative dimension to music performance, enabling musicians to create the movements that perform their music. I can’t wait to see what people will do with the technology.”

Imogen Heap, who uses the gloves as part of her performances, said: “So happy that we are finally able to extend the incredible superhuman feeling of having music in our hands out to a wider audience. You just have to remember to open your eyes during a performance, as it becomes so second nature!”
Adam Stark, Managing Director of MI.MU, said: “We are hugely proud to release the MI-MU gloves to musicians everywhere, and we can’t wait to see what they do with them.

“They are the result of years of research and development into new ways to compose and perform music. We believe they will enable musicians to discover new forms of expression, leading to new ideas, new performances and, ultimately, new forms of music.”

Featured researcher Dr Tom Mitchell

Tom is a Lecturer in computer music in the department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies at UWE Bristol.

Email: Tom.Mitchell@uwe.ac.uk

Phone: +4411732 83349

Network for Creative Enterprise: a few highlights of achievements, challenges, learning and what next.

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In this blog post, Network Producer Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt shares an update on one of UWE Bristol’s ERDF funded programmes -Network for Creative Enterprise (NfCE).

NfCE is made up of four hubs across Bristol and Bath: Watershed, The Guild (Coworking Bath), Knowle West Media Centre and Spike Island.

Each hub has offered residency opportunities with free space and a package of business development support. By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication to creative technology, the network has been better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the creative sector.

Network for Creative Enterprise has enabled the partners to offer tailored events, workshops and mentoring for individuals and small enterprises to support their business development from the idea stage through to start-up and on to growth.
Over the duration of the project 138 creatives have worked at the hubs and have engaged in 35 creative development workshops and other learning opportunities.

The NfCE partnership and supported programme finishes at the end of June 2019 with an Exhibition called ‘Another Way Works: an exhibition of creative business journeys. Find out more about the exhibiton and how to get involved here.

I am the Network Producer for NfCE at Watershed in Bristol and presented recently to producers of similar projects and the Department for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport as part of Arts Council England’s Creative Local Growth Fund away day. I talked about some of our achievements and learnings and thought it would be good to also share them here (although turning a talk into a blog post is a much harder task than I imagined).

NfCE is a network working in partnership between the UWE Bristol and four West of England hubs: The Guild co-working space in Bath and three Bristol hubs: Spike Island, KWMC The Factory and Watershed. NfCE is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership finishes at the end of June 2019. To explain a little about how we work: each hub has a producer and offers business support for creative individuals and micro companies to develop their creative idea into an economically sustainable enterprise, they are also offered free space for the duration of the programme.

Our support is shaped in two ways:
1) a pre-planned programme, including business mentoring sessions, law and tax clinics, business development bursaries and producer support.
2) a highly flexible and evolving strand of activity consisting of workshops, intensive courses and bespoke support which is responsive to residents’ needs.

Just like most worthwhile experiences in life, the success of this programme has people at the heart of it. As this resident at KWMC The Factory who has recently cut down her salaried days in order to build her own jewellery and exhibition business reflects:

“NfCE has been more to me than access to amazing facilities, information and funding. It has helped me connect with like-minded people and it’s really changed my working life being able to bounce ideas around and get inspired! I’m very proud to be part of a network with such talented and supportive residents and staff alike!”

Network for Creative Enterprise has all sorts of impact, but I think the two key achievements are:
1) Establishing a network of organisations who are all working towards a common talent development programme with the ability to share learning in real time.

Some of the hubs we are working with didn’t have mature residency programmes and the programme has enabled a more robust offering with good sharing and co-working practices thereby strengthening the talent support capacity in the region (which is the West of England). By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication and creative technology, we are better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the growing freelance and micro-enterprise ecology within the cultural and creative sector.

2) Creating a network of peers to support each other that will outlast the project.

We currently have 138 active residents across the hubs and over 900 people participating in wider activity. They are increasingly active in forging peer to peer relationships as our activities invite residents to the different hubs, allowing for more cohesion between the physical locations and the opportunities we each have to offer. Peer support networks are a strong focus area for our final activity on the programme.

Naturally, this complex project has a series of challenges, but I think the two main challenges are:

1) Metrics

Although, reasonably, we are asked to measure impact (in this case in the form of progress against targets) in order to justify our funding, this can be hard in our sector. Most notably, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) defines a job as nothing less than a year long, full time contract (or two part-time posts equivalent) which is difficult to reconcile with the broader economic realities in the cultural and creative sector.

34% of the creative industry workforce is made up of freelancers. A snapshot of a part of our community shows that the majority of people are working upwards of 20 hours per week on their own business and are paying themselves a base salary in most cases, but not enough to be recognised as a job by ERDF. A smaller group have PAYE staff but typically for two or three days per week on a six-month contract which, again, does not count. Moreover, during this project most residents, businesses or sole traders, are hiring or have hired temporary freelancers amounting to hundreds of days of work but zero ‘jobs’ by the official definition.

Not being able to count the economic activity of the eco-system is unrepresentative and therefore a risk for the future funding of similar projects. We no longer live in an industrialised world, where linear rapid growth metrics apply. The creative sector with its high proportion of freelancers, so called ‘life style businesses’, cross sector collaborations and disruptive innovation is a complex mixed bag that deserves the right support at the right time to flourish.

2) Budget Inflexibility

To meet ERDF requirements the budgets for this project were very precisely created at the onset with specific activity and spend allocations. As explained, we structure the majority of our programme to be responsive to the needs and demands of our resident communities and hence some of the ideas we had at the beginning have needed to change to support development of the individual residents.

The inflexibility around budget categories and procurement thresholds means that we are regularly re-inventing the wheel around types of support as well as struggling to find capacity to produce new programmes that we would like to pay for.

We have not successfully overcome these challenges, but we have mostly found a compromise. We have shaped our programme to reach the targets we need, while working hard to protect the ability to create meaningful support. Despite the constraints we are over target on a range of categories, which is great for reporting purposes. In our world many of the residents have accelerated their businesses but it remains frustrating that this is not recognised by ERDF at present.

Clearly it is incredible and important that we have been given funding to create a programme like this and both ACE and ERDF teams have been nothing but brilliant in accommodating our programme needs, and working with a mixture of funders in collaboration is progressive. However, I also think it is important to highlight when some of the mechanisms around the funding criteria themselves do not work as well as they could do – for the sake of all of us working in the creative sector.

What is the most important lesson for us?

We are trying to support a complex ecosystem with diverse economic communities and hugely varying needs. Funding needs to be more flexible and more time needs to be built in to develop formats with participants.
We are working with people who are worried about registering with HMRC for taxes on one end of the scale, and people who need to set up a board because they have expanded their business so much on the other.
There are no linear pathways and hence we need to be as flexible as possible to allow us to offer the right support at the right time. That way we can really help businesses accelerate and grow.

The strength of the cultural sector is its diversity and therefore flexibility is vital.

What next?

On 6 June 2019 we will launch an exhibition ‘Another Way Works’ showcasing the unique maps of a selection of 12 creative business journeys that have taken place with support from Network for Creative Enterprise. This will be a chance to reflect on the programme and interrogate some of the business development stories in depth.

For most of June, the exhibition space at KWMC will become a place to share key learnings and insights from the NfCE programme, in the form of visual display and through a series of live events, including workshops. There will be activity for producers on these types of programmes as well as residents who enrol on these types of programmes. We will also focus on peer networks and signpost to other business support opportunities in the West of England.

The more we actively seek to recognise and celebrate difference, the more chance we have to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, networks and a vibrant creative ecosystem that is recognised for its economic worth as well as everything else.


UWE Bristol partners on European project DURABLE which will apply drones and robots to boost the deployment of renewable energies

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UWE Bristol is the UK partner for the DURABLE project which launched earlier in April. The initial meeting of the European Project DURABLE was held on April 12 in Bidart (France), with the objective of promoting the development of renewable energies in the Atlantic Area (France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom). The Project has a budget of €3.9M and it is co-financed by the Interreg Atlantic Area Program through the European Regional Development Fund.

Durable aims to accelerate the performance of renewable energies through the validation and demonstration of aerospace technologies applied in robotics for operation and maintenance activities of wind and solar energy systems. The application of this technology will automate inspection and repair tasks, reducing costs and favoring production.

The common challenge addressed by DURABLE in the Interreg Atlantic Area framework is the need to change the current paradigm of the renewable energy sector through the transformation of the technological, institutional, industrial and social framework in the Atlantic area.

In fact, the Atlantic region is below the average of the European Union (EU) in the consumption of energy from renewable sources. Countries need to update their renewable energy production technologies to overcome these challenges.

For the first time, this project will apply disruptive aerospace, robotic, non-destructive inspection and additive manufacturing technologies to solve the current challenges in the operation and maintenance of wind and solar energy parks.

The project plans to map the available technologies and the needs in the operation and maintenance of solar and wind energy parks, to adapt them afterward. DURABLE will conclude with the realization of a model and a test of the solution in a pilot project.

The DURABLE project is formed by a consortium that brings together 10 partners from the 5 Atlantic countries divided into: 7 technological centers / universities, 2 clusters and 1 industrial partner. In addition, other 6 associated entities participate through an Advisory Board.

The project partners are as follows:

Technological centers / universities
• Ecole Supérieure des Technologies Industrielles Avancées (ESTIA) – France (líder)
• Centro Avanzado de Tecnologías Aeroespaciales (CATEC) – Spain
• Dublin City University – Ireland
• Instituto Superior Técnico – Portugal
• Lortek S. Coop – Spain
• Universidad de Sevilla – Spain
• University of the West of England, Bristol – United Kingdom

Clusters
• Clúster Vasco de Energía – Spain
• Corporación Tecnológica de Andalucía (CTA) –Spain

Industrial partners
• Alerion Technologies – Spain

Advisory Board
• Abengoa Energía – Spain
• Cluster Drones AETOS – France
• Altran – France
• Drona`tech – France
• Agencia IDEA – Spain
• Sociedad para la Transformación Competitiva (SPRI) – Spain

Facial recognition technology aims to detect emotional state in pigs

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Featured researcher: Professor Melvyn Smith

State-of-the-art facial recognition technology is being used in an attempt to detect different emotional states in pigs.

Machine vision experts at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have teamed up with animal behaviourists from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Edinburgh for the study, which it is hoped will lead to a tool that can monitor individual animals’ faces and alert farmers to any health and welfare problems.

Pigs are highly expressive and SRUC research has previously shown they can signal their intentions to other pigs using different facial expressions. There is also evidence of different expressions when they are in pain or under stress.

At SRUC’s Pig Research Centre in Midlothian, scientists are capturing 3D and 2D facial images of the breeding sow population under various, typical commercial situations that are likely to result in different emotional states. For example, sows can experience lameness and could show different facial expressions relating to pain before and after being given pain relief. Detecting positive emotional state is more novel but sows are highly food motivated and appear calm and content when satiated. They hope this mood could be reflected in sows facial expressions.

Images are then processed at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision, where various state-of-the-art machine learning techniques are being developed to automatically identify different emotions conveyed by particular facial expressions. After validating these techniques, the team will develop the technology for on-farm use with commercial partners where individual sows in large herds will be monitored continuously.

Professor Melvyn Smith from UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision, part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “Machine vision technology offers the potential to realise a low-cost, non-intrusive and practical means to biometrically identify individual animals on the farm. Our work has already demonstrated a 97% accuracy at facial recognition in pigs. Our next step will be, for the first time, to explore the potential for using machine vision to automatically recognise facial expressions that are linked with core emotion states, such as happiness or distress, in the identified pigs.”

Dr Emma Baxter from SRUC said: “Early identification of pig health issues gives farmers the potential to improve animal wellbeing by tackling any problems quickly and implementing tailored treatment for individuals. This will reduce production costs by preventing impact of health issues on performance.

“By focussing on the pig’s face, we hope to deliver a truly animal-centric welfare assessment technique, where the animal can “tell” us how it feels about its own individual experiences and environment. This allows insight into both short-term emotional reactions and long-term individual ‘moods’ of animals under our care.”

The study, which is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is also being supported by industry stakeholders JSR Genetics Ltd and Garth Pig Practice as well as precision livestock specialists Agsenze.

Featured researcher: Professor Melvyn Smith

Melvyn L. Smith is Professor of Machine Vision and Director of the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) at UWE Bristol. He is also a Chartered Engineer and an active member of the IET.  

Email: Melvyn.Smith@uwe.ac.uk Phone: +4411732 86358

Notes and links for editors:
https://bbsrc.ukri.org/research/

Relevant papers:

Hansen, M.F., Smith, M.L., Smith, L.N., Salter, M.G., Baxter, E.M., Farish, M. and Grieve, B., 2018. Towards on-farm pig face recognition using convolutional neural networks. Computers in Industry, 98, pp.145-152.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166361517304992

Camerlink, I., Coulange, E., Farish, M., Baxter, E.M. and Turner, S.P., 2018. Facial expression as a potential measure of both intent and emotion. Scientific reports, 8(1), p.17602.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-35905-3

Vice Chancellors Interdisciplinary Research Challenge Fund Selection Event

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On Monday 25 February, researchers came from across UWE Bristol to present their project ideas as part of the Vice Chancellors Interdisciplinary Research Challenge Fund. This diverse group covered a variety of areas, from the emerging markets in breast milk to reimagining dead celebrities in film, and AI training bots for healthcare professionals.

The Vice Chancellors Interdisciplinary Research Challenge Fund is an opportunity for UWE researchers to seek up to £25,000 funding to develop exciting new research projects with colleagues working in different fields from across this university.

The fund had 83 applications in January, of which 15 were invited to pitch their project for 5 minutes at the event, in the hope of being successful for the competitive Challenge Fund.

Attendees at the event were asked to help decide which projects they thought should be funded, with Research, Strategy and Implementation Group (RSIG) making the final decision.

11 of 15 projects were successful on the day. Information on the 11 successful projects can be found below.

The event was a great opportunity to gain an insight into the quality and breadth of research projects undertaken across UWE Bristol.

Thank you to all who submitted to the fund.

Successful projects:

Using Big Data in Critical Care across all Ages to Improve Clinical Outcome

Researchers: Lyvonne Tume and Elias Pimenidis
This feasibility study will use AI techniques to analyse data from patients in intensive care, focusing on sedation, nutrition and ventilation, to improve treatment.

High Performance Bio-inspired topologically optimized and efficient composite structures

Researchers: Mohammad Fotouhi and David Attwood
By investigating and recreating materials found in the natural world, including shells and Mayfly wings, this project will demonstrate qualities which could solve design problems in aerospace and automotives.

Virtual Maggie: technological opportunities and ethical dilemmas in the development of simulated performers for feature films and television

Researchers: Dominic Lees, Marcus Keppel-Palmer and Thomas Bashford-Rogers
The research team will explore technological advances in visual effects (VFX) which can bring back to life a deceased actor to cast them in a new production, researchers will consider challenges this raises creatively, technologically, ethically and legally.

Printing the Muses. Reimaging digital musical instruments through printing

Researchers: Benedict Gaster and Carinna Parramen
This project will re-imagine musical interfaces through printing tactile surfaces in collaboration with practitioners, to be shared as an open resource on the Internet of Musical Things (IoMT).

Drinking water and airborne microplastics; an unquantified health risk

Researchers: Ben Williams, Stephanie Sargeant, Lisa Mol, Tim Cox, Darren Reynolds, Enda Hayes, Gillian Clayton and Kathryn Lamb-Riddell
As one of the larger research teams that pitched for funding, this project will develop a standardised methodology for collecting and evaluating microplastics in drinking water and the air, in order to develop policy around ‘safe’ limits.

From Utility to Social Entity Exploring emotive interaction between AI training bots and health care professionals

Researchers: Rik Lander, Cristina Costa, Jun Hong, Luke Rudge and Gary Christopher
Experimenting with two versions of an AI training bot, this project aimed at healthcare professionals, will look to see how emotions triggered by user interactions with a ‘relatable’ entity enhance learning.

Human Centred Design, AI & Legal Services

Researchers: Dagmar Steffens, Jo Hare and Paul Matthews
By exploring the opportunities that LegalTech software can offer Bristol’s legal sector, this research aims to create a demonstrator to see how companies can integrate next generation services into their business models.

Nurture Commodified: Women as Workers & Women as Carers

Researchers: Sally Dowling, Michal Nahman and Susan Newman
Focusing on the trade between Bangalore and Australia, this study into commercial and non-commercial breastmilk provision aims to understand the impact on the women involved.

An investigation into the effects of cognitively demanding tasks on eye saccade patterns in the context of the early detection of neurodegenerative disease

Researchers: Wenhao Zhang, Lili Tao, Melvyn Smith, Myra Conway and Nancy Zook
With the intention of aiding early diagnosis which could prevent or reduce the impact of dementia with the help of machine vision and learning, the researchers are aiming to develop and test an eye imaging system to track eye movement patterns.

Waste = Resource Bioelectrochemical filters for clean electricity and resource recovery as fertiliser

Researchers: Iwona Gajda, Jiseon You, Tosin Obata, Robin Thorn and Neil Willey
This research project will take urine and transform it through the use of a microbial fuel cell into catholyte, a liquid which could potentially be used as an herbicide/fertiliser in hydroponics.

Immersive inquiry for architectural site analysis of acoustic ecology

Researchers: Luke Reed and Merate Barakat    
By using virtual reality to prototype a system, this project will help architects to understand the acoustic considerations of a site when in the early stages of design.  

Plants grown from seeds that orbited earth to go on show at national event

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Tomato and rocket plants grown at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) from seeds that were taken into space in a rocket and orbited the earth, are to feature as part of a research event in London in January 2018 that will bring together leading experts on radiation.

The event in Westminster from 15-17 January 2018, will display findings from a national consortium involved in the UK-wide £5.6m Radioactivity and The Environment (RATE) project. Its aim is to determine how best to safeguard human health from releases of radioactivity from nuclear power plants or nuclear waste repositories.

UWE Bristol is part of the TREE consortium, which won the THE Research Project of the year award in 2016, and will display the plants grown from the seeds as part of its exhibit.

The rocket seeds were sent up with astronauts in a Soyuz space rocket as part of a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the Royal Horticultural Society. They were kept in the International Space Station where British astronaut Tim Peake monitored them for six months. During that time, the seeds were exposed to radiation from cosmic rays that exist in space.

After they were returned to earth in June 2016, UWE Bristol PhD student Nicol Caplin from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences conducted experiments on the rocket seeds. The objective is to determine the effects of radiation on plant development and whether the seeds ‘remember’ their time orbiting earth and therefore change their growth in response to stressful conditions.

After planting the rocket seeds in early 2017, the University also acquired some tomato seeds in November 2017 that had been taken up to space by the Canadian Space Agency.

Findings from the UWE Bristol tests on both sets of seeds are expected to be revealed in spring 2018.

Professor Neil Willey, who is overseeing the project, said, “The dose of radiation the seeds were exposed to in space is eqivalent to the levels found in some parts of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. As part of our overall research on how radiation affects plants, we wanted to test the seeds in a controlled environment.”

Professor Willey, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of radiation on plants, is one of many researchers involved in the RATE project. “The building of a new generation of nuclear power stations, and the fact that the UK does not have a permanent nuclear waste repository led to this project,” said Professor Willey.

RATE involves three consortia, each examining different parts of the environment such as rocks, sediments and wildlife, which could be affected by increased radiation levels. UWE Bristol researchers are focusing their work on plant species, and have grown plants in the laboratory after applying the same levels of radiation as in Chernobyl. “The problem with a lot of data from Chernobyl is that scientists take individual plant samples and make measurements, but they have no idea what happens to them over several generations under controlled conditions. So we have applied Chernobyl levels of radiation over multiple generations of plants and followed what has happened,” said Professor Willey.

Based on their research, Professor Willey said he and colleagues believe that current reference levels of radiation stipulated by the regulator, in other words the amount of exposure there needs to be before the environmental regulator has to start investigating, do not need to be modified.

The London event for goverment, regulators and industry is organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Commuting has Multiple Impacts on Employee Wellbeing

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Blog originally posted on www.whatworkswellbeing.org. 

A study of Commuting and Wellbeing undertaken by Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Dr Ben Clark of the Centre for Transport & Society at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) shows how different modes of transport for commuting affect our wellbeing.   

Many of us spend longer commuting to work than we would like and find our journeys stressful, but how detrimental is commuting to our wellbeing?

The journey to and from work is a routine activity undertaken on about 160 days of the year by those who are full-time employed in England. The average one-way commute time is 30 minutes, hence commuting consumes about one hour per day for the average commuter. However, one in seven travellers has a commute time of one hour or more, spending at least two hours per day going to and from work.

lyon-cycle-laneThe impact of this travelling on our wellbeing has been studied before, but results have been inconclusive and we do not have a complete picture of how commuting affects different aspects of wellbeing.

Chatterjee and Clark’s study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), took advantage of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which tracks the lives of a large, representative sample of households in England. The data set allowed them to examine how changes in different aspects of wellbeing from one year to the next were related to changing commuting circumstances for more than 26,000 workers in England over a five-year period.

As set out in their summary report, they found that, all else being equal, every extra minute of commuting time reduces job satisfaction, reduces leisure time satisfaction, increases strain in people’s lives and worsens mental health.

Job satisfaction (as measured on a 7-point scale) declines with commute time (the exception being the small proportion of workers with extreme commutes of over 90 minutes each way)

The effects of commuting on employee wellbeing were found to vary depending on the mode of transport used to get to work:

  1. Those who walk or cycle to work do not report reductions in leisure time satisfaction in the same way as other commuters, even with the same duration of commute. Presumably, active commuting is seen as a beneficial use of time.
  2. Bus commuters feel the negative impacts of longer journey times more strongly than users of other modes of transport. This could relate to the complexity of longer journeys by bus.
  3. Meanwhile, longer duration commutes by rail are associated with less strain than shorter commutes by rail. The researchers believe this is explained by those on longer train journeys being more likely to get a seat and to have comfortable conditions to relax or even to work.
  4. Those who work from home are found to have higher job satisfaction and leisure time satisfaction, but working from home is clearly not possible for everyone on a daily basis.

Their findings have particularly important implications for employers.  An additional 20 minutes of commuting each day was found (on average) to have the equivalent effect on job satisfaction as a 19% reduction in income – this is a loss of £4,080 per annum for someone earning £21,600 (the median value for our sample).  They found a gender difference for this result with longer commute times having a more negative impact on women’s job satisfaction than men’s. This is likely to be related to the greater household and family responsibilities that women tend to have. They also found that employees with longer commute times are more likely to change job, and this has implications for employee retention.

The overall message for employers is that job satisfaction can be improved if workers have opportunities to reduce their time spent commuting, to work from home, and/or to walk or cycle to work – such commuting opportunities are likely to be good news for employee wellbeing and retention and hence reduce costs to businesses.

Whilst Chatterjee and Clark found that longer commute times have adverse wellbeing effects for job satisfaction, and even more markedly for leisure time satisfaction, they were not found to have a large impact on life satisfaction overall. Their analysis showed that this is because longer commute times are taken on for jobs which provide higher salaries and other benefits which serve to increase life satisfaction.

This does not mean that the negative wellbeing impacts of longer commutes can be disregarded. It is important to recognise the negative impacts on job satisfaction, leisure time satisfaction and mental health. People are only likely to continue to accept that a long commute is a price to pay if it is unavoidable and a social norm.

The Commuting & Wellbeing study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (Grant Number ES/N012429/1). The project was led by Dr Kiron Chatterjee at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and ran for eighteen months from February 2016 to July 2017. A summary report from the study is available at https://travelbehaviour.com/outputs-commuting-wellbeing/