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The Life Café: The Marie Curie Design to Care Programme

The Design to Care research enquiry led to the development of the Life Café, a product comprising of curated creative activities which enables individuals to engage in conversation about end of life. For more information visit

Funded by Marie Curie
Partnered with University of Cambridge

Team: Helen Fisher, Claire Craig, Paul Chamberlain

Life Cafe
Life Cafe

This programme of Marie Curie funded research responded to a national imperative to develop more equitable services to support a growing number of individuals dying from multiple, complex conditions. Rather than focusing on hospital provision, Lab4Living took the novel approach to concentrate on the needs of the community adopting a public health approach, aligned to the compassionate community’s movement. 

The enquiry culminated in a research-informed product, named the Life Café which enables community living individuals to talk about their experiences, hopes and wishes in the context of care, particularly end of life care.

This research has been disseminated through peer reviewed articles, national and international conferences and has featured in national press. It is used in universities in the UK as a teaching tool for health care students. Marie Curie adopted the product to support a national programme of work to promote wellbeing by engendering conversations about end of life. 

“This has made an incredible difference to me today to share these things and listen to you all.”

Life Café Participant

“Good care is ‘talking, listening, communicating, trusting, consistency, choice and time.”

Life Café Participant 


Taking the method of ‘exhibition in a box’, a form of object elicitation developed by Chamberlain and Craig (2013) as the starting point, this study curated a series of creative activities, to scaffold thinking and to prompt conversation. The Life Café is a kit containing a variety of critical artefacts, activities and resources, co-developed with community members, that have been used to gather stories, experiences and ideas to support the design phase of the project. 

Our iterative methodology of using resources and artefacts, analysing data, generating themes, then modifying the resources has been a form of behind-the-scenes co-design. Participants have shaped the contents of the Life Cafe and enabled others to talk about sensitive topics more easily, without really realizing. This iterative co-design process has occurred through every element, activity and resource included in the Life Café Kit, even the graphic design and the packaging design.

11 Life Cafés facilitated 141 participants 

In the first phase of the Design to Care Programme, 11 Life Cafés have been facilitated with a total of 141 participants (from groups including chaplains, faith groups, coffee morning socials and mixed community groups), using convenience sampling. 

The Life Café Kit

Life Cafés were continued to develop a kit for independent facilitation. The Life Café has since been independently facilitated within community groups, care homes and hospices. The feedback from this has been consolidated and incorporated into the final version of the Kit. We have increasing interest in the Life Café Kit, not only for community groups but for use in schools, carer groups, staff training etc. to open the conversation up and bring awareness to organisations.

Since 2018, over Life Cafés have been held in communities, care homes, hospitals and hospices.


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