Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

microsite page text

Idea Exchange: We’re the first council to use a robot in social care

  • 1 Comment

Whilst many trials and academic studies have taken place into how robots can help services, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is leading the way as it is the first local authority to buy and use ‘Pepper’ under an academic license. 


  • Project: Southend-on-Sea Robotics
  • Timescale: 2017 onwards
  • Cost to authority: £17,000
  • Number of staff working on project: Director of adult services and housing, two group managers, equipment services manager and existing social care staff
  • Outcomes: To introduce and explore how robotics and technology can help us transform our social care services
  • Officer contact details:

This is a licence usually used by schools, universities and colleges, which requires that we include an element of research and analysis in our use of the robot. This enables us to use Pepper, and measure his impact, at an affordable cost.

This enables us to use Pepper, and measure his impact, at a more affordable cost compared to the commercial license.

sharon houlden web

sharon houlden web

Sharon Houlden

Pepper is a small robot with the ability to communicate as well as perceive emotions. Pepper is kind, endearing and the first robot with the ability to recognise principal human emotions. He can also adapt his own behaviour and make independent decisions. Pepper is able to play videos, music, and sensory games that will be used to help dementia sufferers and children with complex disabilities in Southend-on-Sea.

We first revealed our ‘new recruit’ to excited staff at a Practitioner event held for social work and allied professionals as part of a visit to Southend-on-Sea by Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department for Health. Pepper also performed a star turn at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth last week where he made a presentation to social work professionals.

So what will Pepper be doing exactly? We are clear that he will not be used to carry out any direct or personal one-to-one care, but he will be used in a range of settings, including in residential care homes, our sheltered housing schemes and as an information and advice point in relevant buildings.

pepper robot launch web

pepper robot launch web

Pepper will also be a champion for the advances that digital and robotic technology and programming can make in a social care setting and he will visit local schools to inspire children to consider a career in the social care, robotic and programming sector.

We also want to use him in some of our inter-generational projects; for example in one group, where older people teach younger people how to knit, he could display knitting techniques and video tutorials. He can also play videos and we plan to develop a reminiscence session that Pepper could run. We expect that whilst Pepper will not replace any services we commission, he will free up time for our social workers and carers to spend more time giving direct care and the personal touch.

We are also honest about the fact that we are stepping into the unknown. No-one has done this before in a council so this is also about exploration, pushing the boundaries and learning about how robotics could help us tackle some of the challenges the social care sector faces.

We are convinced digital technology and robotics is where the future lies for social care. We are very keen to explore this topic further with other innovative councils and technology/robotic partners.

It is going to be a very exciting journey and one we want to share; you can follow our progress on Twitter @PepperSouthend. You can also email him at:

Sharon Houlden, director of adult services and housing, Southend-on-Sea BC



  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • "We are convinced digital technology and robotics is where the future lies for social care"

    A marketing mans dream authority !

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.