Ace Supplies Supports Research with the Families of Preterm Babies


In a fast and furious prototyping workshop, Northumbria University students and staff, worked with NHS clinicians and parents to create prototype baby carriers – which incorporated a portable supply of oxygen and Ace Supplies were there in support.

What?: In this one-day workshop, staff, students, parents and specialist physios worked together to create mock-ups and prototypes for a wearable baby-carrying sling, which accommodates an oxygen supply for the baby.

The workshop was one of a number of events which were part of Northumbria Design School’s ‘Responsible Design Week’. Events through the week enabled members of the school to come together with external and internal specialists to explore their own understanding of responsible design – i.e. the ways design can shape a better future in light of current societal and ecological challenges. This workshop focussed on the experiences of families who have a premature baby, part of a larger piece of work on this topic sponsored by charity the Tiny Lives Trust. The workshop was supported by clinical specialists from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Three academics jointly led the workshop, Kat Brotheridge, Matthew Lievesley, and Danny Harrison.

Matthew Lievesley said:

“This workshop explored a real-world problem, identified by parents and clinicians alike. It required a cross-disciplinary design approach, including an understanding of fit, aesthetics, comfort for both baby and parent and fabric construction, with the added challenge of safely and ergonomically carrying a 2-3kg oxygen bottle and supply line.

To design responsibly in sensitive contexts like healthcare, means building up our understanding of the people we are designing with and for. By being guided throughout the day by our parental and clinical experts our students discover for themselves the value of designing with others – or ‘co-designing’.”

How?: The teams were briefed by Claire Marcroft and Clare MacLennan, both Neonatal Physiotherapists, from the Newcastle Hospitals’ Neonatal Service: the service which looks after families with ‘preterm’ (premature) babies. They were then briefed by Kayleigh Nicholson, a parent with lived experience of caring for a baby who used a supplementary oxygen supply. Kayleigh and our clinicians then worked directly with the design teams all day.

The students and staff brought expertise covering many different design disciplines including fashion, industrial and interaction design. With access to parent-stories, prior research, existing slings, weighted baby-manikins, fabrics, fixings and buckles and portable-sized oxygen cylinders and tubing, they had everything they needed to re-imagine, re-configure and make their prototype slings.

Why?: In the UK about 1-in-13 babies are born prematurely each year. That’s around 58,000 families adjusting to a different start to family-life than they’d anticipated: hospital-based, disrupted and complicated. But by getting the love and care they need, in time they are able to go home together.

Some babies go home whilst still using an oxygen supply, as their lungs are still improving. For these families (particularly the mums), creating better ways to carry their baby close – with inbuilt oxygen, means they needn’t feel trapped at home at an emotionally testing time. We know that close-contact and the mobility a sling provides, positively affect the wellbeing of both parent and child.

Three prototypes were developed through the day, each incorporating a range of novel features ranging from how to position the oxygen bottle differently for better weight distribution when standing versus sitting through to neatly containing and managing a curly oxygen supply line.

Acknowledgements: The workshop was made possible by the generous support of the following people and organisations: Volunteer parent Kayleigh Nicholson – who spent the day working with the design teams with skill and enthusiasm, along with specialists from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. By Tiny Lives Trust, who have supported the wider work with the Design School, to creatively explore how best to support parents of preterm babies. Ace Supplies Ltd, who provided a range of buckles and fastenings for the design teams and Vivisol Home Care Services who provided Oxygen Supply bottles for prototyping.

Contacts: Matthew Lievesley

Workshop Date: Thursday 18th April 2024

Further details on Northumbria University’s Responsible Design Week can be found here: