Helen Hamlyn graduated as a fashion designer from the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s, and worked as head designer for Cresta Silks and Debenhams. Since the mid-1980s she has promoted a better environment and better-designed products for older people through her charitable work.
A major focus has been the design of homes for older people and the household equipment available to them. This led to the New Design For Old exhibition at the V&A Boilerhouse in 1986; the founding of the DesignAge programme at the Royal College of Art in 1991; work with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the Lifetime Homes campaign; and the establishment of the New Design for Old category in the RSA Student Design Awards.
Helen Hamlyn has also looked at the fragmented health and social care systems on which many older people are dependent, and helped develop the Elderly People's Integrated Care System (EPICS), and establish working models for enhanced care and support for older people in their communities.
Today, the Helen Hamlyn Trust, which has endowed the RCA Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, supports innovative projects that will effect lasting change and improve quality of life. Its projects are wide-ranging - from medical, arts and culture, education and welfare to healthy ageing and international humanitarian affairs.