The government has made £5m in funding available to support charities be innovative in combating social isolation.
Charities are increasingly turning to digital technology to reduce loneliness among vulnerable and hard to reach communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help them pivot services online as they seek to reduce isolation, charities are being invited to apply for £5m in government funding.
The Loneliness COVID-19 Fund application form and guidance was published on May 13. Charities have until 12pm Friday May 29 to apply.
Grants of between £500,000 and £1m are to be made available and umbrella organisations are also being urged to apply so that they can distribute funding to local, small charities.
The funding is for services that are able to reach people in ‘cold spots’ where charities are not currently able to fully socially connect communities. It can be used to continue, adapt or expand existing provision as well, to ensure services are reaching groups at greatest risk of loneliness as a result of the outbreak.
The guidance for the fund states that the money could be for services “adapting to allow digital delivery”. It adds that “equipping older people to use digital services” is another benefit of the fund. Expanding helpline support and volunteer capacity are also cited.
The funding is part of the government’s #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign to tackle social isolation.
“Coronavirus and social distancing has forced all of us to look loneliness in the eye,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
“So recognising the signs and tackling the stigma has never been more important.”
The campaign includes setting up a network of charities and business and making online resources available to further help charities looking to reduce loneliness.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Office for Civil Society has also set up an online Loneliness page to bring together government information and announcements around loneliness.
This includes details of how other funding around tackling loneliness is to be spent, such as the GovTech Catalyst Fund. This is to award funding to projects that can develop technology to reduce social exclusion among young people and the elderly.
Charities are already being increasingly innovative in using digital to connect communities and vulnerable people amid COVID-19.
Among them is charitable initiative Connect the Love, which aims to digitally connect those suffering from social isolation. Supporters are urged to donate old or unwanted smart devices, such as iPads, which are then distributed to those in need, such as the elderly in care homes and hospitals, to stay connected with friends and family.
Among those supported is Gwenie, a 90-year old care home resident from Cumbria.
“I speak to my husband Bill and our sons Colin and Adam on the iPad every day at 11:15,” she said.
“We talk about what we are doing and just have a general chat which is such a comfort. I hadn’t used an iPad before coming to the home, but it’s a great way to stay in touch with family, who can’t visit at the moment. It has been a real joy to be able to speak to them and to feel connected again.”
Last month The MS Society launched new online and telephone support services to tackle loneliness among people with multiple Sclerosis who are self-isolating, such as a
‘Time to Chat’ online service to set up virtual meetings for people with MS.
Social media and video conference tools
Meanwhile, Zoom has been used by young people and creative experts to help design the next stage of the Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign for later this year. The campaign launched in 2019 and encourages people to wear yellow socks for the day to show that they care about youth loneliness. The Zoom meetings took place last month and had two aims: to help young campaigners to feel less lonely and generate new campaigning ideas.
Young people are particularly at risk of loneliness as their chances to socialise at school and through in person youth groups are made difficult during lockdown.
Support for youth work charities on improving their digital support has been made available by UK Youth and the National Youth Agency. This includes how to pivot youth centre drop in sessions online, using a broad range of social media and instant messaging tools.
Among other vulnerable groups at risk of social isolation during the pandemic are survivors of sexual assault. In March online support service You Are Not Alone won the Nesta Challenges run Tech to Connect prize for schemes that reduce social isolation. The resource has been created by community interest company Chayn to signpost details of local support and help survivors stay connected.
Even with the easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures this month, opportunities for face-to-face support to combat loneliness are still difficult. This means charities’ ramping up of digital support continues to be vital to combat social isolation among vulnerable groups.