Social isolation has become a major issue with the outbreak of Coronavirus, people that usually have an active social or work life are stuck at home with very little social contact.
Socially isolated people are cut off from normal social networks. This can be triggered by factors such as a lack of mobility, unemployment, and both physical and mental health issues. This means people that suffer from social isolation can spend long periods of time at home and have no access to services or communities. They also have little or no communication with friends, family, and acquaintances.
Other contributing factors can include disabilities, lack of suitable transport solutions, domestic violence and financial problems. Some people may be physically capable of leaving their house but are limited by mental health issues, caring for a loved one or bereavement.
The elderly have a unique set of isolating circumstances, retirement can mean the end of daily contact with work colleagues, the death of close friends or spouses and absent or uninvolved relatives or children.
Any of these can lead to social isolation and loneliness, preventing people from forming and maintaining social networks.
How can digital skills help social isolation?
Digital communication cannot replace the face to face interactions that people want and are used to, but it can help improve someone’s social connectedness. Being online allows people to connect with their current friends, reconnect with old ones and hop[efully find new friends with similar interests. Getting online used to be expensive, but as technology changes and moves forward it becomes cheaper. As well as free access to the internet in libraries there is free wifi in cafes, restaurants and community centres around the county. A brand new smartphone can cost as little as £35 and this can open a whole new world of communication opportunities for new users.
The problem faced by many people is not having the digital skills needed to use these devices. A well-meaning friend or relative may give someone a phone, tablet or laptop, but not take the time to show them how to use it.
This where a volunteer Digital Champion can make a real difference to someone’s life. They tailor the training a person needs around what that person wants to be able to do. The pace is set by the client, not by a tutor as you would find in a classroom environment. Instead of trying to learn a whole lot of things they may never need or use they are taught how to do the things they want, from using Skype to chat to others, email so they can write to friends or relatives or use Facebook to reconnect with old friends, the focus is always on the customers needs.
Usually we offer face to face sessions, but this isn’t safe at the moment, which is why we are running online help sessions on a Tuesday morning. Whilst this was primarily set up to provide help with technology we realise that many people who attend our sessions do so for social interaction as well as tech help. For a few people our sessions were the only interaction they have, so not being able to run these has a major impact.
Digital Champions are not the answer for all people with social isolation, as they can often be difficult to reach and engage with, but they are a step in the right direction.