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It’s ok to feel lonely, particularly at a time like this. Don’t suffer in silence, we can all help each other stay connected.

British Red Cross Digital Volunteers: Innovative support for lonely people

British Red Cross digital volunteer Annie Clarke tells how she has been supporting people to get online and stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic. 

When we’re cut off and feeling lonely, a chat with someone else on the telephone can give us a massive boost but, at a time when we’re all restricted in where we can go, what we can do and who we can meet, it can mean everything.

I’m 22 years old so I’ve had a lifetime of digital technology – I was eight when the first iPhone came out – and almost all of my networks are available to me through things like instant messenger, social media and email.

That’s not the case for a lot of people and it’s why I signed up as a British Red Cross digital volunteer, showing people how to use their smartphone to get online and teaching them the skills to make the most of it to stay in touch with the people who matter to them most.

It’s not the only reason.  I’m a student in Hertfordshire and coronavirus has prevented me from doing many of the things I would usually be doing, so I got in touch with the Red Cross because I wanted to do something worthwhile – and something that meant I was connecting with people who needed support at a tough time too.

I’ve been a British Red Cross volunteer before but this has been different.

Innovative support

There are around 90 of us aged between 16 and 25 and we’ve been showing people – some who have never used a mobile phone before – how to set things up from scratch, get on email or video chat platforms like Zoom, and find new ways of staying in touch with others they might normally be used to seeing in person.

This has been possible thanks to funding from the DCMS and it’s a really innovative way of doing things.

Volunteers like me are trying to show people – including older people, people who have come to the UK as refugees or to seek asylum, and others who simply haven’t been able to afford a smartphone up to now – how easy and undaunting it is to get online.

Building confidence

Everyone picks things up in their own time – and we’re really friendly and encouraging – but almost all of the people we’ve helped have found the guidance to be really helpful.

Some did have smartphones already but just didn’t have the confidence to get the most out of them, so they were really missing out.  One woman was delighted when she realised she would finally be able to see a new grandson she hadn’t met yet thanks to a video call.

Anyone can help others in this way.  If you know someone who could use a little help – or you would like help yourself – call the British Red Cross coronavirus support line on 0808 196 3651.

We also have brilliant resources that can help us all tackle loneliness, including tools for young people and adults, podcasts where people share their experiences of loneliness and digital classrooms where anyone can register for group skills sessions and support.

Please take a look and see if these resources can help you to help others – and yourself.

Thanks to my volunteering, I’ve been able to support people four times my age to make the most of technology that they feared was beyond them and that just shows that all of us, however young or old, can play a part in keeping people connected while we’re apart.

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