I’m Helping The Lonely Reconnect During The Pandemic. Here’s How

In these times, it’s incredibly rewarding to know I might have brightened someone’s day and given them a little more hope.

Even if you have good connections with friends and family, like I do, it’s been a strange and lonely time. I’m a 21-year-old student at the University of Kent in Canterbury, just starting my third year – and let’s just say it’s a very different experience to the first two.

I’m lucky. A lot of clubs and societies I’m involved with have gone online, so I was still able to see my friends and coursemates, and I remain in regular contact with my family across the country in Devon. I’m not going to pretend it’s exactly the same – try being part of the kayaking society online – but simple things like instant messenger and Zoom have helped keep us together even while we’ve been apart. I know it could have been quite lonely otherwise.

For a while before coronavirus, I also volunteered with British Red Cross, supporting people with first aid and in emergency response situations. But in this unprecedented crisis, lately I’ve been helping to equip people with the skills they need to stay in touch with people just as I’ve been able to and helping others who may not have learned about the internet, which has always been a part of our day-to-day lives.

In England, we are helping people who feel isolated and don’t have access to things like a phone or email but are feeling lonely and cut off from others because of the coronavirus crisis. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about mobile phones or the online world – we help people find new ways of staying in touch with loved ones using social media platforms, emails and texts. So they can stay connected, during these challenging times.

“Sometimes we’re the only person they’ve spoken to that day.”

If people don’t have a smartphone or access to the internet, we can also help them with that and once they’re up and running, a digital volunteer gets in touch, helps them set up the phone and talks through the basics. We speak to people and ask them what they would like help with to ensure they are set up for what they need. This can include saving contacts and downloading apps.

We’re also there to consider whether or not people might benefit from some extra support through other Red Cross services that offer regular one-to-one support, helping people get involved with groups, clubs and activities in their area. The majority of people we are helping now have people they want to keep in touch with but they just don’t have the confidence to use the internet or the tech.

It can be older people who are not digitally literate yet or it could be people who have come to the UK as refugees or seeking asylum and don’t speak English as a first language. Fortunately, some volunteers are multilingual and interpret those calls.

Everyone we’ve spoken to has been really engaged. We’ve had a few characters on the phone and they do like to chat while they learn – and it’s easy to see why when you remember that sometimes we’re the only person they’ve spoken to that day. It can take from 10 minutes to an hour and it’s often a great conversation which the young volunteer and the person we’re supporting both benefit from.

“If you do want to reach out, we’d love to hear from you and support you to reconnect with those who matter most.”

They’re learning something new that will make a real difference to their lives and we’re learning about them – their vulnerabilities, concerns and needs. It seems so easy and natural to get online and connect with others but for some it’s a challenge and it’s incredibly rewarding knowing that you’ve done something that might just have brightened someone’s day and given them a little more hope.

We’re there to support people and to reassure them that there’s nothing daunting about learning new skills. We’re personal and our support is based on what each person wants and needs. We’re not trying to bamboozle people with a hundred different apps and websites. It’s about starting with the very basics and letting people decide if they want to take it further from there. One person might be desperate to get on Zoom, another to understand how to send an email. They tell us what they want to achieve and we help them learn how to achieve it.

You can get in touch yourself or on behalf of someone you think would benefit by calling our support line on 0808 1963651. If you’re already confident and able to go online but are feeling a little lonely and in need of a boost yourself, we also have loads of free digital resources for adults and young people wherever you are in the UK – including podcasts, wellbeing advice and classrooms where you can book to join group support sessions.

It’s hard at the moment for all of us but, if you do want to reach out, we’re here to help and we’d love to hear from you and support you to reconnect with those who matter most.

Connor Gilronan is a student and British Red Cross volunteer

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