Smartline researchers are developing a guide to using online devices to reduce feelings of isolation during COVID-19 lockdown.
Led by the University of Exeter, the Smartline project researches the relationship between technology and the way people live in their homes and communities. Launched in 2017, the study gathers hard data and insights from residents living in social housing in Cornwall whose demographic is proportionately older, in the South West of England, via sensors in their homes.
Now, with a funding extension of more than £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund, Smartline is developing a guide to equip elderly, isolated participants who rarely use technology with vital online device and software skills to tackle isolation during the UK coronavirus lockdown.
Working with Volunteer Cornwall, a partner in the Smartline Project, the guide will offer bespoke advice and practical tips to help participants learn the basics of communication technology, such as Skype and Whatsapp, to promote social interaction. Participants interested in connecting with people will be signposted to Volunteer Cornwall COVID-19 Befriending Scheme, which matches participants and volunteers for weekly social calls.
Professor Karyn Morrissey, leading the extension, said “We’ve developed a strong network through the past three years of Smartline and we can now use this network to reach out and engage with those who are most isolated during the lockdown. We find that our 290 participants involved in the research are older and tend to not have much experience with technology. We’re offering a practical guide along with the Befriending Scheme to directly combat social isolation across rural Cornwall.
“We’re so keen to give back to our participants and help them improve their wellbeing and social interaction during the UK lockdown. It’s a fantastic opportunity to use our network to positively improve wellbeing in isolated communities and we hope to share this with partners across the UK and Europe to help during the coronavirus crisis.”
Heidi Channell, Projects Manager at Volunteer Cornwall said: “Volunteer Cornwall has led a massive initiative to support people during lockdown. So far we have provided support to over 2500 people. Keeping people connected in any way possible is vital at the moment and this Smartline digital initiative will play a vital role in facilitating this.”
The Smartline project has already achieved great success in the past three years collating a unique, wide range of data on individual health, home quality life, social interactions and community engagement through the partnership with Coastline Housing. The findings have been shared with European partners and the research has led to practical changes in the local community.
One example of the new social changes is the successful photography classes that taught participants new skills and hosted their work in an exhibition in June 2019. This intervention successfully boosted community involvement and wellbeing, sharing the skills students learnt as well as sharing insights into each individual’s life through their pictures, overcoming social isolation.
Smartline is based at the University of Exeter and partnered with Coastline Housing, Volunteer Cornwall, Cornwall Council and South West Academic Health Science Network.