When we think of social isolation it’s very easy to picture older, lonely people. But in reality, isolation affects people of all ages and backgrounds. More than one in five people in the UK feel lonely at least some of the time, making social isolation a major public health issue.
When we think of social isolation it’s very easy to picture older, lonely people. But in reality, isolation affects people of all ages and backgrounds. More than one in five people in the UK feel lonely at least some of the time, making social isolation a major public health issue. The charity sector is rising to the challenge and developing innovative solutions to help tackle this complex problem but more needs to be done and businesses can and should be taking inspiration from civil society peers to do the same.
People can feel isolated for a myriad of reasons from living with long term conditions, to those facing prejudice due to belief or sexuality. This year, I’ve been leading the delivery of the Tech to Connect prize at Nesta Challenges which has been focused on supporting civil society organisations that have tech solutions to help tackle social isolation.
The ten finalists of the prize illustrate how simple tech can be used to make a meaningful difference. But there is still more to be done. Businesses have the opportunity to use their considerable resources and knowledge to create seismic change - we’ve seen brands like Patagonia and Tom’s using their core offering to make a difference to global societal problems, and the time is right for all businesses to consider what role they can play in giving back.
The ten finalist innovations:
1. Bringing people together by re-living shared memories
Dementia and other illnesses can isolate sufferers from the people closest to them. Studio Meineck is developing Music Memory Box, a digital box which harnesses the power of music to recollect memories and enable reminiscing between families.
2. Connecting those living through similar life experiences
Challenging life experiences can isolate people for several reasons like not feeling as though others understand. Marie Curie UK want to put an end to this form of isolation by creating a platform where carers can come together to share their experiences, as well as learn from experts about end of life care.
3. Identifying an individual’s needs and matching them to local activities
In recent years, public funding for libraries has been cut and Suffolk Library recognises the damaging effect this can have on communities. So, it’s creating a digital tool which will connect people to community-based support and activities designed to meet their individual emotional needs.
4. Creating friendly spaces to come together, in real life
The Chatty Café scheme is creating a digital tool to create quicker and easier access for coffee shops across the UK to sign up and create spaces for people to engage face-to-face. With over 900 cafes in the UK already established, the tech tool will give the Chatty Cafe opportunity to scale even further.
5. Connecting people remotely who may not be able to come together physically
Research shows that in later life LGBT+ people are especially vulnerable to loneliness as they are more likely to be single, live alone, and have lower levels of contact. The Proud Trust is developing an app called Connect+ which will match up young LGBT+ people to adult mentors who will offer ongoing support, wherever they are.
6. Creating more connected systems of support
Recent stats show that sexual assault prosecution rates in England and Wales have fallen to a five-year low, damaging how supported survivors feel. YANA, an app from Chayn will bring together support services and allow women to save information about their assault, empowering survivors to take control and feel more ready for interactions in society.
7. Designing virtual experiences so people don't have to leave their comfort zones
People with alternative learning styles, including autism, can often miss out on life experiences. The PALS Society is developing AI solutions that will help prepare people to access events, like football matches, virtually.
8. Fostering friendships between different generations
Two Generations is on a mission to combat loneliness and isolation for older people by providing homeshare matches with friendly younger people through its website. Bridging the intergenerational gap helps resolve social isolation, and also connects two seemingly disparate groups.
9 & 10. Helping people locate the type of human interaction they want, more easily
Perceptions that there's nothing to do locally can contribute to feelings of social isolation, especially in deprived areas. Two of our finalists want to make promoting community events easier. PlaceCal is developing an online calendar which brings community events together in one place for all people and the Mirthy platform will help connect those looking for social interactions with under-utilised spaces in retirement homes.
Loneliness can affect all sections of society, and innovations like these could have a vital role in the reduction and management of social isolation. With the correct support, funding and opportunities to scale, these organisations could help reduce social isolation and enable greater connection for everyone.