Keeping Connected

For Social Care Future (SCF) and with support from Nesta, Community Circles and In Control are responding to the big issues around communication and connection faced by movement members and others during Covid-19.

If we didn’t know it already, the lockdown has taught us that being in contact with other people and things that are important to us is vital. Many people have really struggled over this period as connection has become harder, our supports have become stretched or even disappeared. The sharp end of people not having access to tech and data or being able and comfortable to use them has also become revealed.  At the same time, during the pandemic many more of us are finding ways to keep connected with family and friends -with smart phones, lap-tops, tablets and more. Zoom is no longer the name of an ice-lolly from the 1970’s.

Circles, In Control and Social Care Future have been asking people what they need to stay connected. We have heard things are very varied from place to place but common issues are

  • Wi-Fi-connection
  • availability of kit, like tablets and smart phones
  • help for people to use kit
  • paying for data
  • creative ways of keeping in touch
  • access to content to pursue interests
  • connection without tech

Around the country many people have been responding to these challenges – councils, organisations, support providers, mutual aid, charities and others. They have been taking action like setting up schemes to connect people needing kit to those who can supply it, paying for data, developing easy to use guides to zoom etc. Of course, many people are not comfortable using modern technology and we are seeing people come up with ways to respond to this as well

It’s also clear that the pandemic is revealing truths about connections that will be important far beyond the period of the virus

With the support from Nesta we are making a contribution by sharing ideas and information about these approaches and through setting up our own small “Kit for Connection” scheme within the Social Care Future movement. Our new webpage is a place to visit to find out what we are doing and hopefully to pick up good ideas that others can use. Here people will find, constantly updated:

  • Examples of approaches and resources with summaries and links
  • Information about upcoming webinars and sharing sessions
  • An opportunity to take part in our Kit for Connection Scheme

At this stage we are sharing some examples and resources under some simple categories that we hope people will find useful in helping with they are doing or thinking about. We are asking people to share examples to help us build this up over the coming weeks. Through the autumn the series of webinars and on-line sharing sessions on practical issues will be widely available. We have been consulting people and organisations who are themselves taking initiatives forward and others keen to take action but needing solutions. People are asking, for example:

  • What are your best tips for setting up a local laptop and phone refurbishment scheme?
  • Have you set up a kit donation and exchange scheme – how does it work?
  • What issues of risk and safeguarding are coming up? How can you resolve these without getting in the way of people connecting?
  • How can get people get practical support to use tech?
  • What about the costs of broadband?
  • Lots of people we know don’t use tech, what great ideas are there for them?
  • How can my organisation learn from everyone’s experience to adapt what we do?

Circles Connected

In making its own direct response Community Circles has developed “Circles Connected

In recent times we have been developing “Circles Family” a community offer, supported by a connector, to bring local people together around shared interests. There is a monthly programme of events, shaped by members and includes activities like knit and natter, coffee clubs, meals out, cinema trips, craft sessions, book club, walking groups and many more. These are based on both interests and the skills and contributions people can offer to each other. Pioneer groups are running in Abingdon (Oxfordshire) and Ashton (Wigan). When the pandemic hit of course face to face activities had to be put on hold. This is when the idea of Circles Connected was born as a way to virtually replace face to face activity via a Facebook group. We quickly realised that this approach offered the opportunity to make an offer beyond the two geographical communities. We are building membership fast (about 500 so far and growing quickly). It’s clear that people don’t simply want and need tablets or phones to connect to family and friends but to find a way to continue and develop interests and activities and meet new people. The group is built from member interests and runs seven days a week.

Working with partners

A wide range of partnerships allow us to connect people, groups and organisations to the ideas, opportunities and kit linked to this Nesta supported initiatives. For example:

  • In Suffolk, we are working with the County Council and many community partners focussed on reducing isolation and maximise connection – including libraries, museums, care home providers, carers group, and hospice. We are supporting the development of projects that bring together a wide range of content with technical and communication solutions to maintain and build people’s connections
  • In Wigan, we are building on long standing relationships with care homes, extra care settings and community groups helping them to support each other and providing both kit and content for connection
  • Across the In-Control Partners Community and wide Social Care Future membership we are planning a combination of information sharing and problem solving virtual sessions and setting up a kit donation and exchange scheme

Looking to the future

Amongst the terrible devastation this pandemic is causing, disabled and older people and their allies are learning what needs to be left behind, what needs to be kept and what needs to be built. We are conducting a series of interviews with people to extract the key learning about communication, connection and beyond. We will feed our learning from this into the Social Care Future Appreciative Enquiry that will be led by a panel of people with lived experience of a wide range of social and health care. In this way, what we are learning about communication and connection via this initiative can influence far beyond it.