How to find local support using the internet during COVID-19

Communities and charities are coming together in a time of coronavirus (COVID-19). The internet brought together the global community, and in this time of crisis can help older, disabled and vulnerable people access the physical, practical and emotional support they need during this time of crisis.

As part of AbilityNet's response to COVID-19, we've launched a series of weekly webinars under the umbrella of AbilityNet Live! designed to help people at home, and those are working from home.

In our recent webinar, we heard from leading charities including Age UK, the British Red Cross, RNIB and Stroke Association as well as COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK to find out how they're providing local support. Here are five things we learned.

1. Local support during COVID-19

Image shows two hands together. Fingertips touching o make the sign of a heartAccess to local support is just a couple of clicks away. We heard from COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK.

The website grew out of a local support group in Lewisham and now acts as a central listing as to where your nearest COVID-19 support group is; simply enter a postcode or your town or street name into the search box and it will reveal the local groups.

You can contact these via email or in some cases, WhatsApp or connect directly via COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK. 

Help varies according to the local group; some will collect medicines while others will deliver food in rural areas where there are few shops. 

The Stroke Association's local support groups are also embracing technology to continue providing support. For more information, visit the Stroke Association's website, or email clubtogether@stroke.org.uk.

Similarly, Age UK is providing co-ordinated support at a local, and a national level, as is the British Red Cross

2. Tackling social isolation

Helping isn't just about practical acts. The charities are also embracing the need for community, and to look after people's mental health during this time. We heard about a variety of befriending services. 

These are existing services, but social contact has never been more critical than in this time of physical distancing

A number of the charities have befriending and helpline services for those who may feel lonely during this time. Age UK has joined up with The Silver Line, which is available to call anytime on 0800 4 70 80 90.  Age UK's Call in Time is a befriending service which will match you to someone who will call for a half-hour chat. 

Stroke survivors can match to someone who knows a lot about stroke through its befriending service, and you can connect to online forums via My Stroke Guide.

You can also find local support groups using Facebook.

  • With help signing up to Facebook or any other technical support we continue to operate our free helpline on 0800 269 545 or contact us about remote support

3. Apps to help those with visual impairments and sight loss

The RNIB actively embraces technology that can help bring greater independence to people with visual impairments, or sight loss. It has teamed up with former AbilityNet Tech4Good Award winner Be My Eyes, making it the first sight loss charity in the UK to partner with the global app.

The app has millions of sighted volunteers. Those with sight loss can use their camera to get help, which could be as simple as asking whether what's in front of them is a tin of beans or a tin of spaghetti hoops.

You can find out me in the founder's Ted Talk.

It isn't the only app of its kind, and RNIB has been reviewing others on its website, including neighbourhood app Next Door.

RNIB is also offering a free subscription to RNIB Newsagent so you can download newspapers and magazines to keep up with the latest news or to read about your favourite hobby.

4. Staying safe

While accessing help, it's important you keep yourself safe. COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK will not keep any of your details after your request is fulfilled. 

It's also important you don't let volunteers into your home. It's a health risk during this time of COVID-19.

Technology also comes with some risks and Age UK is offering information about watching out for scams on its website.

You can also sign up for our future webinar Staying Safe online when we'll be joined by a security expert with over 30 years of experience staying one step ahead of the scammers. 

5. Mental and physical wellbeing

A screen shot from the Sport England website. Text reads Join the MovementAll the charities we shared the webinar with are keen to spread kindness during this unprecedented time. The British Red Cross has a kindness manifesto and has been delivering colouring books as a part of its wellbeing packages in the community.

Age UK groups have been coming together and having virtual coffee mornings, and running virtual book clubs so there's still plenty of activity even if the groups can't physically meet up. 

People are also sending letters, and writing stories. 

Physical health is just as important and Sport England has workouts you can do at home.

Other useful links from the webinar

Help AbilityNet as we support disabled and older people use technology to tackle isolation

How AbilityNet can help 

AbilityNet has a range of products and services that can help you make tech more accessible including consultancy, design reviews, auditing and user testing. 

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange some remote support. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

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