Across the nation and indeed the world, Coronavirus and COVID19 has been devastating for so many people and communities. Tragically hundreds of thousands of people have died; and to help prevent further spread of the virus and increased fatalities, many countries are currently in a state of lockdown; and in the UK the vast majority of us are currently confined to our homes. This appears to be reducing the impact of Coronavirus, but inevitably this has highlighted the significant societal challenges around isolation and loneliness, and how vulnerable groups, many of whom are older, engage with others, whilst remaining at home.
Church buildings across the UK are closed, as with the vast majority of communal gathering spaces, but many churches have quickly improved their online offer, so church services are now available on church websites and YouTube, and small groups now meet virtually, using video conferencing facilities. This is all good news for those who understand how to engage digitally, but for many, this remains a barrier.
Before the Coronavirus crisis, according to 2019 data from the Office for National Statistics, four million adults never used the internet in 2019, and of that number more than half (2.5 million) were aged 75 years and over.
So where does that leave us now? With the vast majority of us currently remaining at home, and maintaining a physical distance from those outside our household, this time is particularly difficult for many who live alone, or who are older and usually dependant on others for support.
Hope must find a way. And good things are already happening. Local and indeed national initiatives are springing up, as pockets of society seek to re-engage, or perhaps engage properly for the first time, and reclaim the word community. A new study released last week week by the Co-Operative Group reports that government measures to stay at home have led to a surge in neighbourliness, as people look out for the vulnerable and talk to those next door more than ever before.
The study found that almost a fifth of those surveyed (18%) say they have chatted online or over the phone to their neighbours in the last few weeks to see how they are or if they need any help.
And it seems we are genuinely interested in knowing more about our neighbours, as almost three quarters (72%) of UK adults can now identify which of their neighbours are vulnerable and over a quarter (26%) have checked in on their neighbours, to see if they need anything.
The study also shows that technology is playing a huge part in keeping communities in contact. In the last two weeks alone, a sixth (17%) of people have received new contact details for their neighbours, ensuring they can keep in touch during this time.
Keeping in touch with your vulnerable neighbours, older or otherwise, is vital at this time, as many people are understandably frightened, and feeling cut off can exacerbate this.
The good news is churches can still be good news. While there are still millions who are not engaged digitally, we can still phone our family member, friend or neighbour, who may be feeling frightened or more vulnerable – or just lonely. And there are many, church going or not, who may find comfort in listening to some great old hymns, or hearing a prayer or reflection. In response to this, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England, in partnership with Faith in Later Life, and the ‘Connections’ project at Holy Trinity Claygate, has launched a free telephone service called Daily Hope. This is free for anyone to call, and when they do they will have the option of listening to some comforting old hymns, or hear a prayer, or listen to some helpful reflections.
We are in the midst of a once in a generation crisis, but we are already coming together as a society, as we seek to make the best of this very difficult time. Do you know someone who could benefit from ‘Daily Hope’? If so maybe you could call them today, or speak to them in the street at a distance, and let them know of this free phone line where comfort and hope is available to all.