Article by Canal & River Trust volunteer, Sian Steel.

Now more than ever social isolation and loneliness are issues that many of us are facing. With countries being shifted in and out of lockdown, there are people who have not seen their families at all in the past year. However, even without the added implications of a global pandemic, loneliness is at an all time high in the UK.

This topic is often considered taboo and difficult to address, despite the fact we’ve most likely all experienced loneliness in some form during our lives. Therefore, what is the best way to engage with the people that require social support services the most, without making them feel even more isolated.

The Canal and River Trust is uniquely positioned to provide social services to those communities which most need them, as waterways weave across the land. Through the I2I (Isolation to Inclusion) project I2I, Interreg VB North Sea Region Programme, a network of organisations is collaborating to provide solutions to social isolation. By finding new, innovative ways to deliver social services, support and social inclusion can be provided to those who need it most.

I2I gives access to activities and initiatives which elevate the voices of underrepresented communities, provides mental health and wellbeing support as well as social activities like walking groups and volunteering. Volunteering opportunities in particular, not only provide connections to other people but can benefit mental health and, depending on the activity, physical health as well. Volunteering also gives a sense of purpose by giving back to the local community and contributing to a shared cause. Several of the organisations involved in the I2I project are themselves volunteer led.

Despite the national and global isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it does seem to have raised community spirits. People banded together to form voluntary groups which provided goods and services to those shielding or isolating. Notes are passed through doors offering assistance with shopping or dog-walking, and streets emerging to stand on their doorsteps to clap for the NHS.

One thing in particular that I’ve been grateful for throughout this time, whether you love or hate Zoom calls, is technology. Being able to see and speak with family and friends that I can’t be with right now, is somehow so much better when I can see their faces on a video call. Technology has been so vital over this past year, not just for connecting us socially, but for businesses too. It is likely to play an important role in providing innovative solutions to keeping us connected in the future.

Read here about an initiative carried out by I2I partner, Diakonisches Werk Bremen Digital excursions against loneliness, Interreg VB North Sea Region Programme