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Tackling isolation through digital innovation

By Katie Elliott

Last week brought to a close, a 10 month project which we have been working closely with our client Nesta Challenges and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on, to launch the Tech to Connect Challenge – an England-wide competition to scale tech-based solutions to reduce social isolation.

Tech can be alienating or divisive for those that are isolated, so the challenge prize was designed to help civil society translate their knowledge into good ideas for new ways to connect people.

Although entrants to Tech to Connect submitted their ideas well in advance of the Covid-19 pandemic, never has there been a more vital time to support and fund innovative tech solutions that bring people together virtually, as our society limit their face-to-face contact to reduce the spread of the virus.

Following a five-month period of expert support, technical expertise and grant funding to accelerate the ideas of the 10 finalists, Nesta Challenges and DCMS awarded the £100,000 challenge prize to You are Not Alone (YANA), an online platform created by the community interest company Chayn.

With aims to be the world’s largest collaborative resource for survivors of sexual assault, the platform will provide a safe space for people to access details of local shelters, sexual violence units, lawyers and therapists, to build a more connected system of support for sexual assault survivors suffering from isolation.

In the UK alone, one in five women will experience sexual assault during their lifetime, rising to one in three globally. A further 646,000 men have experienced some type of sexual assault since they were 16 in England and Wales. Yet not knowing where to go, fear of being judged, and a lack of trust in institutions – especially among migrants – can all contribute to victims not coming forward, or even withdrawing from communities.

YANA minimises the risk of survivors feeling isolated by making it easier for those affected to find out what their options are and who can help. The platform includes resources to guide survivors through the process of pressing charges, as well as tracking and saving their case information and recovery, reducing the burden of having to repeat things to different authorities.

Two worthy runners-up will also each receive a £75,000 cash prize to support them as they continue to make a difference to people across England:

  • Chatty Café, a platform to encourage conversation by helping cafes across England to designate a Chatter & Natter table. From Cumbria to Kent, with more than 900 cafes already established, there is potential to significantly scale up the service through an app, and reach an even greater range of people of all languages, cultures, backgrounds and ages.
  • Mirthy, a web platform to enable older adults to stay active whilst remaining independent at home, by connecting under-utilised communal spaces in retirement housing schemes with those people looking for social clubs. Mirthy are looking to scale their service in care homes

An additional grant of £25,000 from The Pargiter Trust was awarded to Music Memory Box, a kit to support and connect people with dementia and their loved ones. It combines sensors, sentimental objects and photographs to link to songs, helping to unlock and recall memories in a simple and tactile way.