A knowledge exchange initiative between UCL researchers and community organisations
The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought great havoc on society, but from early reports that were published during the first months of lockdown in the UK that started in March 2020, it became clear that not everybody was being affected in the same way.
Responding rapidly to the pandemic, UCL Grand Challenges launched a special initiative ‘Recovery from Covid-19’, with the aim to mobilise UCL’s distinctive capacity to tackle societally complex problems through the cross-disciplinary sharing of ideas and development of pathways to solutions. In this spirit, a knowledge exchange initiative was created between UCL researchers associated with the new CelebrAGE network, Age UK London and charities, community groups and organisations within their network that support older Londoners.
An online focus group was held on the 2nd of October 2020 with the aim to come to a nuanced understanding of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on older Londoners, the support they need going forward and how ongoing and future UCL research could accelerate the societal recovery. In addition to the online focus group, an open call was promoted by Age UK London among older Londoners to share their personal experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic with a self-recorded video on their smartphone.
The researchers had underestimated how much of technical challenge this was for many older Londoners, but the 3 video submissions that were received between September and October 2020 nonetheless gave a rich insight into the various ways the Covid-19 pandemic was impacting on older Londoners’ lives, how they were coping and what kind of support they need going forward. The highlights of the focus group have been summarised below.
Highlights of the focus group – October 2020
- Local support networks played a big role in mitigating the social, economic and health impacts of Covid-19 on older Londoners, by setting up food and medicine delivery services, telephone helplines and befriending services. Online wellbeing activities were implemented as well.
- Many of the most vulnerable older Londoners continued to be digitally excluded during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the online focus group, representatives estimated that between 67% and 75% of the older Londoners that they were supporting were not online, which compounded social isolation and made it more difficult to obtain food, medicines, mental and physical health services as well public health information on Covid-19. Another point of discussion during the focus group was that digital technology and services are often poorly designed for older users.
- During the lockdown phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, community organisations communicated with older Londoners in their networks mostly through telephone services.
- The resilience of older Londoners during the Covid-19 pandemic has been positively affected by human connections and negatively affected by a decrease in mobility, according to community organisations.
- A national strategy is called for by local community organisations, to provide the infrastructure and funding needed to keep delivering vital support services to older Londoners during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Creating effective and multimodal information exchange channels with healthcare and community partners, as well as end-users, should be a key focus for UCL researchers and innovators working in the field of healthy ageing during the recovery phase of Covid-19.
- This project shows how knowledge exchange activities between UCL researchers and local communities that support older Londoners can bring into focus the most acute problems and needs of this population during the Covid-19 pandemic and going forward.