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Making the most of Social Distancing and Social Isolation

Making the most of Social Distancing and Social Isolation can seem like hard work. We know we have some tough times ahead but we need to look for the silver linings in the clouds and make the best of a bad lot.

Making sure we are aware of what these words mean is important, and actually they refer to physical distancing and isolation.

50 years ago, being physically distant automatically meant someone was socially distant too. A lucky few would have access to a phone and could dial a friend and have a one to one chat, probably sitting by a telephone table in their hallway. That you are reading this online is a testament to how far things have come. Physical isolation does not mean social isolation and may even offer opportunities to reconnect with old friends electronically who we have lost touch with.

What we know about COVID-19 is that it is highly infectious and that it tends to have relatively mild effects in people below the age of 50 who have no existing medical complications, but as the age and medical history increase so does the death rate.

Though nobody can truly be said not to be at any risk, we must all take sensible precautions to try and give the more vulnerable among us the best chance of not being struck down.

This is where ‘social distancing’ and ‘social isolation’ come into play.

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What is Social Isolation

Social Isolation is trying to stop all but the most essential contact. You might have heard of it as Quarantine. At the moment this is self-imposed by households where someone has symptoms or where they have recently returned from a notified area. Those in isolation should not venture outside unless they have to. They should try and have any shopping delivered to their doorstep. There are health benefits to going outside and health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said ‘People should go outside. Yes, walk your pets, but, if you’re in household isolation, do go outside but try to avoid other people.’

‘Lockdown’ is a more aggressive version of Social Isolation where it is enforced by the police or army. We are not there yet (19 March 2020), and hopefully this can be avoided.

What is Social Distancing

Social Distancing is the current instruction. This is a softer version of social isolation where non-essential work is still happening with people travelling to and from work, public transport is still available to all, though we are advised not to use it and it is OK to walk with friends in the open air as long as we keep a sensible distance and keep washing our hands. We are also advised to keep going to the shops but to keep our distance from other shoppers.

However, both of these scenarios involve us being in direct contact with people less and being physically isolated more.

Physical isolation could mean social isolation and before technology was so widely used probably would have done. However, there is so much we can now do to combat that sense of social isolation to minimise the problem, and could even offer a few opportunities, perfect for making the most of social distancing and social isolation.

Making the Most of Social Distancing and Social Isolation
Old technology

If you live in a small community, and are able to, why not start a telephone tree. This needs someone to coordinate it and make sure a printed sheet goes through the door of anyone who is ‘off the radar’ asking them to give you some contact information to be used during distancing/isolation so that the community can be confident everyone is OK. Be explicit about the use and keep these records with sensitivity, but frankly there are bigger fish to fry than full compliance with General Data Protection Regulations at the moment.

Older people are often reluctant to ask for help until a problem turns into a crisis. It may take some convincing to get people to offer their telephone number as they think they will not be affected. Make sure everyone gets a call at least once a day – twice would be better – even if they are feeling fine. Have a few questions to make sure people are alright and have food and other essentials but if anyone is particularly vulnerable make sure you can give them some time so they are reminded there are people in their community who care and are there for them if they need it. Make sure there is a roster of people who can help by getting essential shopping; leaving the shopping on the doorstep does not risk infection.

Using people who are normally socially isolated can be great for the caller as well as the callee. We benefit from having a sense of purpose and the caller is connecting with more people than those receiving a call. Make sure that everyone gets called, including the callers, they might need help too.

Create a community store/resource. If someone needs a food parcel or some painkillers at 8pm on a Sunday night could you muster some up from people in the community or from a store rather than having to wait for the shops to open?

Making the Most of Social Distancing and Social Isolation
New technology

People having access to the internet can be a real boon if you can’t get out. Is there a neighbour who doesn’t have access that you could lend an old iPad to and show them how to do a few basic things. Is their house covered by a neighbours WIFI that they could borrow? If so, you can help them keep up to date with the latest news and be linked more to the village community.

There are lots of ways of using the internet to keep connected. You may already be aware of these but if not see if you can get connected to them and try them out. You are better to establish your use early rather than waiting until you need it.


This is a fantastic way of keeping in touch with family & friends when making the most of social distancing and social isolation

As well as sending messages you can have phone calls and video chats with up to 16 people, but more usually just with one or two people. This medium lends itself to quite intimate conversations as well as general keeping in touch.

WhatsApp needs the user to have a mobile phone even if they use the desktop version. If you don’t yet have it is well worth getting as you can still see people face to face when you can’t see them in person.


There are three main advantages of using Facebook
This is a big Social Media platform and has the following uses:

Keeping in touch with family, friends and acquaintances.

You connect with people you want to (and who agree to connect with you) and people share what is happening for them, what is of concern or often just things that have made them smile. You can respond to what people say and start conversations. Generally, the tone of the discussions are like you would have if you bumped into someone in a café or bar. You can get started by joining, finding a few people you know and putting in a friend request. You’ll then be able to get an idea by seeing what is going on before making your own post.
You can also send direct messages to individuals through a facility called ‘messenger’

Keeping in touch with what is going on in a location or interest group.

There are also community-based bulletin boards where information for the benefit of a particular group (geographic or interest) can be shared. Be careful about what you see on Facebook as people can inadvertently pass around false news and rumour, so anything factual or medical should be checked to see if you can find a reliable source saying it.

Online games

In the Facebook ‘explore’ menu there is a link to ‘Games’ if you choose a game to play you can invite specific friends, groups or anyone you know to play an online game with you.
So even if you can’t meet in person for Bridge Night, you can electronically. There are games of all sorts (strategy, action, quizzes) and for different numbers of players. You can use messenger to have a conversation while you play.

Video Conferencing

This lets you speak face to face to anything from 1 to 100s of people. If you don’t have WhatsApp or want to connect with people who aren’t on WhatsApp you can get a free video conferencing account.
Personally, I find www.whereby.com very easy to use as I give people a web address to visit. 4 people can meet in a free account which is often enough. www.zoom.us also have a free plan but this involves downloading and running a small programme which might put some off.

Some of the opportunities for video conferencing:

Coffee mornings

If you can’t meet in the café, you can continue to see each other. There are some advantages too, as you no longer need to spend time and effort getting to the meeting place you can meet more frequently, perhaps three or more times a week where you only used to meet once. You might even think of including people who have moved away as now distance is immaterial, this could be a chance to reacquaint yourself with old friends.

Watching TV together

This sounds odd but when making the most of social distancing and social isolation, provided you watch the same TV programme live, you can share the experience a bit like being in the room together. Whether is adds spice to quiz shows or makes comedy shows funnier (have you noticed that you don’t laugh in the same way when you watch a comedy by yourself?) or just adds a bit of company this is something worth trying out.


Without intending to hark back to the blitz spirit, many of us have seen how the singing from balconies by those isolated in Milan has been uplifting. As video conferencing can have hundreds of participants there are singalongs organised in some communities. You don’t need to be good at singing but can join in for the craic.

Music/Poetry groups

See if you can keep doing those things that give you joy.

Getting help in an emergency

Some people have been waking up finding it is difficult to breathe. Think about how you would get help in such a situation. Telephone trees would be good but might take some time to for people to realise you need help.

Please consider a getting a device like the Assure to make sure that if you are isolated and have any need (non COVID related incidents will continue to happen) you can get help.

We didn’t design the Assure specifically for pandemics but for anyone when spends time alone and could need help, programming an I’m OK check every few hours is such a simple way to confirm you don’t need help and along with its SOS buttons and fall monitor it could be ideal for getting through isolation with peace of mind that if the worst does occur you can easily get help.

Learning remotely

How many people have said ‘I’d love to learn about x, y, or z, if only I had time’.
If you find you have lots of time on your hands there are loads of online courses. There are a few things you can’t learn online, swimming for example, but there are lots of things you can learn, or at least learn the theory side of before getting the practice in once freedom of movement is back.

Futurelearn is a great place to look as it aggregates courses run mainly by UK universities. Access to the course learning is free. Find out more at www.futurelearn.com

If you’d like to get to grips with a language there is a page full of advice at www.bbc.co.uk/languages/learn/

Keeping fit

Getting out is normally a key part of keeping up levels of exercise, if you are stuck indoors it is still important to maintain fitness as best you can. The NHS have some online classes for you to follow where you get to choose the type of exercise that is right for you. 

Visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/ to find out more.


Most of us are grateful for those in our community who are keeping essential services going. Working in health or social care at the moment is difficult as is trying to keep shops functioning and a myriad of other services that will help us to get through this crisis. When you see someone who is working under pressure, if you are grateful, let them know it.


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