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  • Arts Health ECRN

Online LINK: Social Cohesion in Social Isolation - Communities of Care

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Blog post written by Katey Warran (Arts Health ECRN Network Coordinator) and Laura Wright (International Institute for Child Rights and Development; University of Edinburgh).

People around the globe have unexpectedly found themselves in situations of social isolation as a result of Covid-19, with digital platforms now leading the way for social solidarity and creative connections. But what does this mean for the types of social interactions that people will now have without in-person human contact? How does this impact those who do not have access to online spaces? What is the knock-on effect of isolation for those who are vulnerable and what can be done to protect young people and adults? These were just some of the questions posed by participants in a recent online LINK event hosted by Laura Wright and Katey Warran.

Held on Wednesday 18 March 12-1pm (GMT), 25 participants joined the discussion, including individuals from Scotland, Ireland, England, Benin, Cyprus, Spain, and other locations, and spanning diverse sectors including those from academia, the third sector, and public health, as well as freelancers, artists and policy makers. Of those who joined, their interests included: arts, health, children and youth, children’s rights, mental health, play, music, and more.

The discussion began with participants sharing personal reflections on what they had found to be fruitful in bringing people together and fostering connections. Examples included:

  • virtual choir practices

  • community calls

  • online free play and art (e.g. museums, concerts, yoga, fitness, and art classes)

  • online play-based resources

  • radio education from Liberia Ebola crisis

  • celebrating Ireland's St. Patricks day parade through displaying arts and crafts in windows


Children in Ireland turned to arts and crafts to celebrate St. Patrick's day, displaying paintings and drawings in their windows.

The question was then posed in relation to the connotations of ‘isolation’: what does it mean to be ‘isolated’ and is it possible to find connection without having physical contact? Digital communication was discussed, but there were concerns over relying too heavily on online platforms when many do not have access to these spaces. Moreover, many community initiatives that provide invaluable support for individuals (such as mobile libraries) cannot be replaced using digital methods. Concerns were also raised in relation to those who are at risk of violence and those with anxiety: how can we support vulnerable groups?

One suggestion to support those who do not have access to online spaces was to try and share their stories as case studies through organisations who do have access to online spheres to give voice to those who most need it; however, questions were raised around whether ‘being heard’ is enough or whether communication needs to be two-way.

Drawing our ideas together, the question was posed: How can we turn our questions and ideas into collective action? Suggestions were made such as: providing infrastructure to support sending postcards and letter writing (with safety precautions in relation to infection control), 'pen pals' across organizations and communities, journaling as a means of self-expression, online arts and crafts from home and remote creative dialogue.

'Pen palling' was suggested as one way to connect people who do not have access to digital forms of communication.

One participant felt that it was important to think not only about providing infrastructure for communications and creativity nationally and internationally, but also to ‘think local’: How can we help those in our neighbourhoods? In addition, it was suggested that it is important to not just think about collective action, but also about collective reflection, thinking about how we can learn from one another. Further, it isn’t always about organisations making change, but about providing spaces for individuals to gain the tools needed to make their own change.

“...It's nice to feel that everyone is in the same boat!”

“Thank you everyone. It’s been a pleasure and has really cheered me up! I feel more positive about what we can do...”

“Awesome, thank you everyone; was heartening to hear you all and connect!”

Quotes from participants who attended online

The discussion itself raised a number of questions, including ones that are not possible to answer at this moment in time given the uncertainty ahead in the coming months. It was agreed however, that having a time and space allocated to reflecting on these questions as a collective could enable fruitful responses to these questions over time.

To facilitate further connection and action, there will be another online group next week: Wednesday 25th March 4-5pm UK Time. Join us then to continue the conversation about how we can unite to support those who most need it. Sign up here.

If you're looking for further ideas for how to get creative at this time, why not check out the MARCH Network's Creative Isolation page, and use the hash tag #CreativeIsolation to tell us about what you've been doing to keep creative.

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