London College of Communication is teaming up with cultural centres artsdepot, Warwick Arts Centre and Brewery Arts Centre to find new ways to use digital and social media to tackle loneliness and social isolation amongst people over the age of 65.

The project, funded by Nesta, Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, aims to develop new routes for cultural organisations to offer discounts and benefits to older people in a way that builds social networks.

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Although the digital revolution is opening up new ways to make friends and find information, studies show that older people are not embracing the new channels to the same extent as younger people.

At the same time, both Government and charities are expressing concern at the “loneliness epidemic” affecting older people, with one campaign group calling it a “hidden killer”.

The team, working with IT company Ingelby, aims to develop a detailed understanding of how people over 65 are using social and digital media across the country, uncover the barriers that might be preventing them from making the most of it, and then come up with a toolkit for cultural institutions to develop a ‘silver membership’ service based on social interaction.

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Amanda Windle, principle investigator of the project and leader of LCC’s DigiLab, explains:

“Many older people are interested in arts activities but find it gets harder to be involved because of changes to their lives. Families are spread out, over-65 divorce rates are increasing and friends and family may become ill and less mobile. Gradually some people can find that they have no one to go to the theatre or museum with and don’t want to go alone.

“Social and digital media offers a way to get to know like-minded people, so we want to find out how we can use it to reach people in a demographic that is generally less technology literate or interested. This project is a very timely opportunity to explore attitudes to digital media amongst older people and for the arts sector to invest in digital innovation.”

The project is supported by Age UK, which has carried out research showing that 49% of people over 75 live alone, 17% have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours, 11% have less than monthly contact, and 6% leave their home once a week or less. Amanda adds:

“Theatres and other cultural venues can transport us to another world, where we experience and share joy, tears and laughter. Our project aims to support people over the age of 65 to meet and engage socially before, during and after events, with digital tools created specifically for them.”

Amanda and co-investigator Dr Thomas Giagkoglou, course leader of BA (Hons) Media Communications at LCC, are leading the research into social media use and arts participation amongst people over 65 including interviews and questionnaires with over 1,000 people across the UK.

The results will be analysed by the team and used to inform recommendations for the arts sector.

Supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts – Nesta, Arts & Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.