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Help on tap: How the North East is leading a mobile revolution in volunteering

 

Older adults in Newcastle are set to benefit from an innovative volunteering app being piloted in the region with the help of two leading North East organisations.

In a UK first, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and Newcastle Building Society have teamed up with a tech for good company, onHand, to explore how app technology can swiftly connect volunteers with older people needing support or assistance with minor tasks.

Employees at Newcastle Building Society will help to kick off the North East launch, which if it proves successful, could revolutionise the way volunteering is carried out, bring vital support to thousands of older people and give other employers a platform to support their communities.

Once vetted and verified by onHand, Society volunteers will be able to see requests for help in their local area and provide much-needed assistance to older adults in Newcastle, helping with activities such as shopping, errands, prescription collection and even companionship.

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing, based at Newcastle University and located on Newcastle Helix, has launched the app to its VOICE panel, a unique network of older people in Newcastle, who will be among the first to benefit from the help of the Society’s team of volunteers and provide feedback. They will be joined by Silverline Memories, a Newcastle-based charity which supports people living with dementia, who will also be invited to request help with tasks via the app during the pilot.

Andrew Haigh, chief executive at Newcastle Building Society, said: “We’re committed to making a positive difference in our region and our colleagues are at the forefront of this through their support of local communities. This pilot gives us the chance to explore a different way to deliver community volunteering and give our colleagues a safe but flexible way to offer their time. We’re proud to be working with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and onHand on an innovative way to support our communities and deliver a true regional first.

“Technology is revolutionising so many aspects of our lives, whether that’s the way we order food, book a taxi or even how we connect with our friends and family. So it makes sense that technology is also revolutionising the way we support our local communities and mobilise our colleagues.”

onHand was set up by a group of leading UK charities (including RNIB, British Heart Foundation and the Red Cross) to help address the growing care crisis. The app was launched in London in 2018 and most recently has been used to coordinate COVID-19 volunteer efforts across the capital, helping to deliver thousands of hours of support during the pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated the issue of social isolation in older people and made it harder for families and friends to manage care for their loved ones. The onHand app aims to address this by mobilising a community of volunteers who can provide help at the click of a button, whilst relieving the strain on the NHS and local councils.

Sanjay Lobo, chief executive at onHand, said: “The whole country has seen a phenomenal surge in volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic. At onHand we want to make that goodwill a permanent legacy, by making volunteer coordination easy. And as lockdown relaxes and help includes more in-home activities, we can ensure the most vulnerable stay safe, with DBS checks and tracking built into our app. That's why we’re so excited by the opportunity to roll out the onHand app nationally, starting with Newcastle.

“Working in partnership with Newcastle Building Society and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing is a totally new approach but allows us to safely introduce this new way of volunteering and develop greater understanding of the impact on our communities. The partnership approach means we can help organisations and individuals add meaningful value to their local communities through volunteering, quickly, easily and with safety for all built-in.”

Nic Palmarini, director at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, said: “Now more than ever, citizens, enterprise and businesses need to explore new ways to work together to make a positive impact on society, leveraging emerging new technologies and innovative business models. This partnership is the perfect example of applying Ageing IntelligenceTM to facilitate collaboration, and connect different sectors to bring brand new service to communities. We provide intelligence to help businesses diversify, involving older adults to co-design the development of new products and services at every step of the process.

“We are thrilled to partner with two organisations like Newcastle Building Society and onHand with whom we share the same ethical principles and vision on how innovation can help us to shape a more inclusive society. Our city is a test bed for innovation, and we are delighted that we are at the centre of this new pilot, playing our part in helping people live well for longer.

Councillor Ged Bell, cabinet member for Employment and Culture at Newcastle City Council said: “This is the perfect example of how Newcastle Helix is facilitating collaboration and driving solutions for better living. The National Innovation Centre for Ageing is a significant asset for our region, working with people and businesses to develop and create products and services that help people live well for longer.

“This new business model is a UK first and it is great to see a London-based charity roll out the onHand app in Newcastle and the biggest building society in the North East so committed to making a positive difference.”