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Connecting in times of crisis

In the first months of 2020, many Australians had to learn to connect online while they were isolating to avoid COVID-19 spread. Family celebrations became video calls and work meetings transformed into online catchups. While social media was already widely used to communicate, it became a necessity to keep sharing and connecting during the pandemic.

However, not all Australians have the capacity or skills to connect online. With physical distancing also came additional social isolation for some older Australians, as well as for some of those living with disabilities or life-limiting illnesses. For those without access to the internet or with relatives not being able to visit, physical distancing has been particularly difficult.

When the pandemic outbreak struck, Mea Campbell, a lawyer and writer, remembered her grandfather who passed away a few years ago at the age of ninety-five. She said she “was thinking about him recently, and how (the pandemic) would have affected him; how he would’ve been very isolated. He would’ve never had the capacity to engage with the online world”. It gave her the idea to launch Connected AU, an online free online platform to connect and engage people, and The Letterbox Project became the foundation of this platform.

The idea behind The Letterbox Project is simple. People can register to write letters to those who cannot connect with the online world. The Connected AU team allocates the sender a nominated recipient, providing their first name and any interests or hobbies. Because those who receive the letters don’t engage with the online world, they will mostly be registered by a loved one or by the facility where they live.

“The idea is that those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy and surrounded by our families can reach out and gift our time to someone whose experience might be more challenging, in the form of a letter,” says Mea.

Within a week, over 500 “letter writers” signed up to participate, which means Mea had to switch from a solo operation and build a team. When asked why people have engaged so much, she replies that she has been “blown away” by the response.

“I think we all know someone, or may have known someone, who falls into this category of people who are more isolated and vulnerable. People just really want to help at the moment but might not know how to.”

The registration process is very secure. People’s details are not shared, all the letters are sent to the Connected AU team, who approves the content and then sends them to the receiver. Mea says “All you need to provide to register someone is their first name and an interesting fact about them to help tailor the letters. So, if they were a pilot or a gardener, we then try to match them with someone who loves flowers, or a child who wants to be a pilot”. Aged care facilities or nursing homes can register a list of receivers, and schools can register a list of writers.

Connected AU also features a virtual library on their website, which is a free video hub of content donated by experts from various fields to engage and inspire. Some videos are from personal trainers who give training tips and exercises for people with low mobility, others give cooking ideas and gardening advice. There are also hobby groups that can be joined, like a book club and a women’s health forum.

You can register for The Letterbox Project, either as a writer or a receiver, here.

This story is part of our “It’s more than you think” series for National Palliative Care Week 2020.


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