Satellite mapping used to tackle social isolation 'hotspots' in UK cities

Care View allows volunteers to pinpoint areas of a city where people might benefit from outreach services, using heatmaps generated by Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data.

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Care View has been co-funded by the UK and European Space Agencies

Image: iStock/ngkhanhvukhoa

A satellite-powered application designed to identify loneliness 'hotspots' in UK cities has been launched in an attempt to tackle rising social isolation.

Care View, which has been launched in the UK city of Leeds and also plans to target other cities in the UK and internationally, uses Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data to help volunteers identify vulnerable people who might be in need of support.

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The app works by generating a web-based map of a city, using satellite data. When community volunteers spot signs of possible social isolation – for example, trash left in gardens or curtains that always remain closed – users can tap on the location within Care View.

This then generates a 'heat map' indicating streets or homes where people may be in need of some form of assistance, and allows volunteers to focus their outreach efforts in these areas, leafleting houses or knocking on doors.

By helping people reach services like counselling or housing support, it's hoped the app will improve the likelihood of identifying people in need before their problems become more serious, or require more costly interventions.

This is particularly important for people who might not approach services themselves.

A growing issue

Care View entered pilots in 2019, but outreach activities had to be paused as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics in November 2020, around 6% of adults in England are always or often lonely. This problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted social interactions even further and made things especially difficult for the most vulnerable people in society.

UK Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said: "The social restrictions necessitated to tackle coronavirus, while essential, have brought into sharp focus just how much we all rely on face-to-face interaction in our everyday lives.

"Addressing loneliness in our communities is an issue that is particularly close to my heart and this pioneering satellite-enabled app will tap into the goodwill of our heroic frontline workers and volunteers, so that they can identify and help those most in need of support through the pandemic and for years to come."

Care View enlists the help of professional volunteers across a city, including police officers, fire and rescue services, charities and social care teams, to help identify people who may be experiencing social isolation. The app is web-based, meaning it doesn't need to be installed on the end-user's device in order to work, and is compatible with most smartphone models.

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When a user taps on the map to mark a location, Care View presents a list of seven choices as to why they tapped the app. These reasons include signs of neglect in the environment, such as post piling up, or an untidy garden. 

The buttons can be customised for different cities and regions to take cultural factors into account. Users cannot enter any personally identifiable information, and pins on the map will not point to a specific address.  

The app was developed by the Urban Sustainable Development Lab, a UK organization that helps develop and scale smart city solutions for public and private sector organizations, in collaboration with public health teams in Leeds. Co-funding for the app was provided by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: "Many of us have learned this year that pandemics can be lonely times, and that we all benefit from some amount of companionship. This application channels the power of space to help locate and give a helping hand to people in need of help.

"Social support is incredibly important in times of stress, and I am delighted that this application we have backed is going to help lift people out of solitude and isolation."

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