University showcases research tackling loneliness to MSP

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Hand holds up a deck of cards in a fan shape to camera

A local MSP has heard how experts at the University of Stirling are tackling the issue of social isolation and loneliness through technology.

Researchers working on two projects using digital technology to connect people and combat feelings of isolation, met with MSP Alexander Stewart (on Friday 17 September) to showcase their work.

In a visit to the Faculty of Social Sciences, Mr Stewart - who represents Mid Scotland and Fife, lives in Bridge of Allan and is the Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Equalities and Older People - heard how a digital version of the card game bridge had brought people together during the pandemic and helped older people to develop digital skills.

MSP Alexander Stewart joins players from the University's Bridge Club at a card table as they talk him through the game

MSP Alexander Stewart with Professor Samantha Punch and members of the University's Bridge Club

Led by Professor of Sociology, Samantha Punch – who is an international bridge player – the research project Bridge: A MindSport for All (BAMSA), explored how online bridge provided a crucial means of support, fun and social connection during lockdown and beyond.

Professor Punch said: “The visit was an excellent opportunity to share the health and wellbeing benefits of bridge with Mr Stewart.

“At the start of the pandemic, bridge players had to move online, creating an opportunity for people to experience social connection with family and friends through bridge, at a time when in-person meetings weren’t possible.

“Through lockdown, the bridge community supported many players to use a computer for the first time and improve their digital skills. We also know of schools who introduced the game to pupils and experienced an improvement in children’s concentration, technological and communication skills.”

University of Stirling staff stand beside an advertising banner as they welcome MSP Alexander Stewart

From L to R: Cllr. Darren Watt, Dr Louise McCabe, Mr Alexander Stewart MBE MSP and Professor Judith Phillips, Deputy Principal (Research)

Mr Stewart was also shown the success of the Technology and Social Connectedness (T&SCon) research project, which is hosted on the Scottish Government website and provides guidance for organisations on the role of technology in keeping people socially connected.

Alexander Stewart MSP said: “I pay tribute to the University of Stirling for their pioneering research programme.

“Older people have been adversely affected during the pandemic and I was delighted to attend and see first hand the exceptional work which is being carried out to tackle loneliness and social isolation.

“The University is leading the way in tackling these challenges and I know that their research has already received much acclaim. They can be rightly proud of their achievements to date and I look forward to hearing of any future developments in their research programme.”

Dr Louise McCabe, Senior Lecturer in Dementia and Ageing, gives a presentation on the Technology and Social Connectedness project. She stands at a lectern in front of a power point presentation.

Dr Louise McCabe provided a presentation on the T&SCon project

Professor Judith Phillips, Deputy Principal (Research), said: “I would like to extend my thanks to Mr Stewart for taking the time to come to campus and meet with our researchers.

“At Stirling, our experts are leading the way in tackling global challenges, including social isolation and loneliness – two growing worldwide issues only exacerbated by the pandemic. By working closely with policymakers and practitioners, we can help translate the latest research into meaningful solutions to real world problems.”

Visit the University's Public Policy Blog for more information on the research projects Bridge: A MindSport for All (BAMSA) and the Technology and Social Connectedness (T&SCon).


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