I spoke with James, the co-founder of CoronaUnity, an organisation that aims to support people during lockdown. Run entirely by student volunteers, he gave me an insight into the passion and hard work of everyone involved. Read on to find out how you make a difference too!
Lilith Hudson: Can you begin by explaining what CoronaUnity is?
James Augustin: It’s a not-for-profit organisation set up by students that offers support and aims to centralise information and resources surrounding Coronavirus and offer support. Our main section is our phone-a-friend service which offers a friendly phone call to people. We also have an information section where we’ve been working with charities across the UK. We wanted to collate all the information out there because it can be overwhelming, so we provide a centralised platform where you can see what different charities have to offer. Finally, we have the community which is a kind of social media platform.
“It’s a not-for-profit organisation set up by students offers support and aims to centralise information and resources surrounding Coronavirus”
LH: What an innovative idea! As co-founder, what was it that inspired you to set-up Corona-unity?
JA: I was quite concerned about the pandemic early on. My mum has a chronic lung condition so the importance of self-isolating was a big deal. Also, the initial herd-immunity approach seemed ridiculous because vulnerable people’s lives were considered expendable! So the severity of the situation was very apparent and I realised I wanted to do something to make a difference. The difficult part was getting everyone involved when it’s obviously approaching exam season, but I think the real threat of this pandemic and the uniqueness of the situation meant everyone was just really keen to jump onboard! Everyone’s got the same vision of wanting to help people with no ulterior motives – it’s great.
“The severity of the situation was very apparent and I realised I wanted to do something to make a difference”
LH: So how do people sign-up to the services?
“Everyone’s got the same vision of wanting to help people with no ulterior motives – it’s great”
LH: Can you tell us a bit more about the phone-a-friend service?
JA: Really it’s just aimed at anyone who’s feeling lonely! We’re aiming to get care-homes onboard because we think there’s a great opportunity to bridge the inter-generational gap because most volunteers are students. We hope we’ll reach people from every demographic because it’s available for anyone! Loneliness is such a big issue and sadly, suicide rates are increasing in isolation. One of our daily users says he’s really happy to just have a genuine conversation. It’s not something where you have to talk about your feelings, or something that’s really clinical, just a friendly conversation.
LH: This must have taken a lot of organisation! As students, how are you coping with all the other responsibilities you have?
JA: Well the thing is, if we were at uni we’d be going to the pub most evenings! I’ve actually taken a big break from uni work and I have my dissertation deadline coming up, but I’m managing it. I’m social sciences so I can balance my time because my degree isn’t too demanding. Everyone involved is just planning around what time they have. Because everyone’s at home, we’ve all got an extra few hours each day. I’m the type of person who has to be productive anyway, so the prospect of lockdown was hard. I’m enjoying the whole process, but it’s a shame it’s under such horrible circumstances.
LH: You’ve had to move really quickly! How soon did you get up and running and how have you kept on top of things?
JA: The website was set up 5 weeks ago and within that time we’ve managed to get nearly 100 volunteers from across the globe! Initially I was a bit ambitious, thinking ‘let’s get it up within a week!’ not really realising the amount of meticulous planning it would take. Taking steady steps and being precise about the path we’re following has been important. Originally I wanted to make an app similar to SAM but CoronaUnity is so multi-faceted and vast in its outreach, there’s so many ways we can continue to help people other than the obvious ones! We’re constantly developing new ways to interact.
LH: You mentioned CoronaUnity is now a worldwide community! How did you branch out internationally?
JA: It was actually quite easy! I just searched LinkedIn groups for developers, journalists, HR, and just put a few posts out there to say, ‘look, we’re trying to help people, this is a volunteer position but you’re going to be at the forefront of something that’s helping people all around the world,’ and people send messages saying that they’re really keen! I think we’ve got someone in every single continent apart from Australasia now!
“The website was set up 5 weeks ago and within that time we’ve managed to get nearly 100 volunteers from across the globe!”
LH: Wow! And how can people get involved in volunteering?
JA: We’re always looking for volunteers for the phone-a-friend service, but there’s also a ‘join us’ page on the website where you’ll find a list of ways to get involved in the orchestrating of the project. There are 12 different teams including heads of departments, journalists, marketing, a charities outreach team – so there are loads of ways people can help!
LH: What are your plans for CoronaUnity in the coming weeks?
JA: Well next week is going to be really exciting. We’re developing our platform to make it an infrastructure to be used by local groups because these are the best way to reach people. We’re trialling it this weekend! The brilliant thing is it allows community groups to act autonomously in their community, providing them with infrastructure that’s not an overarching authority, just an enhancement platform. After exams, we’re anticipating that this will really get going because so many people will want to get onboard, broadening our horizons.
“To just know that I’m helping people to help others is really rewarding”
LH: What’s the best thing to come out of the whole experience?
JA: Obviously I’m happy to be helping people and making a real difference, but it’s transcended by the whole situation so it’s not really a positive celebration. Ideally it wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. I’d say the thing I’m most happy about is the passion of everyone involved, which is something that’s really valuable, and to just know that I’m helping people to help others is really rewarding. The motivation of the volunteers is really amazing.
Featured image courtesy of CoronaUnity. No changes made to this image.
Article image courtesy of CoronaUnity via Facebook. No changes made to this image.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved!