skip to content

Cambridge Public Health


By Joyce Coker, Fiona Duncan, Shamini Gnani and Louise Lafortune

September 2023

During the lockdown phase of Covid-19 many community and voluntary organisations were unable to provide in-person support for members. To stay connected to the people they were trying to help, organisations used technology – websites, video-conferencing software – to deliver workshops, training sessions, and social activities.  

Research has found digital technology can help improve mental health and wellbeing by making information more accessible and making it easier to connect with other people. 

However, digital and online services are not a catch-all solution. Many people have no access to a computer or smartphone, or even the internet at home. Allied to that, they may not have the confidence or skills required to use such technology. It is likely that these people were even more disadvantaged than normal during the pandemic and at much greater risk of poor mental health.

This is a problem going forward, with many organisations only offering their services online.

A new research study aims to:

  • Detect how community organisations use digital technology to provide services on a regular basis
  • Understand how community organisations that use using digital technology help (or hinder) people to form meaningful social connections and prevent loneliness
  • Discover the most effective ways to use digital technology for people who experience disadvantage within society 
  • Find out if increased use of digital technology is unintentionally marginalising some groups, leading to poorer mental health
  • Learn if increased use of digital technology is helping other groups who previously struggled to access support 

This study will seek to answer these questions by recruiting up to six community or voluntary organisations across England – organisations that support older adults, people who live in deprived areas, people from minority ethnic populations, and people with experience of poor mental health.

It will use a “realist-informed approach” to collect information and understand how using digital technology may improve mental health and wellbeing. This approach takes into account the real-life complexities of studying a service – what works for some people in certain circumstances may not work for others in different circumstances.  

Co-produced alongside public and practice partners, the results will be promoted via their channels. In addition, we also plan to co-host two knowledge workshops (in the north and south of England) that bring together researchers, study participants, public partners, practice partners, and wider members of the community.

More information about the project