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Neighbours connect online to offer lockdown help

12:02 01/06/2020
From Flanders Today

Neighbourhood connections have gained a new significance during the lockdown, and digital communities are playing their part. A survey of people using one local networking app found it had helped them find support, and offer their help to others.

The app in question is Hoplr, which provides free private social networks to people living in the same neighbourhoods. The connections made allow them to exchange information, and to help each other if the occasion arises.

When Hoplr was set up in 2014, the kind of help it had in mind was borrowing a stepladder or locating a lost cat. But the situation is different now, and the company wanted to see how its members were getting on in lockdown.

Working with researchers at Ghent University, it sent a survey to 250 randomly chosen Hoplr neighbourhoods in Flanders, each with a minimum of 100 users. Ten per cent responded, a total of 7,146 replies.

Broadly speaking, respondents felt strongly that they could count on others for help during the coronavirus period. Seventy-nine per cent said other people would help them with shopping, while 73% said they could count on a conversation if they were feeling lonely.

The most common sources of support were family and friends, or those living next door, and 40% said they had already obtained practical or emotional support from direct neighbours.

However, Hoplr was also proving useful, with 5% saying they had received help through the network. Between a third and a half said they felt able to turn to Hoplr for help, if need be. Meanwhile, around 20% of respondents indicated that they had used Hoplr to offer help to their neighbours during the corona crisis.

“In just a few weeks, the number of registrations and messages on Hoplr has exploded,” said Jennick Scheerlinck, the company’s founder. “It’s unbelievable how many heart-warming initiatives and examples of solidarity have already come from neighbours.”

The survey also showed that Hoplr members were more likely to be active participants in their communities, for example by supporting local shops or helping to make face masks. Scheerlinck thinks Hoplr helps build community spirit.

“Seeing just one request for help get a response online can cause a ripple effect,” he said. “Neighbours see what others have done for each other, which makes it easier for them to direct their requests for help to the neighbourhood.”

Photo: Getty Image/Xavier Arnau

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)