Army of tech angels to help people with shopping and virtual life

Case study summary

More than 3,000 people in Surrey have been helped by 50 volunteers who teach them how to order food shopping online, meet friends in virtual cafes, make crafts and even go on virtual ‘trips’ to the countryside, museums or far-flung attractions.


Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System (ICS).

What was the aim/problem?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS and its partners in Surrey were working to reduce digital exclusion and loneliness.

Claire Burgess, Chief Executive of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People (part of the ICS) said: “All the partners involved in the project recognise the detrimental impact that digital exclusion has on the health and happiness of our residents, and we are all determined to do something about it.”

What was the solution?

Surrey Heartlands ICS set up the ‘Tech to Connect’ scheme, where group of ‘tech angels’ handed out iPads, tablets and smartphones to people who need help using technology for shopping, healthcare and friendships.

Leaflets were dropped about the scheme in food boxes as one way of reaching vulnerable groups. Surrey County Council, health partners, borough and district councils and voluntary, community and faith sector organisations ensure the right people are receiving the devices and are helped by volunteers within those communities who understand their struggles.

Those registered for Tech to Community Connect are also taught how to access a calendar of virtual events delivered by a range of partners on ‘Surrey Virtual Wellbeing’. Activities on offer include zumba, support groups, knitting and virtual trips out to places many housebound residents would not be able to access. A recent virtual trip was sheepdog training in Lancashire with a farmer; also Birdworld, the UK’s largest bird park which covers 26 acres in East Hampshire.

What were the results?

Residents who have been helped report reduced loneliness and often go on to invest in their own device.

Claire Burgess: “The Tech to Community Connect project has been a real team effort in Surrey Heartlands. It has been lovely seeing people who had joined as someone who was digitally excluded, progress to become a ‘virtual volunteer’ and share their talents with others who are excluded.”

What were the learning points?

This is one of 41 innovative schemes to improve health equality across England, which have been given £2.7m by NHS England and NHS Improvement to fund and support people at risk of poor health. Systems can use the funding to expand an existing programme or kickstart a new project exploring a systemic problem affecting the local population.

It is part of a wide-ranging programme to improve health equality, further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and will help partners working across systems to think together more innovatively about their local communities.

Next steps and sustainability?

Areas have chosen different local priorities from homelessness and deprivation to specific ethnic minority groups and those digitally excluded. This could include working with community groups to improve access to local health and care services, or identifying at-risk cohorts as part of preventative outreach.