Here are eight low-cost ways to stay in touch with your loved ones, stay healthy and help others too
1 Volunteer to help vulnerable people
Some 750,000 people across the UK have volunteered for a government scheme to help NHS workers.
The helpers support key medical workers by delivering food and medicines, driving patients to appointments and phoning people who are isolated.
The government opened the scheme to help relieve pressure on the NHS as workers fight tirelessly to combat the pandemic.
Thomas Cove, a 27-year-old actor based in London, decided to join the volunteer effort soon after the scheme opened.
“I really wanted to help support the vulnerable in my community as well as help the NHS during this tough time. I live very close to a major London hospital and feel it is my social responsibility to help out in whatever way I can,” he says.
As an actor, Thomas is unable to work due to the government-enforced lockdown to help fight the spread of coronavirus. However, he will benefit from the self-employed furlough scheme once it opens.
“The coronavirus crisis has impacted on everyone’s lives in one way or another,” he adds. “I think it is really important to pull together as a community in times like this and support those who need it most.”
The government scheme has now closed to new volunteers, but many communities are setting up local volunteer groups to ensure that vulnerable people get the help they need.
This includes food shopping for those who are unable to make it to the supermarket and checking in on those who are self-isolating alone.
To find out more, check out online groups such as Covid-19 Mutual Aid to see how you can help in your local community.
2 Watch TV and films together
Another way to wile away the time is to stream films and watch them with your friends remotely.
Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension, which helps you to stay in touch with family and friends, while catching up on the latest shows and films.
The platform also allows you to message each other in a chatroom that pops up on the right hand side of the screen.
To access Netflix Party, you will need to use a Google Chrome browser. Once you go to the Netflix Party website you will be able to add the extension to your browser.
Once added, log in to your Netflix account, pick a film you all want to see and start your watch party.
Netflix subscriptions start from £5.99 a month for use on one device, and you can cancel at any time.
3 Set up a regular video call
Staying in touch with friends and family is vital during this time to avoid feeling isolated.
And this is where video calls come in to their own, helping you to feel closer while you chat.
There are several apps and services available for Android and iOS users including FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and House Party, with more in the pipeline.
Angela Ogunfojuri, a 26-year-old marketing coordinator from London, has been using the app House Party to stay in touch with her friends and family. It enables you to video-call up to eight people at one time and to play different games and activities during the call.
“I found out about the House Party app through a friend. It is really simple to use and it has helped me stay in touch with my loved ones,” says Angela.
Whether it is just a weekly catch-up or a chance to say happy birthday, video calls can help bring you closer to the ones you love during this difficult time.
4 Enjoy a home workout
With gyms and sports centres temporarily closed, many people are rethinking how to stay active.
Check whether your local gym classes have gone online. If not, there are plenty of fitness alternatives to try at home.
Many gyms, including Anytime Fitness and The Gym Group, are now offering members access to online workout videos.
Or visit the NHS website, which offers free exercise videos on its website, including aerobics, pilates and yoga.
You can also take advantage of thousands of free online fitness videos offered on platforms such as YouTube. For example, fitness coach Joe Wicks offers free home workouts for all abilities and age ranges on his YouTube channel.
5 Step into the dance studio
If you are looking to shake up your workout routine, why not step into a virtual dance studio?
There are a wide range of dance classes available for different abilities.
The School of SOS offers free live dance tutorials on its Instagram page every day. It has also recently launched an online archive of the tutorials on a subscription platform called Patreon, for £9.99 a month.
“School of SOS was launched to help empower people through the art of dance,” says Bonnie Parsons, its chief executive. “Everyone is facing hardship in one way or another right now and being in quarantine can leave many feeling very lonely. Having access to a community where you are reminded that you are not alone is so important.”
6 Join an online book club
Whether you are an avid reader or looking for the motivation to get started, an online book club could help you on your literary journey.
Good Housekeeping’s Book Room, for example, picks a book each month for members to read and discuss on its online forum.
Another good starting point is Goodreads, which recommends books based on genres you have enjoyed in the past. If you get your friends to join, you can see what they are reading, comment on each other’s reviews, and check out personalised book recommendations.
Another online book club you can try is Reese’s Book Club. Launched by actress Reece Witherspoon, the club discusses one book a month featuring a woman at the centre of the story. You can join the club and connect with other readers via Instagram, Facebook or Goodreads.
You could also start a book club with friends and family, using video-call services such as Skype or Zoom.
Moneywise’s special projects editor Rachel Lacey says her book club usually meets at a local church, but March’s meeting was scuppered by coronavirus.
“Rather than abandon it altogether, we agreed to test-drive a virtual meeting on Zoom. We had a few teething problems with video and audio but we soon got the hang of it, and the chat flowed freely,” she says.
“We are all looking forward to face-to-face meetings in the future but until that can happen, this is a great back-up plan.”
7 Take in some arts and culture
Why not transport yourself to one of the world’s most famous cultural institutions?
Google Arts & Culture is an online platform that gives you access to more than 2,500 galleries and museums across the globe.
From London’s Tate Modern to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico, you can wander through the halls and view exhibitions remotely.
The Louvre, in Paris, and the Vatican museum offer virtual tours of some exhibitions online too.
You can also choose from different virtual guided audio walking tours, which capture street art from around the world. Head over to Street Art with Google Art Project to choose your next tour.
Theatre-goers can also enjoy ‘live’ productions. For example, the National Theatre is now streaming productions on its YouTube channel for free. Recent broadcasts include One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden. Streams are available for one week after the initial broadcast.
Similarly, the Royal Opera House has launched a free online programme. Productions including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Verdi’s La Traviata.
8 Learn a new language
Learning a new language could help you occupy your time during the lockdown, and you can download a free app to help you.
Duolingo, for example, is a free app, available for Android or iPhone devices, that helps you build your knowledge of a language from scratch. You can also chat to other language learners in the app’s community area.
Other subscription platforms, such as Babbel and Rosetta Stone, offer extensive resources and online tuition to help you learn.
With Babbel, you can choose from one of 14 languages including French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Prices start from £4.75 a month.
Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages including Korean, Swedish and Arabic. It costs £19.92 a month to learn a language with a tutor. You can also choose to self-teach using the online resources for £13.25.
You can also connect with others on platforms such as My Language Exchange. For example, with the help of this site’s lesson plans and activities, you can communicate with native speakers in other countries, sharing time practising your language skills using voice chat, text chat or by being a pen pal.
Sign up online
• Hello-sunshine.com for links to Reese’s book club
• Thebodycoach.com (Joe Wicks)