The idea for Push to Talk occurred in 2014 during a Health and Social Care hack day organised for Liverpool City Council. One of the themes was social isolation and loneliness in the elderly population. Since then, Push to Talk has been supported by the DCMS-funded Liverpool Health and Social Care 5G Testbed, the Liverpool 5G Consortium, Innovate UK and, most recently, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Future Innovation Fund to transform the Push to Talk device to a finished product. Push to Talk is now a fully-fledged service that will help boost mental well-being and reduce feelings of loneliness.

What is Push to Talk?

  1. When someone is ready to chat, they press their Push to Talk button.
  2. The button contains a SIM card and cellular modem. When pressed, it sends a signal to the nearest cell tower.
  3. A cell tower transfers data to the internet, and the internet sends it to our secure Push to Talk servers.
  4. The server receives the message that a button has been pressed and begins to find a match for the user.
  5. Once we match two similar users (for example, both users identify as carers), the server triggers a phone call to their mobile or landline phones.
  6. Both users answer their phones and are free to chat away for as long as they like!

What’s the need for Push to Talk?

Research by the British Red Cross shows that meaningful connections are imperative for reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. The term meaningful is subjective, but it usually refers to positive connections that create a sense of belonging and fulfilment. In an increasingly virtual world, we miss out on vital human interactions. This can detrimentally impact our physical and mental health. Projects like Push to Talk make it simple for people to build meaningful connections.

In 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared loneliness a global public health concern. Loneliness affects everyone, but some groups are more affected than others:

  • Carers: Carers feel lonelier and more isolated than before the pandemic, with the vast majority (90%) reporting that they have felt lonely, increasing from 81% in 2019. Over a third (34%) of carers said they often or always feel lonely [Carers UK].
  • Elderly people: Those not digitally engaged are at an increased risk of loneliness and social isolation. 79% of people aged over 75 lack the digital skills to use the internet easily. 42% of those aged over 75 do not use the internet [Age UK 2021].
  • Young people: The proportion of individuals who report being “often or always lonely” is highest among people under the age of 30 [Loneliness Monetisation Report 2020 DCMS].
  • Minority groups: 48% of people from mixed or multiple ethnic backgrounds and 49% of LGB respondents reported that they did not have enough opportunities in the community to connect with others in a meaningful way, compared with 35% of the whole population [MHAW Loneliness England Policy 2022].

Push to Talk trial

As part of our work with the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed, we trialled Push to Talk with people who had care responsibilities at home. Over half of all unpaid carers say they don’t like talking about caring to their friends and never get the time to socialise.

Mary, one of the trial users:

“I love using it. I contact other carers and we talk and have a laugh. It does everybody good. We don’t always talk to each other about our problems, we just chat.

“My son who I cared for for many years doesn’t live with me anymore, although I see him a lot of him. When I cared for him I hid it from people at work as I knew their thoughts about people with mental illnesses and didn’t want my son talked about that way. It made me feel quite lonely. When I met with people from Local Solutions who introduced me to Push to Talk I felt like they were giving a voice to the carers.”

Another trial user was asked if they had noticed improvements in their wellbeing:

 “Yes, I have. I now look forward to getting a call at 7 pm. I know I can call at any time, but having a chance to talk to someone new is something I look forward to every night.”

Trial users were surveyed before and after using the service. After using Push to Talk, there was a 75% increase in those who said they hardly ever felt left out and a 50% increase in those who said they hardly ever felt isolated from other people. The results also saw a reduction of over 30% in the number of people who visited their GP and a 16% drop in the average number of visits per user.

Push to Talk accessibility

Push to Talk works without requiring a WiFi connection. According to Ofcom, there are 1.5 million households in the UK with no access to the internet. A further 2 million struggle to afford internet access. The expansion of the data SIM card market meant that using a cellular modem was an affordable option for the Push to Talk devices, allowing them to function anywhere with a mobile phone signal.

Another aspect of Push to Talk was ensuring anybody could use the service. It’s estimated that 14.9 million people have very low levels of digital engagement, and 42% of people over the age of 75 are digitally excluded. For those uncomfortable with using smartphone apps, there is the option to use the Push to Talk button. The button is ergonomically designed so that it’s easy to press if you have dexterity issues. Our latest round of funding allowed us to create injection moulded buttons. Now, the devices are made of a robust material so they can be returned, refurbished and reused for multiple users.

Mobile app

For those who are comfortable with digital technology, there is the option to use the Push to Talk app. In this instance, people can join the service from anywhere, rather than the location of their button. The app can be downloaded from the Google Play store and App Store. At the moment, it remains an invite-only service, so only users with a code can use the app.

Although the button isn’t complicated to use, we understand that some people may be reluctant to deal with new technology. If users already have a smartphone, using the service via an app will not feel daunting. Younger users may also prefer the app, especially if they don’t have a landline telephone. The app allows us to cover all bases with who can access the service.

Update on the branding

A crucial part of getting Push to Talk market-ready was creating a brand package. Working with Liverpool-based graphic designer Thom Isom, we designed a new logo and brand package that better reflected what we wanted to achieve with Push to Talk: compassion, change, connection and security. The characters reflect the emotions and feelings that users may have before and after they use Push to Talk.

The rebranding work has been done in conjunction with care organisations. This allowed us to gain insight into how the service is received by the people. Previously, the brand and messaging focused heavily on loneliness and the consequences on health. While these are powerful facts, we learned that raw statistical messages are off-putting to some and lack the warmth the service wants to achieve. The new messaging promotes human connections as a way to boost well-being and how Push to Talk is a network for those who want to talk to new people. The imagery is simple and easy to interpret, while the colours are much warmer, calming and fun.

What do we need for the next steps?

The Push to Talk buttons are now UKCA and CE-certified and market-ready. Our next steps will be to establish potential funding opportunities in partnership with Housing Associations or other organisations interested in offering the service. We would also like to begin further trials nationally to continue measuring the benefits of Push to Talk.

You can read more about the technology upgrades to Push to Talk here.