We talk to Catherine McClean, Founder and CEO of BuddyHub. BuddyHub is a social enterprise which links older people (“Seniors”) with people in their community (“Buddies”) in order to enable them to build up their social networks, to ward off loneliness and the risks of isolation.
Can you tell us about BuddyHub and where it all started?
Sure! I have been working on the project for about a year now. Previously, I worked in finance for 17 years, but decided to change career direction about five years ago. I’ve done a lot of voluntary work since then, especially within education: I chair the Management Committee and Finance Committee at a Pupil Referral Unit which educates children who are excluded from mainstream schools.
BuddyHub started almost as an accident. I wanted to find a new job around “nice finance” i.e. helping social entrepreneurs, and I had also always wanted to start my own company.
I had seen a news article about how nurses were concerned about discharging older people from hospital knowing that they lived alone and had no support. I realised I love engaging with older people but when I contacted a couple of charities for this purpose I found the process too slow and bureaucratic.
I started asking myself “what are the barriers stopping people from getting involved?” I thought to myself "if people are eager to meet older people and create valuable friendships, and are unable to do so because no one is providing an easy structure for that, then something is definitely wrong".
What is the main driving force behind BuddyHub?
I guess the starting point is “what has happened in our society that we let our older people become marginalised?” I get that most people are really busy, but London is such a big city it can sometimes feel hard for strangers to connect and make new friends. I knew from experience and talking in my circle that many people were interested to get involved and help but did not know how.
After observing this reality, what made you get started with BuddyHub?
It was pure coincidence as I had just signed up to Twitter and stumbled across a tweet from UnLtd, which supports social entrepreneurs by providing small amounts of funding to get them started. It was enough to get BuddyHub off the ground!
So tell us, how does BuddyHub work?
My idea is to create a “friendship wheel” with the person at the hub of the wheel becoming friends with three Buddies. This creates a new micro-community and everyone gets enriched by the experience.
I noticed how dating websites revolutionised the dating game for singletons and thought the same technology and logic could be applied to inter-generational friendships: we’re matching people around common interests who live very close by.
How easy will it be for older people to access BuddyHub technology?
We are of course aware that some older people are not digitally literate. We can provide support to help them upload their profile for instance. We are also happy to recommend other initiatives such as Barclays Digital Eagles scheme which provides help to anyone who would like to use a laptop and access the internet.
How important was it for your social enterprise to get legal support?
I actually wrote a blog post on BuddyHub’s blog called “Pro Bono – could a start-up ever get going without it?” I think such initiatives are of paramount importance to help young companies!
Would you like to add anything?
People are fascinating! We are living in an ageing society and older people always seem to have a good story to tell. I have found they generally open up so easily, it’s just fantastic! We do not care about people’s age, it’s all about linking people with common interests. We are what I call “age agnostic”. Society is too ageist and obsessed by age. We want to turn loneliness and isolation into happiness and laughter!
To learn more about BuddyHub, please visit their blog, or get in touch with Catherine McClen: