human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Vienna: The Chatnet (Plaudernetz)

I want to say thank you! I’ve met several nice people who have spoken nicely to me. I am at a low and it’s wonderful to have someone to talk to.

Caller Rosi, 78

A third of Europeans have recently felt lonely at least once a week. Older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation or loneliness, owing to the loss of friends and family, mobility or income. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated social isolation and loneliness due to the need to adhere to public health recommendations for social distancing to protect at-risk populations.

Plaudernetz (Chatnet) is a simple, easy-to-use way to find someone to talk to in times of loneliness. We connect people of all ages who want to talk to someone – anonymously, via the telephone, all over Austria.

Plaudernetz was quickly implemented and went live on 7 April 2020. It is already a very well known service: in one year of Plaudernetz, more than 3,300 volunteers registered online participating in approximately 10,000 chats with an average chatting time of 30 minutes per call. Plaudernetz is available every day from 12:00 to 20:00 (56 hours per week).

Plaudernetz focuses on senior citizens who are particularly at risk of loneliness and social isolation, but it welcomes all callers. It enables social contact for those without digital literacy – simply via the telephone. To chat, users dial 05-1776-100 and are connected to one of the 3,300 registered volunteers.

I had my first chat today, with Franz from Upper Austria. He calls every day and tells me that these calls structure his day. He enjoys having the opportunity to talk to new people and finding out how they deal with the Corona situation. He hopes that Plaudernetz will continue to exist. I look forward to many more of these exchanges!

Martin, volunteer, 56

Plaudernetz offers a new form of volunteering that is flexible and independent of location. It therefore lowers barriers for people with little time and need for high levels of flexibility. In addition, we see that chatting offers benefits to both participants. We have received positive feedback from callers and volunteers who see it as an enriching experience.

I wanted to tell you how much I like the idea of Plaudernetz. I recently spoke to an elderly lady and it was just nice to chat and exchange ideas. We didn’t run out of things to talk about even after an hour. At the end of the conversation, I thought that the volunteers are actually just as enriched by these conversations as the callers. I am happy to be part of Plaudernetz.

Ulrike, volunteer, 62

When registering online, volunteers receive a detailed manual for the chats, including information on relevant expert hotlines and other health services to direct callers to if necessary. Additionally, Plaudernetz offers webinars on specific topics and individual support for all volunteers.

In 2021, we are working on the development and implementation of the Plaudernetz App for the volunteers. The app will offer an easy way to accept calls and increase our matching rate by making it simpler to sign on and off.

Plaudernetz closes an important gap that expert hotlines (e.g. crisis lines, health hotlines) cannot address by offering an opportunity to chat about the small and large everyday things. And, by connecting people who would not have met otherwise, Plaudernetz strengthens social cohesion in times of social and physical distancing.