A CALL out has been made for residents to dust off their old ham radios in a bid to tackle lockdown loneliness and to potentially play a key role in the battle to prevent coronavirus deaths.

Nick Isherwood, who is the group controller of RAYNET East Lancashire, is hoping to hold bi-weekly 'gatherings' of amateur radio operators in the region to ensure people with access to the technology – who can often be isolated – are not in need of any help.

Mr Isherwood can also see the 15-strong members of RAYNET East Lancashire, which is affiliated to RAYNET-UK and one of four groups covering the whole of the county, being asked to fulfill a communication or co-ordination role as community groups spring up across the county to help assist the Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) in the battle to contain the coronavirus and prevent unnecessary deaths.

Mr Isherwood, a retired former resilience manager for Lancashire Fire Service, said: “We are trying to encourage people to return to the hobby of amateur radio. Technology has not been kind to the hobby unfortunately. Thirty years ago being able to talk to people across the world for free, was of course quite an exclusive domain. But now with the advent of internet, email, social media and the like, the appeal has somewhat diminished.

“This has resulted in a hobby whose membership base has both shrunk in size and become more mature in age.

“It also lends itself to those who perhaps live alone or are visually impaired and now unfortunately many of their calls for a radio contact go unanswered. So we in East Lancashire RAYNET are the self-appointed encouragers of people to blow the dust off their radios and switch them back on and talk.

“In the last two weeks we have seen an impressive increase in use of the various radio repeaters in the area, particularly GB3RF at Accrington and GB3PF in Nelson. On Monday night we held what is known as a net (network) on the Accrington repeater where people could simply check in, confirm they were OK and not in need of anything. We had 22 participants and a good number of those live alone and it is possible this had been their only voice contact with the outside world for a number of days. We will be repeating this hopefully twice-weekly on Mondays and Thursdays from next week.”

Earlier this week the LRF said that support hubs will be operational in all boroughs throughout Lancashire by the end of this week to co-ordinate the mass volunteer effort to ensure vulnerable people and those self-isolating receive vital supplies, including food and medication.

Mr Isherwood, 59, who lives in Blackburn, said it would be with this effort his members would best be placed to help with.

He said: “We are preparing for any deployments that may be made via the LRF. Whilst we don’t yet know what this might look like, the services we offer on behalf of emergency responders are trained radio operators and loggists and also resilience if normal communications fail or become overloaded – a bit like mobile phones on New Year's Eve. One of the things that springs readily to mind is safety co-ordination of the plethora of new community groups being formed. Our members are of course no different in that many are confined to their own homes and this is something that could be performed from home.”

Looking to the future, Mr Isherwood added: “We currently have a core of 15 volunteers nicely spread across East Lancashire and regrettably now is not the time for recruiting, but when we come out of this hopefully we may have proved our worth still in this modern world and would indeed look to recruit. For now, members of the public who know radio hams who have perhaps fallen out with the hobby can I encourage them to plug in, switch on and shout out for a contact, because the likelihood now is that there will be someone out there just waiting to chat.”