Leah Zabari Creates an App to Combat Loneliness

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Last year, over seven million adults in the UK reported that their well-being had been affected in the last week due to feelings of loneliness. Loneliness has been connected to a number of both physical and mental health issues, and finding a support network to connect individuals and help them through difficult times is now more important than ever.

Whilst at school and going though a difficult situation herself, Old Blue Leah Zabari (BaA, GrE 13-20) had the idea to create Checkmates, an app to connect people who may be struggling. By creating a virtual network, the aim of the app is to help people find others who understand what they are going through and, crucially, find the support they need. We talked to Leah about Checkmates ahead of the app’s launch later in the year.

How did you come up with the idea for Checkmates?

This whole idea was sparked in my head from my time at CH when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she received fantastic treatment and support from the NHS and Macmillan Cancer Support, I really struggled as a carer and a family member to find the support I needed. The charitable foundations of Christ’s Hospital meant that the likelihood of another pupil going through the same journey as me, like having a family member under-going treatment for a long-term illness such as cancer, was almost certain. Because I was under 18 at the time, safeguarding and data protection meant unless I made my story public there was no way of me being able to connect with these individuals.

Initially, I tried to brainstorm around the idea of creating some kind of buddy/mentoring scheme within the CH community, as well as other schools that hold the same values as Checkmates. However, this became an ever-growing task due to the difficulties with safeguarding and dealing with data protection of minors.

This sparked my idea of Checkmates and the more I went through my vision and values for Checkmates, the more it became evident that this was a platform for everyone; loneliness and the need for support and help is not just an issue for children. Statistics show this to be an increasing worry for older adults. Everyone needs to be heard and listened to, and to feel supported.

How does Checkmates work?

“When it feels like you can’t win, check in with a mate.”

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate – Checkmates is for everyone wanting to connect with other people who truly understand what they are going through.

Checkmates is a mobile app designed to connect individuals who might be sharing a difficult situation. It uses algorithms and a dating app “swipe right feature” to help the individual find other profiles that may be sharing a similar experience or emotion to their own. The app allows users to easily view different profiles to help them connect with others. They will be able to narrow down their searches and utilise various different categories in order to find matches who they can relate to, and seek support.

How long have you been working on Checkmates?

I have been ticking away at these ideas and perfecting the vision of Checkmates for three years, however, it has only been in the last six months since leaving Christs Hospital that I have had the time, energy and network to put pen to paper and make this a reality. Since December we have come a long way; I have gathered a small team of people who have captured my vision and we are currently working on coding our first MVP. This is the first stage product which will hopefully be launched in the next few months to gather user research before we can reach investors.

Why do you think it’s important to help people connect in this way?

45% of adults in England feel occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely – this equates to twenty-five million people 1. 5% (1 in 20,) of people in the UK (2.6 million adults) reported that they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, which is about the same proportion as before the national Covid-19 lockdown. Of those asked, 30.9% (7.4 million adults) reported their well-being had been affected because of their loneliness in the past seven days 2.

This figure is ever growing, especially with the effects of Covid-19 and its aftermath. As well as the heartbreak and isolation that the pandemic has brought many individuals more broadly, the social distancing measures and the limitations of household bubbles has denied many people the opportunity to meet new people and find the support they need.

Checkmates aims to connect individuals who may be struggling with similar difficult situations or emotions in their life, regardless of current constraints. By creating profiles based on one’s personal story, rather than one’s appearance, users will be able to search and connect with people from all different backgrounds who are there to support and relate to them through desperately challenging times.

We often rely on the support of our friends and family, but frequently individuals may feel disconnected or not fully understood, and feel the desire to talk to someone who has experienced what they are going through; someone who knows exactly what they are talking about. Bringing the hunt for new friendships online allows users to expand their circle and connect with people who they wouldn’t necessarily bump into on the street. Allowing them to find support in people and communities that they can relate to; whoever they are, wherever they are in the world.

What’s your long-term goal with Checkmates?

My long-term goal is for Checkmates to fill the gap in the mental health sector that leads to these devastating statistics surrounding loneliness.

With some hard work, networking and funding I hope to release our final product app by the end of 2021 which will be accessible to anyone with a mobile device. From this stage it becomes a journey of tapping into the areas of everyday life that mental health is still such a taboo topic; such as in the workplace, amongst religious communities and sadly still amongst many male friends.

Checkmates has the capacity to go global and reach all corners of the world – mental health does not discriminate. I have the confidence that everyone reading this article can think of a time in their life when they would have found this app helpful, when they wanted to connect to someone else that could understand what they were going through. My passion and drive to create Checkmates comes from the number of lives I know this app has the power to change for the better.

You can find out more about Checkmates here. If you would like to connect and collaborate with Leah and Checkmates, you can do so on the Checkmates website or find Leah on CHOBA.org.


1 https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/