And so it happened! Five days after I posted this plea for people to help me to do something to prove that technology can help to do something about loneliness at Christmas I was at a Christmas Party in Urmston, Trafford showing residents of a sheltered housing complex how to use Skype, how to search the internet for pictures of their old neighbourhoods, and that Youtube is a treasure-trove of videos which is bound to have something of interest to them.
It was thanks to Abdul Razzaq, Director of Public Health at Trafford Council, and Matthew Gardiner, CEO, and Rodger Cairns, MD for Independent Living, of Trafford Housing Trust, that all this was able to come together so quickly. It proves what can be done, with a bit of will.
I know this sort of stuff works, because I’ve done Digital Tea Parties for older people before. The difference this time, was the challenge of fitting technology in with a Christmas Party, with the objective of proving that people need not be lonely and isolated at Christmas.
A particular challenge on this occasion was that two hours of the party at Royle Higginson Court was taken up by singer, Little Mo, entertaining the residents. For that period there was little I could do, other than capture some of the atmosphere and give the outside world some insight into what was going on. For this aspect of such events in future, I would hope that we could build a network of potentially isolated people who could look in on the entertainment and enjoy it wherever they are.
Having got to the party an hour early to set up, I had time, before Little Mo’s performance, to show a couple of Youtube videos on the lounge TV via my Apple TV; and we also did a brief Skype hookup with Chris Baker from Ongo who was running a digital inclusion session in Scunthorpe.
One particular Youtube video really fascinated the residents and we ended up watching it twice. It’s embedded below, and it’s a film from the 1950’s of two men acting out a pub crawl around Urmston. This really engaged the people at the event, not least because they agreed that all but one of the many pubs featured was still in business. This must be some kind of a record given the numbers of pub closures there have been over the years, particularly since the smoking ban. It got me thinking about whether we could recreate this video in modern-day Urmston. Who’s up for that? This discussion also gave me my first learning point of the day, as I was informed that Trafford General Hospital, which appeared in the video, was the first National Health Hospital.
So, I attempted to capture some of the atmosphere as Little Mo sang for the residents.
When the singing was over, there was an opportunity to engage residents in some of the tech opportunities. I accepted a challenge from one to find pictures of the road she was brought up on and which no longer exists. That quest was successful. And then, my good friend, Chris Conder, was kind enough to sit with a cup of tea in her kitchen in North Lancashire and chat with the residents in Urmston via Skype. A small number of residents, just did not want to engage, but quite a few were really pleased to chat with Chris, after they had got over the initial suspicion and surprise that this was all possible. Quite a few told me they were bowled over by the picture quality, and were amazed at what was possible.
And then I met Tommy (below). Tommy had appeared not to take much interest in what I had been demonstrating, but, as I was about to leave, one of the other residents told me Tommy wanted to speak to me. Tommy told me he was 91 and had never seen the point of the internet, but now he realised that he could use it to talk to so many people, he definitely wanted to get a tablet device. We had quite a conversation, during which he told me he was a singer, and that he had been in the middle of making a CD when the recording studio he was working with closed down. I asked him if he realised that a tablet could be used as a portable recording studio. He was a amazed by this, and said he definitely needed to get one now.
I believe this kind of approach works for three reasons:
- It attempts to blend the technology into something that people already want to be involved in, rather than making it something separate and special;
- It avoids the scariness of sitting someone down and forcing them to use a keyboard and mouse; and
- It shows that, fundamentally, such technologies are simply aids to the ancient art of human communication and connection, which is what everybody wants at the end of the day.
This was a pilot. It could have done with a bit more preparation, but it succeeded in that it opened up a number of people’s eyes to what it possible, and, as I said in the previous post, I want to be able to be doing a lot of these next Christmas, as we must seize on the opportunity offered by the heightened public awareness of loneliness at this time of year to change things. Of course, one of the real challenges of all this is being able to build on the initial sparked interest and ensure this results in some solid outcomes.
I had a long chat with one of the residents who told me that he really regrets losing his confidence as he has got older. He said that he knows he doesn’t go out as much as he should, and he doesn’t really usually mix with the other residents, because of his diminishing confidence.
This got me thinking about other ways we can use technology to help people who are in this situation. The “pub crawl” video went down very well, because it triggered memories, but also because it showed familiar locations. But most of the residents had few recent experiences of the venues involved. This is why I think it is important to produce video, including live streaming, and photography of local events. There is no reason at all why the residents of somewhere like Royle Higginson Court could not be involved in local events through watching them on the TV in their residents’ lounge. But that requires someone to be providing video and photography coverage of the events, and for the places like Royle Higginson Court to have the equipment (Smart TV, Apple TV or Chromecast), and staff knowledge to facilitate residents’ viewing. Why should people be forced to withdraw from their local communities as they get older and / or more infirm, when it is perfectly possible to facilitate their remote involvement?
So, many thanks again to Abdul at Trafford Council, Matthew and Rodger at Trafford Housing Trust, Shona, the manager at Royle Higginson Court, but most of all, to the residents who let me in to their Christmas Party. I hope this can be the start of many more such events.
And just a little footnote from a Twitter exchange: