#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

A Manifesto for Social Tech in later life

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Yesterday I ran a second Connected Christmas event at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, Calderdale. There was a mixed group of some who were there for a second time, and some new participants. I hope I was able to open their eyes to some new possibilities. I know we all had a good time again, which is what it is really about. One lady told me she was really disappointed that there had been no carol services on the television over Christmas. Even though she has her own laptop at home, it had not occurred to her to go online to find any she could watch. I was able to help her find carol services on YouTube. One gentleman was an ex-chef. We chatted about his favourite dish, roast goose, and found a video of one of Jamie Oliver’s assistants cooking one. He put up a robust argument that her methodology was wrong.

As ever with these kinds of events I learn as much as the participants. One of the lessons was about degrees of digital exclusion. The lady with her own laptop is a retired accountant. She uses her machine for two main purposes, one is creating and modifying spreadsheets, which is a particular interest of hers, the other is for talking to her grandchildren in Australia via Skype. She sees her laptop as being for those purposes and has to be coaxed to explore its other possible uses. She is unlikely to appear on any official statistics about digital exclusion, she will be counted by the statisticians as being online, and it is great that she is able to see her grandchildren on the other side of the world while she talks to them, but, she is not exploiting the technology to anything like its full extent to improve her life.

The retired chef was an interesting case. I asked him if he used the internet at all. He replied “No. There’s just my wife and I, when we’re at home we don’t have any use for that kind of thing”. I asked if he had friends and family who used the internet. He said that he did, but they lived busy lives and would be too busy to talk to him. But, for me, that’s exactly the point. It use to be difficult to talk to people in distant locations; the internet has changed all that. But many have still not caught up with this fact. These means that a lot of older people are living lives remote from their families and support networks when they could be closely connected with them online.

It was recently announced that there will be free wifi in all NHS premises. This is a massive step forward in helping people who need healthcare to stay in touch with their networks and access information. But it really must not stop there. Huge numbers of socially isolated people spend time in social care settings, whether these be Day Centres, Care Homes, or other facilities. In the case of Care Homes, they probably spend a lot more time in such facilities than they do in NHS premises. Ask yourself how you would feel if you had no wifi or tech in your house. And then consider that 50% of older people currently spend at least some of their time in Care Homes. That could be you. What would you do if cut off from the ability to use online networks and services?

There is a dangerous assumption that social tech has passed older people by, and that they therefore have no interest in it. These assumptions are made by professionals, relatives, and by older people themselves. But my work, and that of others, has proved that the right approach can result in older people being persuaded that social tech both has benefits for them and can be mastered. This approach is about careful and patient exploration of people’s interests and how their lives can be enhanced; it is emphatically not about putting people in classrooms, on courses, or chasing numbers rather than wellbeing. And social technology can open up so many opportunities for older people including:

  • reducing social isolation
  • allowing people to tell stories about their lives, and about treatment and recovery
  • building confidence for the adoption of telehealth and telecare.

So, here is my manifesto for a social technology revolution to transform how technology supports health, wellbeing, and social inclusion among older citizens.

  1. Health and social care professionals need digital skills training themselves, and to understand how social technologies can improve the lives of the people they work with. The most enthusiastic of them need to become digital champions (example DigiWards);
  2. The commitment to free wifi in NHS premises needs to be extended to Social Care settings, including Day Centres and Care Homes (example Ashton Park Care Home);
  3. Events such as Digital Tea Parties and Connected Christmas need to be adopted as the approach to interest older citizens in social technologies;
  4. Recognition needs to be given that digital inclusion of older citizens is a long term process, not a one-off event;
  5. Schemes to recycle tablets to ensure older people can access social technologies at reasonable prices need to be developed;
  6. Research and development of online social networks for older people needs to be further explored;
  7. The benefits of social technologies for older citizens needs to be promoted to their relatives and families.

Please get in touch (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you can help with any of these objectives.

Connected Christmas in Calderdale

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If you’re reading this you are probably pretty au fait with the internet. You’ve managed to navigate your way to this blog, at least. You may even have arrived here via a Google search. Can you imagine how different life is for someone who has never performed a Google search, who has never watched a Youtube video, or has never sent a text message. One of the first things I heard after waking this morning was someone on the radio talking about “Google, Facebook, and those kinds of services which have become integral to all our lives”. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with people for whom that is not true in any way.

So, yesterday I ran my second Connected Christmas Party. It was at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, West Yorkshire, and it could not have happened without the support of Calderdale Council’s Adults’ Health and Social Care Commissioning Service, and in particular Elaine James and Stacey Leonard. And, I was very grateful for the support of Paul Webster who was able to join us for most of the session.

And it was a lot of fun, after some initial scepticism and nervousness, participants were soon happily chatting about their favourite music, how their families use technology, and places they used to live, including Huddersfield, Rotherham, Ireland and Australia, which we could then search for on Google Earth and Street View. And the selection of favourite music which people requested included Billy Fury, Dusty Springfield, Mario Lanza, Roy Orbison, and The Beatles, yet again there was no demand for Vera Lynn!

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As we were leaving the Centre, Diana the Manager, asked how it had gone and was very pleased to receive positive feedback. “That’s really good”, she said, “because a few of them were quite reluctant to come along in the first place”. That’s because they had been told they were coming along to learn about the internet. When they arrived and found out that that it was about fun, communication, memories, and music, their attitudes radically changed. This is why I advocate that Digital Inclusion must not be about classes and courses, it has to be about patient and empathetic exploration of people’s interests and needs, and careful matching of content and services online which can meet those needs and stimulate those interests.

So, I’ll be going back next week to help people explore their interests further, and hopefully to introduce some new people to the joys of the internet at the same time.

Ultimately, I do this because I believe that technology can break down older people’s social isolation, and that excluding them from the online world is a real detriment to their health and wellbeing. One really interesting aspect of the conversation was the talk about how people’s families use technology. I believe older people get further isolated because the younger members of their families communicate with each other online, and then exclude those who are not seen to be tech savvy. I hope that what Connected Christmas and similar events can do, is to seek to plug older citizens into the online networks their families are part of and thus ensure they can receive care, attention, and support from those who they care about but who are not immediately close at hand.

The session also highlighted a pressing need for health and social care professionals to be trained to act as Digital Mentors. A topic to which I will be returning again soon.

Thanks again to Calderdale Council for making this possible. Please get in touch if you’d like me to run events like this for the people you work with. This kind of approach works. We need to spread it widely.

Let’s Make this a Connected Christmas

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It’s nearly Christmas. Yes, it’s coming round again, doesn’t it seem to come faster every year?

Last year, I declared my determination to make sure no older person was lonely at Christmas if technology could play a role in connecting them to others. To that end, I teamed up with Trafford Council and Trafford Housing Trust to add digital elements to a Christmas Party taking place at Royle Higginson Court in Urmston as a demonstration of what is possible. You can read about that here.

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Since then, I’ve run further digital tea parties in Whitby and Leeds. But I still hear people saying “older people don’t do digital”. Well a lot do, and the rest won’t unless they experience tangible demonstrations of the benefits it can bring to them in settings that are familiar to them. That’s what the Connected Christmas Party is about. If I can help a few more older people Skype their relatives on Christmas Day rather than sitting alone wondering what they are doing, I will consider that progress on the road to ending isolation.

So, if you are running a Christmas Party for older people this year, please let me work with you to make it a Connected Christmas. For not very much money I can help you open your attendees lives up to the endless possibilities of digital connections. Let’s do this, please get in touch.

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Digital Commonwealth – More Proof of the Power of Storytelling

Last Thursday I travelled to Ayr for the final event of the Digital Commonwealth project. I have really enjoyed working on this project, led by the University of the West of Scotland, which used the Glasgow Commonwealth games as a hook to encourage school children, community groups, students, and individuals to tell digital stories about themselves, their hopes and aspirations, and about their relationship with the Commonwealth.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the project documentary film is at the bottom of this post, and this provides a really great overview of what digital storytelling is about.

One of the key parts of Thursday evening was when some residents of a sheltered housing complex in Rutherglen were given the opportunity to read some of their own poems and stories, and to sing songs which they had contributed to the project.  I found this extremely moving, and it further reinforced my view that storytelling is vital to older people’s health and well-being. There were some really poignant and moving stories being told, and almost all the people involved started the process by asserting that they had nothing of interest to say. That is rarely the case as Digital Commonwealth has proved.

Digital Tea Party – Working with the Asda Foundation

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This Friday I’ll be running another Digital Tea Party, and this is one with a difference. This Tea Party is being supported by Asda Foundation as part of Asda’s 50th Birthday celebrations. I am really pleased to be working with Asda on this, and I am extremely grateful to the inestimable and indefatigable Emma Bearman for helping to make it all possible.

The event will take place at Westerton Close, Tingley, Leeds and we are working with ASDA Morley who will be providing food and drink, including, of course, a cake, as well as supplying a couple of Android tablets to help get residents online.

As you probably know, I’ve been working hard to promote the idea that the best way to get older people online is to present new technologies in familiar, fun, environments, and to seek to find digital champions from within groups rather than forcing everyone to try to use equipment they are not comfortable with from day one. And it is further pleasing that Asda have come on board with this particular event as I have been advocating for some time that companies who want people to use their digital services need to get involved with assisting those who struggle to use them.

There will be plenty of social media content associated with the event, which takes place between 1pm and 3pm this Friday (7th August). And look out out as well for some of the other exciting things Asda is doing to mark its 50th anniversary, including the recent “Cake My Day” Campervan tour.

Digital Commonwealth – A great Digital Storytelling Project

On Friday, the video below arrived. It’s the documentary film about the Digital Commonwealth project. If you missed it, Digital Commonwealth was a Big Lottery-funded initiative, led by the University of West of Scotland designed to use the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a hook to get ordinary people to use digital technologies to tell their own stories.

It was a wonderful mix of different approaches and work with different cohorts, ranging from songwriting and dance performances with primary school children, to video-making with pensioners’ groups. I was privileged to play a role, delivering some digital storytelling sessions to community groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire.

As Jennifer Jones, the Project Manager said to me, this video is probably the best tool for explaining what digital storytelling is about. I certainly don’t disagree.

Older People, Technology, and Social Isolation

This is by way of a progress report on my ambition to put measures in place to make sure no older person needs to be lonely at Christmas 2015 if technology can provide a solution for them.

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This is a description of some things I have done, some I have observed and some I am planning. In some cases I am describing plans and concepts and cannot go into real details as there are negotiations on-going to confirm arrangements. Everything I am setting out here, though, is a practical contribution to ensuring that the barriers to new technology adoption among older people can be broken down. They are also demonstrations of what needs to be done. I could not claim that the totality of what is here is a comprehensive approach. We need to scale these initiatives up, roll them out across the country, and fill in the gaps. I am still looking for funding to make more of this happen. Please get in touch if you can help.

Digital Tea Parties

During the past year I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, Trafford, and Whitby, and there are a number of others in the planning stage. Digital Tea Parties are a great way of introducing older people to new technologies in a non-threatening environment. They allow the focus to be put on human communications and individual and community interests, rather than shiny tech. They are a familiar environment, in trusted locations, and they offer opportunities for those with a degree of interest to take the lead in introducing their peers to new gadgets. It is important in my view not to try to force people to use technologies they are uncomfortable with at the outset. Seeing others like them having a go can overcome that “tech is not for people like me” prejudice that often acts as a barrier.

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Providing Connectivity

I am working with partners to connect up a sheltered housing complex, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies. We intend this to be a demonstrator project that can be rolled out widely.

Relevant Content

I am convinced that one of the barriers to new technology adoption is that older people struggle to find content that is of interest to them. And, in addition to this, I believe that activities such as slumping in front of the television actually contribute to older people’s social isolation by disengaging them from the world around them. Work at Digital Tea Parties, particularly the reaction to the pub crawl video at Urmston, convinced me that people need content to engage with that is directly relevant to them, as I expanded on here. I have now secured funding as part of a larger project to develop this idea further and to create content which can be used with groups of older people to engage them with their local communities.

I am also seeking funding to run this Seaside Recollections project in which I would tour seaside locations guided in real-time by older people in pursuit of their memories of childhood holidays.

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Reminsences and recordings

Also as part of the above, secured, project, I will be conducting video and audio interviews with older people participating in the initiative. I believe this is an important thing to do for a number of reasons, namely;

  • it stimulates the older person’s memory
  • it breaks down some of the barriers to new technology adoption
  • it creates more content of interest to older people
  • it can change perceptions of older people by allowing them to present themselves as they were in their younger days
  •  it contributes to project evaluation

Staff Digital Confidence

I am working on a number of initiatives to promote digital skills, confidence and fluency amongst staff working with older people. None of these yet have funding, which is extremely disappointing, because I firmly believe that often staff act as gatekeepers, seeking to keep the older people away from technology because they are frightened of the consequences of letting them loose on it.

 

All of these are activities which can turn the tide in the battle to promote technology adoption among older people, and achieve the ultimate goal of breaking down loneliness and isolation. We need to roll these things out more widely and scale them up. If you can help, please let me know.

 

Cricket & Social Media – Conversations aided by food

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Last night was the first Huddersfield session in the  Cricket and Social Media project I am running with the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board). When I devised the format for these workshops I borrowed the idea of kicking off with a discussion over a curry from the Social Care Curry movement.

So the Huddersfield workshops began at Saims Restaurant. And, judging from what people said at the end, and on twitter later on, it proved to be a great success.

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This proves my theory that food is a great facilitator for conversations. Now all I need to do is to persuade all my clients to build a curry into every project I do.

 

 

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Connected Christmas – making it happen

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I believe this kind of approach works for three reasons:

  1. It attempts to blend the technology into something that people already want to be involved in, rather than making it something separate and special;
  2. It avoids the scariness of sitting someone down and forcing them to use a keyboard and mouse; and
  3. 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.

2014-12-17 16.31.24This 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:

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