Seaside Recollections – A Project Proposal

This is an idea for a project which I think could be an important model for assisting with older people’s fading memories, as well as exploring and raising the profile of British Seaside towns.

I am looking for £30,000 to make this happen. Please get in touch if you can help.

Is the British seaside holiday dead?

  • Is there anything from it worth preserving, beyond its impact on the local economies of some fairly Isolated towns?
  • How important are the memories from our seaside holidays? Individually and collectively?
  • Can seaside memories play a role in helping people with dementia?

Everybody remembers their holidays, don’t they? For many of us they are the stand out moment of a relatively mundane year. Do you remember those long, hot afternoons on the beach, or that time staring out to sea while the rain pounded down on the roof of the car? If we are lucky enough to have holidays, they linger in the mind; they provide punctuation points in the narrative of our lives, and we return to them in our daydreams. But, how long do we remember them? Do you still remember your childhood holidays?

This project has a threefold purpose.

  1. To connect isolated older people with their holiday memories in an interactive, real-time basis in a way which both stimulates their memories, and sparks their interest in the potential of communications technologies;
  2. To collect holiday stories linked with particular seaside locations;
  3. To stimulate wider interest in seaside towns as visitor destinations.

How the project will work.

This will require participation from:

  • Charities and agencies working with older people;
  • Care homes and sheltered accommodation providers;
  • Individual older people and their relatives and carers;
  • Tourism and visitor offices  for seaside towns;
  • Local authorities and local economic development agencies in seaside towns;
  • Digital agencies and the local digital community in seaside towns.


Phase 1

Gathering Memories

The first stage of the project will be to collect older people’s memories of seaside holidays. This will be achieved through:

  • Video interviews with older people;
  • Collecting and digitising old photographs of holiday locations from older people and from other locations;
  • Blog posts and online stories
  • Stories emailed and archived

This material will be collected directly, by older people themselves, by friends family and support workers and collated to an online hub.

Phase 2

Curation and Training

Phase 2 of the project will be to work with the older people to help them to organise the material which stimulates their memories, and to relate those memories to specific locations. At this stage, older people, their carers, support workers and staff will be trained to interact and engage with the project. Equipment will be provided and training to use it to enable the older people to engage in real-time with Phase 3. And the locations to be visited in Phase 3 of the project will be chosen.

Phase 3

Seaside Tour

Phase 3 will be based around a seaside tour. John Popham will visit seaside locations chosen by the older people in Phase 2 of the project. During the visits he will interact with the older people directly online, using live streaming, video conference connections, and otherwise, and be guided by them as to what to see, where to visit, and who to talk to. There will be live, real-time interactions between the places and people John visits and the older people who are guiding him. This will further stimulate the memories of the older people, and encourage them to explore using new technologies to communicate and pursue their interests.

As well as interacting with older people, John’s visits will be an opportunity to explore the condition of the British seaside holiday. Guided by the older people, he will investigate what has changed, and what has stayed the same between the memories described by the older people in the project and the modern reality. This will provide opportunities for interactions with local media, local politicians and local government. The visits to each location will be maximised for publicity potential, and for the opportunities to generate discussion and debate about the past, present and future of the British seaside.

Opportunities will also be explored to collect and collate more material, gathered in the seaside locations themselves, to add to the seaside holiday memory bank and online hub.

Phase 4

Curation, collation, evaluation and future planning.

  • Pulling all the material together
  • Producing a video summary of the project
  • Publishing all the material online
  • evaluation against defined objectives
  • Planning future actions

What is needed to make this happen?

  • Funding for project management and delivery
  • Google Chromecasts
  • Tablet computers
  • Travel
  • Accomodation
  • Room hire

Please get in touch if you can help

 

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.

 

Convincing older people to join the digital life

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Yesterday I ran another Digital Tea Party, this time with Leeds and Yorkshire Housing Association at their West Thorpe Sheltered Accommodation site in Whitby.

This was a Digital Tea Party with a difference, as we hadn’t had the opportunity to test the connectivity at the venue before the event. When I arrived I discovered that, not only did the in-house wifi not extend to the residents’ lounge, but there was little or no 3G or 4G connectivity available either. Eventually, I managed to get online via Emily Fulda‘s phone, but I could only connect my laptop, and we couldn’t get any of the other devices we had online. That meant the event resembled a lecture more than it did a party.

Nevertheless, it turned out to work quite well. While setting up, I put the video below on the screen, and it immediately generated a discussion, centred on the steam-powered bus it featured, which apparently has been banned from the streets due to a number of issues around its operation.

Discussion in the group moved on to where people came from. 4 of the residents had originated in Leeds so I was able to show a video that had been very popular at the Digital Tea Parties in Leeds

And then we discovered a real gem. One of the residents had himself been videoed reading his poems, so we were able to find those on Youtube and show them to the gathering

This was a particularly important breakthrough. I have found that in these circumstances it is important to break down the “technology is for for young people” argument. This is often achieved by finding one or two enthusiasts in the group, and getting them to lead the way and act as champions with the rest. Here, we were able to show videos of one of the residents who was himself a digital trailblazer. This sparked curiosity even in some members who had been disengaged up till this point. David talked about how he chats to his brother in Australia using Facetime. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange a demo of this, in part due to the poor connectivity we were experiencing, and, perhaps, mainly due to the fact that his brother would have been soundly asleep at the time.

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So the discussion ranged from keeping in touch with relatives, via online shopping, to being able to listen online to local radio stations from back home. And then we were on to musical tastes. A couple of classical music videos were run for the benefit of residents, and then a member of the group mentioned he was into AC/DC. Although a rendition of the great Australian band’s “Thunderstruck” did not go down that well with most in the room, there was much more interest when I asked if anyone had seen the Bad Piper’s version below.

I’ve come across too many events with older people where it has been assumed their musical tastes are rooted in the 1930s. Most people’s musical tastes are forged in their teenage years. If you were a teenager in the 1930s you will be well into your 90s now. Most of the residents at our event were in their 70s and would have been teenagers in the 1950s and 60s. Thus AC/DC is a much more likely choice than is Vera Lynn.

The connectivity issues meant that we were unable to do as much as I wanted, and there was little opportunity for any hands on work with gadgets. But, I still think the event worked. There was lively discussion about the role of technology in member’s lives, with quite a few myths dispelled, and residents challenging each other to give things a try. I think it is very important to get these kinds of issues sorted, rather than forcing people to use technology at their first session if they are reluctant. That kind of approach can turn them off forever. I always say that we have to “normalise” the use of technology in people’s lives. And the first step can often be just to get them talking about it, and not treating it as an alien concept.

After the event, myself and the team from LYHA, Emily, Dan Marshall, and Rio Overton, decided to take a brief advantage of the glorious April weather by heading down to the beach. We passed the huge queues for the numerous Whitby Fish & Chip shops, along the harbourside and onto the beach. And, of course, because Rio was named after the song by Duran Duran, it was compulsory for her to dance in the sand

As I’ve mentioned before, I am determined to do more of these kinds of events, with a view to making sure, by Christmas 2015, that we have comprehensive mechanisms in place to ensure everybody who needs to can access technology to break down their loneliness and isolation. Please get in touch if you’d like to work with me on events like this and more.

 

Engaging with your neighbourhood or the world via your TV screen

I came across this video via Twitter a couple of days ago. It’s a marketing campaign run by Norwegian Airways promoting its new service from Oslo to New York. They have fixed a remote camera to the roof of a special taxi cab in New York City, and installed a touchscreen in a shopping centre in Oslo from which people can manipulate the camera as well as speaking to the occupants of the cab.

OK, it’s a marketing campaign. But I think its a very clever one, and, for me, its important in highlighting some of the possibilities of technology. In the context of the work I have been doing with older people (see here), it shows what can be done in terms of giving people real-time, remote, access to things that are going on elsewhere. There’s some quite sophisticated, and no doubt expensive, tech involved in this campaign, but similar things can be done with much less expensive kit. You could have done something fairly similar to this, if a bit less flashy, with a couple of smartphones.

The event I attended at the House of Lords last week further convinced me that one of the keys to engaging older people with technology is the use of smart TVs, or the adaptation of existing TVs. Something like the Chromecast, can convert a TV into a smart device for only £30, and it will allow people to watch much more engaging, tailored, and interactive content than that currently pumped out by the mainstream TV channels.  Controlling a New York taxicam from Oslo may generate headlines, but I believe far more social good can be generated by engaging people in what happens in their neighbourhoods or interest groups using similar methods.

Using Technology to reconnect older people with their communities

These are some more thoughts on using technology to benefit older people based on my Connected Christmas experience.

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I’ve been struck by meeting a number of older people who are actually quite fit and healthy, but who seem to have slipped into a way of behaviour that is almost “expected” of them by society. Like the gentleman I met in Urmston who told me that his confidence has gone, and that means he rarely goes out or socialises in the lounge of the sheltered accommodation complex where he lives. I firmly believe that we can use new technologies to re-engage people like this with their communities, and to allow those who are not so mobile to have some degree of contact with what goes on around them. Instead of people sitting at home, or in a care home, a day centre, or sheltered accommodation lounge, depressing themselves by absorbing the latest bit of back-biting or family-feuding from the TV soap operas, why not engage with something local which has the potential to contribute positively to their lives?

I think these are compelling reasons for increased efforts to to get local community organisations to use social media, live video streaming, podcasting and other methods to cover local events. At Urmston, the video pub crawl proved particularly engaging, suggesting that even simple video tours of the neighbourhood could help to re-acquaint people with their surroundings and increase their sense of engagement with their communities and their former lives. And what could be achieve using gadgets such as Oculus Rift to immerse people in the lives of communities they formerly had strong ties with?

As I often argue, I think we can use technology to “re-humanise” society, rather than going along with the dystopian predictions of everyone forgetting the personal connections while they stare at screens. This is something I think we need to work on, urgently.

 

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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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