Technology Overcoming Rural Social Isolation

 

A couple of weeks ago I was working at a fabulous, inspirational event, the World Health Innovation Summit Fylde Coast (#WHISFC18) held at the Winter Gardens (above) in Blackpool. If you are not familiar with the umbrella body, the World Health Innovation Summit, check it out here, but, in summary, it is a rapidly growing movement of healthcare professionals and patients dedicated to putting people in control of improving their own health.

This is the first of a series of blog posts stimulated by the people I met and the initiatives I learned about at #WHISFC18.

Professor Nial Hayes is Professor of Information and Organisation at the University of Lancaster. As I was interviewing him for the video below, I became increasingly excited about what he was saying, as I recognised how it accorded with my own interests and ambitions. As part of an EU-funded project, Niall and colleagues have been developing an app called Mobile Age which aims to overcome social isolation among older people in rural South Cumbria. Here Niall talks about the principles behind this work.

 

I chatted further with Niall over lunch, and then he started to demonstrate the app, so I whipped out my camera and captured his explanation (see video below).

Mobile Age is a social connectedness app. It has been co-created with older residents of South Cumbria. At its core is open data about local events which people can use to plan their itinerary and ensure they can get out and about. It encompasses the ability to add events to a calendar as older people often enjoy constructing an agenda for the week and planning ahead.

Critical to the function of the app is an age-friendly map. This has been designed with clear lines which are more visible than some other mapping systems. The map shows benches, toilets (including available toilets within shops) and bus stops. This allows detailed journey planning to take place, including the ability to plan how to get to and from a venue before darkness falls.

Volunteering and educational opportunities are included, as well as links to vital services.

One of the key elements is the personal profile which allows the settings and itineraries to be saved. It also allows someone working remotely to add items into the profile, meaning that someone more tech savvy who is located distant from the user can help them populate their profile and plan their calendar.

I think this is a great initiative which deserves to be used more widely and replicated for use elsewhere. It epitomises my view that technology can be used to bring people together and to help them interact in the physical world, and that it is in no way de-personalising.

 

Technology-Enabled Nattering

Last week I went to interview an older man for a project about technology-enabled social care. We chatted for ages. Not much of it was relevant to my commission, but that was fine, I got enough footage for the project, and I was happy to talk. The gentleman had some fascinating stories to tell. One of those stories was about how his adopted son in Australia had bought him an iPad which he uses to “have a long natter” with him, over Skype, twice a week. He has been doing for years, originally using the “Friends and Family” discount option on the telephone, then via Skype on a laptop and now on his iPad. He was explicit that these interactions enhance his life. He also said that the technology-enabled care platform his carers use has made his life better because it means that carers who visit him have to stay for the full-allotted time, and that means they are more likely to chat with him.

I am becoming more and more convinced that technology-enabled nattering is the way to introduce older people to the benefits of new technologies. Many older people love to chat, but don’t have the opportunity to do so often enough. They love to chat, but they don’t love to type. Video conferencing is the way forward.

 

Finding Inspiration in Our Public Services

Yesterday I happened to catch a bit of a Sport Relief TV programme. There were lots of “fun” activities interspersed with sections on what the money Sport Relief raises is spent on. These sections were accompanied by inspirational music and language designed to pull at the heart strings.

Then a bit later I watched a YouTube video about the history of one of my favourite rock bands. I enjoyed the video, except for the bit about how they structured their activities to avoid paying tax in the UK. This was presented as a wholly acceptable and desirable thing to do. They were perfectly open about it.

For me this strikes at the heart of a key issue in our society. Every day people are doing fantastic, inspirational, and life-saving and enhancing things funded by tax-payers’ money. And yet, our society is happy to be moved and inspired by what Sport Relief, Comic Relief, the National Lottery, and other charitable fund-raisers do, while denigrating public services and resenting the tax monies that go to pay for them. No matter how much you might think you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t rely on the state; every time you use a publicly-funded road, have your bins emptied by the local authority, or rely on the NHS, you are using tax-funded services.

This is why I do things like the Civic Story Factory. The people who work in our public services are every bit as essential and inspirational as those funded by charitable telethons. They just don’t shout about it often enough.

Here’s an example of people doing some great work in our much derided Social Care sector. Homecare providers in Bradford.

 

How Digital Storytelling brings out the nuances

This is a piece of work I did a little while ago working with Locorum, a West Yorkshire-based social enterprise which exists to help health and care services adapt to the needs of under-represented groups. Locorum were commissioned by Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group to undertake a survey of care needs among older Asian people and then to take the results of the survey and interview people about its findings.

Comments we received about this confirmed my views about the importance of this kind of storytelling. There were a couple of interesting points that came out in discussion about it.

Firstly, the video brought out a number of nuanced views that could not have been gained from a survey. Surveys are OK for capturing statistics, but they don’t get to the “yes, but” views. The issues we were canvassing people’s views on were often complex and the way the interviewees addressed them help very much in shaping responses.

Secondly, I believe it is important to capture people saying what might be quite difficult things to say in public. There is a received wisdom that South Asian communities are highly resistant to letting professional carers into their family relationships, and, if we had just relied on the results of the survey, that is probably the message that would have come through. But the interviews revealed that, because of changes in society, that view is changing. Families are struggling to provide the necessary care in some cases, and they are reluctantly coming to accept that outside help is necessary. But it is acceptable only on certain terms, which include the need for cultural sensitivity, and that it needs to accept that the family is the principal means of care and thus professional care is there to fill in the gaps and must step back when asked to do so.

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch.

Reflections on the (first) Digital Flu Clinic


So, yesterday was the Digital Flu clinic at Seascale Health Centre, in West Cumbria. 392 people came through the centre during the day to get their annual flu jabs. 40 of these signed up to access their health records online for the first time, and 20 or so of them came to see me to get advice on their digital lives.

And there is the rub, and it’s why we were doing this really. Getting nearly 400 people in one place on one day is a rare opportunity in such a sparsely populated part of the country. The fact that such a small proportion of them wanted advice on digital issues shows the scale of the challenge. And it was not because they were sorted for that kind of thing. I engaged a lot of people in conversation about use of the internet. The vast majority of them said things like “I don’t do the internet”, or “I am not interested in that kind of thing”. They were mainly older people, and most of them live in areas where both landline and mobile signals are poor. This is a combination of factors which combines to produce a lack of awareness of the benefits of being online. And, in the cases where connectivity is poor, even if they are willing, they probably won’t be able to pursue their interest.

But, we always knew this was not going to be easy. This event is the start of a process. The surgery wants to interact with people online, to help people manage their health through apps and online processes, and to cut down social isolation by connecting people together. I also met with Councillor Keith Hitchen who talked about the frustrations of carers having to travel long distances to meet and attend events. The traveling cuts into the respite time they have, and they often have to miss large parts of events because of the time it takes to get to and from the venue. Online events and other interactions would be so valuable in these instances.

So, there are a number of strands we will be pursuing in the coming weeks, including looking at ways of tackling connectivity issues, working out the most cost-effective ways of ensuring that people can get independent advice on their digital needs, and working with local organisations to upskill them in areas such as video-conferencing and streaming meetings.

I’ll leave the last word to the couple I talked to about their use of FaceTime. “Do you use it to talk to family abroad?” I asked them. “Yes, only last night we used it to see our newly-born 6th grandchild in Toronto” they said. Don’t you dare try to tell me (or them) that new technologies are de-humanising.

Digital Flu Clinic

This Saturday (7th October) I will be undertaking what I think is another first, a Digital Flu Clinic. What’s that, I hear you ask?

Well, I’ll be working with Seascale Health Centre in Cumbria to provide digital advice to the people who come to the Flu Clinic there this weekend. Like most parts of the health infrastructure, the Health Centre is keen to encourage its patients to take up online health services and use health apps. Many of its patients are older, and that applies particularly to those who are eligible for annual flu jabs. These patients are less likely to be using online services, particularly as broadband and mobile connectivity are poor in the area.

Seascale Health Centre covers an area of some 350 square miles which has a population only of around 5,500. 450 people are booked into the Flu Clinic, so this is a rare opportunity in such a sparsely populated area to get such a large group of people together in one place. And it is an added bonus that most of the 450 will be older people.

I am really looking forward to helping people to get to grips with the issues holding back their digital lives. Solving those issues will have much wider benefits in their lives than simply interacting with health services. I also think we have hit upon a concept that could be replicated elsewhere. Who else is up for a Digital Flu Clinic?

The Antidote to Poverty Porn TV

Last night I was at a great event at Salford University launching the “Fair Press for Tenants” guide for journalists, produced by Benefit to Society a collective of organisations which has come together to promote positive images of tenants to counter the negativity which often features in mainstream media. Their message is music to my ears as it is a theme I have been focusing on for the best part of the past 5 years.

It was a great event, and there were some wonderful people there. I think the guide is great, but, as I pointed out in the discussion, journalists are not the only people who need to be focused on with this message. Certain politicians have been cheerleaders in stigmatising social housing tenants, and the people who make programmes like “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House”, “On Benefits and Proud”, and “Skint” are generally not journalists, nor are the programme commissioners at organisations like Channel 4 and Channel 5 who decide they should be made.

It was particularly interesting to hear from Eric Smith about the experiences of living in Wythenshawe, South Manchester when “Shameless” was being made, and the impact that had on outsider’s perceptions of the area. After the event some of us had a discussion about whether we could make our own programmes which are the antidote to poverty porn TV. I am definitely up for that if we can raise the resources. Who’s in?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”? I’ve just read yet another article about people doing things for themselves rather than leaving it to the “impersonal” public sector. All power to them, but why the contrast?. We have allowed the media and certain politicians to paint public organisations as being separate from the public, and, it has to be said, a certain kind of management culture and jobsworthiness kind of fosters that within a lot of civic organisations.

But, we should remember that public organisations ARE us. The public funds them through various kinds of taxes, and we elect politicians to oversee them. The public sector represents people’s desire to act collectively to get things done that we cannot achieve on our own. But still there are those who would like us to forget that. This is the reason I have formed the Civic Story Factory to unlock the stories of people doing great work on our behalf.

Bridging the Gap Between Young People and Politicians

Some good news.

I’ve been working with Global Diversity Positive Action (GDPA) an organisation based in Huddersfield which has a particular focus on unleashing the potential of young people who may have been denied opportunities by mainstream agencies. GDPA will shortly be launching an exciting shop-front project in the centre of Huddersfield, which will include a coffee shop, a co-working space, a recording studio, IT training facilities, and hireable meeting space.

A few months ago, I helped GDPA apply for some funding to run a project which addresses some issues which are close to my heart. And last week we heard that The Community Foundation for Calderdale had approved the application.

Lower Valley Chat (working title) aims to engage young people in political processes by bridging the gap between the language they commonly speak, and that used by those who make decisions about their lives. We’ll be working with young people in the Brighouse, Rastrick and Elland areas of Calderdale to help them create multimedia content which identifies the issues of greatest importance to their lives and expresses the actions they wish see taken to address them. We will then present this material to local politicians and other decision makers and invite them to respond.  There has been much talk about increased youth involvement in politics following the recent General Election, one of the things we’ll be testing in this project is whether this involvement can be sustained, and whether the politicians will really listen to their views, or is it just a case of courting their votes at election time. We’ll be working with colleagues at Calderdale Council’s Youth Service to engage with the young people they work with.

It will very much be up to the young people involved to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it, but we envisage they will build their case using a mix of YouTube videos, SnapChat messages and Instagram posts, with maybe a bit of Facebook and Twitter mixed in as well. The challenge will be to get the decision-makers to engage with them on those platforms. It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

We are already planning a launch event in a local park featuring a performance by a popular local Grime artist. And the project will culminate in an event where we present the content to the politicians.

We are looking for businesses (local or otherwise) who’d like to get involve by donating prizes to be presented to the young people. Please please get in touch if you can help with this.

Watch this space for news of the project as it develops.

nEW-SILVER-LOGO

Why does it take a tragedy for the good stories to come out?

On Tuesday of this week I tweeted the following

There were some amazing stories that came out of the aftermath of the bombing at Manchester Arena, not least of which being the heroics of Steve, the homeless guy, who subsequently was offered 6 month’s accommodation by the co-owner of West Ham United Football Club.

But, why does it take a tragedy for the mainstream media and the public in general to start paying attention to our dedicated NHS workers and other public servants? And, it has to be asked, why does a homeless person have to perform heroic deeds before he is offered accommodation?

Health workers and public servants are doing great work every day of our lives, and there are homeless people on the streets of every city who have not had the opportunity to respond in the way Steve did. Are they any less deserving?

People doing good work need to tell their own stories. Because there are few occasions when the mainstream media and public pay attention to them.

We are a society that believes in sharing, in helping each other, and in being there when needed. That is our story.