Social Isolation – Don’t forget the pub

Report cover

Regular readers of this blog will know that measures to overcome loneliness and social isolation, particularly among older citizens, are a passion of mine. Because of this, I was especially interested to read this recent report from Ambition for Ageing, Greater Manchester’s Ageing Better partnership, on “how shared spaces make communities work”. It is a good report, well worth reading, but I was staggered to find that it contained only one reference to pubs, and that only at the end of a list of potential shared spaces. Now I don’t know the reason for this omission. And, before you start, yes I know that pubs are not suitable for everyone, and that there are many people who consider pubs to be exclusionary; but, if you are considering shared spaces in communities, then how can you not consider the pub, which is probably the orginal community-based shared space? The word “pub” is a contraction of “public house”. That’s what the orginal pubs were, somebody opening up their house to the public. Their role only became formalised when governments started to want to regulate the sale of alcohol and it became harder for just anyone to invite people into their home and charge them for a tipple.

So, I know that there are many groups and individuals who are not comfortable in pubs because of the availability of alcohol. And there are lots of issues for lonely and isolated people, even if they don’t object to alcohol being sold which prevent them from going into a pub on their own.

There are two key issues for me here. The first is that many communities have lost the pubs that were their local hubs in recent years. The smoking ban is a prominent reason for this. I reference this as someone who is 100% in favour of the smoking ban, but I am not oblivious to the fact that a lot of pub custom was lost when the ban came in. This coupled with the growth of sales of cheap alcohol from supermarkets changed many people’s socialising habits. Oh, and, in rural areas in particular, tougher drink-driving laws (something else I approve of) have played their part. I would argue that the loss of the local pub is a big blow to a local community. Different pubs are open and welcoming to different degrees, but the good ones are true community hubs.

And that brings me to the second issue. How welcoming are pubs, and what can be done to make them more welcoming? There are some pubs that not only go the extra mile to welcome people in, but they are proactive in developing their role in addressing loneliness and isolation. One such establishment is The Alexandra in Wimbledon. Not only do they have regular open mornings for lonely people with free coffee and sandwiches, but they also offer isolated people free Christmas Dinners as well. And they don’t just do these things, they are very good in how they use social media to promote and celebrate the activity.

I believe that pubs have an important role to play in overcoming social isolation. It is no coincidence that lots of the action in TV Soap Operas takes place in pubs. They are key locations for social interaction. That’s why I want to research which pubs (like the Alexandra) are taking active steps to reach out to and embrace socially isolated people, and how we can help other pubs which are willing to move in that direction to take important steps. So, if you know of a pub which is good at welcoming people, or you are a pub landlord that wants to make your establishment more friendly to isolated people, then please let me know in the comments below, or email me with the details.

I am looking for funding both to research this issue and to work with pubs that want to do more than they currently are.

===========================================================

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

It’s now official: Video Chat produces “all the feels”

This is a follow up to my post about the potential power of Facebook’s Portal to be a force for digital inclusion. I’m still not sure about whether, given Facebook’s track record on privacy, these devices will be welcomed in everyone’s homes, but I do believe that, on the face of it, at least, they do appear to be a game-changer for video conferencing. In fact, I am wondering why I am calling it “video conferencing”. In the context of something like Portal, I reckon that video conferencing sounds like a very corporate, business-like term, whereas Portal, as the advertising for it makes clear, is about bringing people together. It’s about joy and sharing. For years, I have advocated greater use of video chat to bring people together and reduce loneliness and isolation, and I have met resistance from people who have told me that such mechanisms are impersonal. But the Portal advertising, which features The Muppets, is clearly focused on emotion, empathy, love and friendship. And I was prompted to write this piece by seeing an advert for Vodafone’s new 5G service, which, again, focused on the emotional impact of connecting people via video. Here it is:

This advert focuses on Grandparents telling their grandchild bedtime stories via hologram. It’s a story told with an obvious tug on the heartstrings. So, it seems to me that big business now believes that emotions can be projected across the internet, and thus used to sell their products. And it has always seemed strange to me that people who have probably grown up weeping over films at the cinema and on TV, and perhaps eagerly awaiting the next retailer’s Christmas Advert, don’t think that one-to-one video could have anything to do with emotion.

The time has come to dispense with those notions of video chat being impersonal. They are standing in the way of taking practical action to deal with loneliness and isolation. When I did a piece of work for the Centre for Ageing Better a few years ago I met Greta and Arnold who were getting daily updates on the progress of their young greatgrandchildren via WhatsApp, and Joyce who had reconnected with her family across the Atlantic after a 40-year break via Skype.  I still love the CNA Speaking Exchange which pairs students learning English in Brazil with isolated older people in the USA. I will leave you with an inspiraitional video from that project. I am still looking for funding to run something similar involving UK older citizens.

===========================================================

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

A Portal to Digital Inclusion?

So, Digital Inclusion colleagues, what do we think of Portal by Facebook? If you haven’t seen it, basically it’s a video conferencing kit, which comes in four different forms, the Portal TV, which plugs into your TV and sits on top of the set, the Portal, a 10 inch, Digital Photo frame-like device with video calling and Alexa built-in, the Portal mini, basically the same thing but 8 inches, and the Portal+, which gaves the same funcitonality in a device with an HD, 15.6 inch screen which pivots to differing orientations. One of the differences it is offering compared to other video conferencing set ups is that the camera follows the person around the room, and the microphones are designed to pick up the voice wherever it comes from. The marketing around it has focused on images of people, particularly older people, using it to communicate with their families in other parts of the world.

I have written in the past that I think video conferencing has an important, and largely unacknowledged, part to play in digital inclusion. I wrote here about the idea of Serendipity Screens, and here about Technology-Enabled Nattering. Video conferencing has been around since the advent of the internet, or even before, but it has yet to hit the mainstream, and it still hasn’t broken through to any great extent into the realm of family communications with the older generations. Will Portal be the device (or devices) to break through? Certiainly I think linking it to the TV will appeal to some who have not seen any reason for owning a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. And the photo frame-like devices may also break through with the non-technology owner. Portal uses WhatsApp to make its video calls, and you can only call people who have WhatsApp or Facebook accounts. We all know there are lots of privacy concerns around Facebook and its associated companies, so some will steer clear of Portal because of that. Facebook appears to be trying to address some of those issues by providing sliding covers for the cameras in the devices which offers some degree of comfort that they are not watching us all the time.

In all aspects of technology development there usually comes along a device or an app that suddenly transforms people’s attitudes and then everybody wants one. The example I often cite is the iPod, which was by far not the first mp3 player, but Apple adapted the concept in ways that made them must-haves to the mass market. Whether the Portal is the iPod of video conferencing remains to be seen, but it is interesting to see that some of the approaches to video which myself and other digital inclusion advocates have been promoting for years are being used to promote this set of devices.

Is Portal really a game-changer for digital inclusion?

===========================================================

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

Dementia Choices Action Network (D-CAN) – Starting out using video to share

Last week I was very fortunate to be involved, as videographer and digital storyteller, in the inaugural National Assembly of the Dementia Care Choices Action Network (D-CAN). D-CAN brings together a number of stakeholder organisations with an interest in Dementia with NHS England and Improvement, Alzheimer’s Society, the Coalition for Collaborative Care and others, including people living with Dementia. A key aim of the network is to embed the principles of Universal Personalised Care (UPC) into the practice of supporting people with Dementia across the Health, Social Care, and voluntary and community sectors. D-CAN aims to provide a space wherein innovative practice and lived experience can inform practice at all levels.

i am pleased and excited that D-CAN has begun by recognising the power of video in disseminating messages and ensuring that members can learn from each other. Members want to break down the walls that exist between professional disciplines, between different organisations, between organisations and patients, and between people in the room at meetings and those who can’t be there. And it is this latter aspect that I want to talk about here. I have long believed that the public and non-profit sectors are failing to take advantage of the tools that the internet has given us to communicate beyond normal boundaries. Particularly where organisations are seeking to communicate messages and engage people in their work, it seems self-evident to me that using online video and social media will spread their reach far beyond the walls of the room they are in. That this is happening far too infrequently is a great source of frustration. Ian Donaghy, who hosted the Assembly, mentioned a number of online video resources during his comments, and he asked the audience who was aware of them. Very few of them were, and this is telling.

Stepping away from the direct field of Dementia for a moment, I am going to cite the case of Molly Watt. Molly is an inspirational young woman who lives with Usher Syndrome (which causes deaf / blindness). She has created her own Foundation, works as an accessiblity consultant, and uses online video and social media to document her life and how she uses new technologies to live as full a life as possible despite her limited vision and hearing. I know that she has provided inspiration for many others living with the same condition and given them confidence to overcome the barriers they face to achieving their ambitions. Peter Berry was diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia at the age of 50. He has made more than 100 of his weekly video diaries documenting the challenges of living with his condition. Usually his diaries are just him and his camera, but he has occasionally involved his wife, his daughter, and friends to give a perspective on what it’s like living with someone who has Peter’s conditon. A few years ago I was videographer at two North Wales Dementia Meetups. At the first event I interviewed a number of people in the audience who were living with Dementia. Several of them told me that their diagnosis had left them depressed and despondent. A year later, at the second event, some of those people were on the platform telling their stories and recounting how the first event had given them inspiration to turn their lives around and take positive actions to overcome the limitations of their condition.

OK, so the last example is about inspiration coming from the people you directly interact with, but there cannot be any denying that online video amplifies and spreads the ability to learn from how others do things. And that these lessons are all the more powerful when they come from people like you, living daily with the condition you live with than from official sources.

The fact that D-CAN is making some steps towards recognising that online video has a role to play in connecting people beyond physical meetings is, to me, a great, positive step forward. I believe we need to build on this step and roll the use of video into further meetings and into helping those living with Dementia to learn from each other. And we need to extend this practice into many other areas and many other conditions.

The growth of the internet has brought with it an explosion in the use of online video. More than a year ago, a report was published which showed that young people watch Netflix more than they watch the BBC. The millions of hours of online video which exist represent a major learning opportunity that, by and large, our public institutions are not making adequate use of. And they need to be seeding this resource with their own content that people can draw on. I am hopeful that D-CAN can be part of this process.

All the video from the first National Assembly of D-CAN can be viewed here. The video below, of the delegate interviews starts with Christopher Richmond, who lives with Dementia himself, telling his story. This is just the kind of thing I want to be able to support more of.

===========================================================

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

Is Local Radio the Route to Digital Inclusion?

I’ve been doing increasing amounts of local radio in recent months. I’ve been appearing regularly on BBC Radio Leeds, on the Breakfast Show as the New Technologies “Professional” (usually a 10-minute slot) and, once a month, on the Big Yorkshire Phone-in, doing “Tech Hour” in the afternoon. I’ve also done a few slots this year on BBC Radios Sheffield, Derby and York. One of the reasons I like doing this is that I have become increasingly convinced that radio is the route to reach digitally excluded people. I have been searching for some time for tools to reach people who are not online at scale, when you are just an individual freelancer like me, and not a big organisation with a substantial budget. If you are reading this then you will be well aware of the powerful reach of social media and of tools like YouTube, but digitally excluded people don’t use these channels, so where can you reach significant numbers of them?

I don’t think it’s giving any secrets away to say that the demographics of the audience of BBC local radio stations tends to be weighted towards the older age group, and it follows that a proportion of them will be digitally excluded. The listeners’ questions when I am on the air tend to range between the very basic to the guy who wanted to ramp up the RAM on his Android phone. On one occasion, as I was leaving the studio after doing “Tech Hour”, the producer called me over to tell me she had a lady on the phone who hadn’t managed to get through while I was on air, but she wanted advice on where to get started on tech as she had never used a computer or smartphone. I suggested that she start with her local library; the lady didn’t know if she had a local library; the producer Googled it for her, and found that there was one, but it was open restricted hours and staffed by volunteers. I don’t know if it was anything I said on the radio that inspired her to want to get online, or that it just happened that she was spurred to do something by hearing the programme, but this is just the kind of person that I think local radio can reach.

I will continue doing what I can to reach out to people over the airwaves and, hopefully, to convince some that the world of digital technologies is not at all scary and will enhance their lives. I think radio is a powerful tool to reach digitally exluded people. If any other radio stations want to work with me on this, please get in touch.

===========================================================

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

Lessons from a Connected Christmas

Is it too late to wish you a Merry Christmas? Well, I hope you had a good one.

I’ve been running a number of Connected Christmas events this year using the pretext of a Christmas party to try to turn older people on to the benefits of having new technologies in their lives.

This is always a difficult and challenging task, but I have to admit that this year it appears to have been particularly challenging; and I suspect I won’t do Connected Christmas in quite the same way in future years. I still want to use the opportunity of the approach of Christmas to highlight social isolation and loneliness amongst older people, and the role that new technology can possibly play in addressing this, but I am increasingly coming to the point of view that Connected Christmas needs to be a stage of the process which needs to start much earlier than Christmas.

This year the proportion of people I engage with who say “not interested….  new technologies are not part of my life” is higher than it has ever been in the past. Now I think a lot of it is part of a trend, in that it’s something that has been developing for years now, that the people who are truly digitally excluded are increasingly the hard-core who are super resistant to having new technologies in their lives. It’s not just a question of lack of skills and a lack of interest, it’s an active resistance. And I would like to add a word of congratulations here to the mainstream media. Thank you newspapers, thank you TV and radio stations, you have done a brilliant job of making sure a whole generation is excluded from the Internet. The amount of times I come across the comment that I don’t want anything to do with that because it’s all about fraud, or if I go on the Internet I’m going to get scammed.

But another possibly related issue that I keep coming across is older people who say to me that “that kind of stuff is the bane of my life. My children and my grandchildren are on it all the time and it means I can’t get them to talk to me”.  I try to counter that attitude by saying to people that, if you learn how to use those things yourself and you engage with them, then you will have something in common, you will share interests and you will be able to join in the conversations your family members are having online. I’m struggling to get that message through however, and I am increasingly coming to believe that digital technologies are increasing the generation gap because younger people are immersed in a world that their older relatives are not participating in, and, in many cases the older people are actively resisting opportunities to join in.

I find this frustrating and baffling to a degree. But I don’t think it is unsurmountable. A while ago, I wrote a piece about “Technology-Enabled Nattering” because I believe that what older people really want to do it chat with each other. And when I say “chat”, I mean it in the original sense of the word, not its internet incarnation which involves doing a lot of typing or key-pressing. That’s why I am still looking for funding (anyone, please?) to run some pilot projects which get people talking to each other on a regular basis via video conferencing. And, I want to throw out a challenge here. I think devices like Alexa and Google Home offer the opportunity for social networks to move beyond typing and photographic-based interactions and towards real conversations, involving voices not keyboards. That way older people need no longer be excluded from their younger relatives’ social media interactions. Done right, this approach could mean a real breaking down of the digital divide between the generations. What do you think of this idea, please comment down below.

I hope you have a great New Year. I leave you with a video I recorded just before Christmas, which encapsulates my idea that we should form support groups to crowdfund the purchase of tablets to connect lonely older people to friends and family. What do you think of that idea?

Connected Christmas 2018

And so, here we are again. It’s time to plan for Connected Christmas 2018.

 

I think this is the fifth year I have done this. We still haven’t solved loneliness among older generations (and this is in spite of recent research which concluded that loneliness was a bigger issue among young people than among older citizens – this is not a reason to ease up on tackling older isolation); and we still haven’t made mainstream the idea that older people can use new technologies to connect with each other and with family, friends, and health and care providers.

These are the reasons why I run Connected Christmas Parties. These are events where older people celebrate Christmas (I am not talking about on Christmas Day here) in the usual way, but part of the mix is that I show them how they might use new technologies to make their lives more connected, more fun and more informed. I do this for a few hundred pounds per event. This does not include the cost of room hire and catering. The events work best where the Connected element “piggy-backs” on an existing event which people are already commited to attend, in a familiar environment.

I hope in the next week or two to be able to announce some exciting news about a plan for a number of Connected Christmas events in Huddersfield and possibly the wider Kirklees District. Watch this space for that. But I want to make Connected Christmas a national, and even international movement, so I would love to run one every day over the Christmas period, and, if its feasible, all over the UK. So please contact me if I can help you run a Connected Christmas event in your area.

It is vital that we get older people more connected to reduce their social isolation, to help them access online services and to benefit from connected health and care services. If you share these objectives, please get in touch and let’s make Connected Christmas a key feature of the forthcoming festive period.

I’ve set up a crowdfunder to help me take Connected Christmas to a wider audience. Please help and share if you can https://www.gofundme.com/connected-christmas-2018

Why I do Digital Storytelling

This is a brief post about why Digital Storytelling is so important to me.

I believe the world needs to change so that there are more opportunities for people to improve their lives, so that organisations are more responsive to people’s needs, and so that power structures are more representative of the diversity of society.

Every day I come across examples of great initiatives which are contributing to these objectives, but all too often they exist in isolation from each other and from policy and power mechanisms which could translate them into coherent social movements.

As an example, I have only today seen someone from a major organisation revealing in a tweet that they have only just become aware that Britain has a Housing Crisis.

The digital storytelling I do aims to shine a light on people and organisations doing great work to make the world a better place. The most powerful stories of all are those which enable the people who benefit from such work to describe and demonstrate the difference it has made to them.

Here are some examples:

Most people think that social care is in terminal crisis. While no one could deny there are huge problems, every day millions of people work to deliver the best care they can in challenging circumstances.

Policy makers have for years believed that Britain’s South Asian communities did not want professional social care organisations interfering in their family relationships. Probing beneath the surface can reveal the truth.

All too many people believe that a diagnosis of dementia is a death sentence. Events like the North Wales Dementia Meetups prove that people can continue to live fulfilling lives with the condition.

It is not true that older people don’t use technology. Some get great benefits from it, but most don’t. Here are some of those who do use it to enhance their lives.

And sometimes it’s all about having fun.

 

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

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 Niall 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.

 

Added on 18th July 2018:

In the past couple of weeks I have done some work with the Mobile Age team undertaking video interviews to contribute to the evaluation of the programme.

Also, here is a great explanation of the approach given as part of a news item by ITV Border

 

 

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.