Connected Christmas 2017

It’s that time of year. The time to think about making sure no one need be lonely at Christmas (or at any other time).

This year I want to do a number of things, principally, help bring a digital element to older people’s Christmas Parties, as I did here. I need partners and funding to make this happen. Please get in touch  if you can help.

But beyond that, I also want to develop a central hub for people who are offering food and companionship to those who would otherwise spend their Christmas alone. Here’s a great example of that http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/kebab-shop-feeding-homeless-elderly-turkey-christmas-day-birmingham-classic-fish-a7487946.html. Can we collect examples and pledges like this, and put them all in one place?

Come on, please get on board. This year, we can end loneliness at Christmas (yes, I know we can’t but that shouldn’t stop us trying).

 

 

 

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Connected Christmas… and Every Day

Loneliness and isolation are killers. There is increasing evidence of this. Indeed, research suggests that loneliness is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. For the past 4 years, I have been working to address the situation by ensuring that older people can be introduced to new technologies in ways which are engaging and which demonstrate to them their usefulness to their lives, particularly how they can enable them to communicate with friends, family, professionals and support networks. And yes, I know that digital contact can be no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but, for people who have no interactions at all, it can certainly help them to build and maintain contacts that would not otherwise be available to them.

In an era when millions of us are keeping touch with our professional and personal networks online all the time, most of the people in greatest need of regular interaction are excluded from these benefits by their own lack of knowledge, unfounded fears, and the technophobia of the professionals who work with them. The work I have done over recent years with older people has clearly demonstrated that, if approached in the right way, their interest can be sparked, their fears can be overcome, and they can be guided on the path to regular online communication.

Every year at Christmas the media picks up on stories about people’s loneliness and isolation. Well, it’s quite a long time till Christmas 2017, but I am starting early on the road to making sure that by the time Christmas comes around, major inroads can be made to changing the situation of many lonely older people.

I am looking for partners to work with me on this strategy, and funders and sponsors able to help me make it happen. Much of what follows is recycled from an earlier post, which is still relevant, and which still forms the framework for my programme to end loneliness by digital means. This year it is going to happen. Contact me if you can contribute.

Digital Tea Parties

During the past four years I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, TraffordWhitby, Calderdale, and London, 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 have worked with partners to connect up a number of sheltered housing complexes, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies.

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 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

I have conducted a number of video and audio interviews with older people. 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. Funding has been very elusive for these, 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.

 

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.

Another appeal to end loneliness at Christmas

A year ago, I pledged to do all I can to end loneliness for older people at Christmas, when I wrote this post. Quite a lot has happened since then, but not nearly enough.

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There are still people who will be lonely this Christmas, and many of these people would have someone to talk to if only they could overcome their fears of new technology and connect with someone on Skype, Facetime, or FaceBOOK.

So, this is an appeal. If you are organising a Christmas Party for older people, for £300 I will turn it into a Connected Christmas Party, like this one. I will work with you to show the people at your party what fun connecting with people online can be, how they can re-kindle memories and make their lives easier. This is too important an issue to leave to those who say that technology has passed them by.

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Please let me work with you to make loneliness at Christmas a thing of the past. Contact me via john.popham@johnpopham.com

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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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.

 

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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