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When Zoom doesn't fit: an alternative to video calling

Hope they won't cancel our accounts for saying this: Zoom doesn't suit everyone. Though many older people are adapting quickly to using digital means to stay connected during the coronavirus period, it's clear that for plenty this may take a little longer to learn. But what alternatives are there here and now?

We spoke to retirement village art tutor Onny about repurposing business teleconferencing favourite Meetupcall for group art classes with residents.

The onset of the COVID pandemic and the isolation many older people find themselves in prompted me to explore ways to maintain the connectedness of the group.

"I have been running the art group at Westbury Fields since 2007. Under normal circumstances it's a dedicated art group of about 10 residents, with a weekly two hour session to pursue artistic interests, each supported in their individual projects. From time to time I would run a session to explore a technique or new materials, collage, charcoal drawing and techniques in acrylic painting and water colour, etc. Over time the group evolved to include not only those with artistic abilities but also those without any art experience at all.

Emphasis on the social aspect of making art over a cup of tea has become the order of the day. Every now and then all residents, family and friends are invited to join an afternoon of tea and cake with a spot of art. Recently a visiting artist with a particular interest in pastel drawing offered to run a workshop in pastel drawing and 15 attended. An exhibition of recent work was hung in the dining room of the retirement village, including the artists pastel drawings and the residents' work. It was a brilliant success. The group now comprises of 11 residents, three men and eight women of mixed ability.

The onset of the COVID pandemic and the isolation many of the elderly people find themselves in prompted me to explore ways to maintain the connectedness of the group. This started with a phone call to each member to establish if they wanted to continue doing some art at home, if they needed art materials or if they just wanted to have a chat. It was quite time consuming but the response was positive and I arranged a time to phone each week. Some wanted guidance with their art work, and this I was able to do using the retirement village news letter to send suggestions and examples of drawings they might like to try at home.Then a colleague suggested we could use Meetupcall."

Our learning so far

For calls to be their most meaningful they need to be introduced and facilitated in such a way that everyone can hear what is being said for positive participation. The lack of visual clues makes it especially important that the host knows who is present, who has and who hasn't spoken and that individuals don't run away with time. It's also helpful to establish a regular day and time for the Meetupcall to help embed the occasion, for those who are a bit forgetful, a prompt is also needed a day or two beforehand.

  • Calls are best when led by a facilitator
  • Establish a regular day and time to embed the occasion
  • Hand deliver art or other materials for use in sessions
  • Enhance by sharing art among group via email
  • Use 1:1 phone calls for those not comfortable with the above

"So far, our wonderful Pastoral Care Team has been conducting services over the phone for residents, and in Westbury Fields the art tutor is keeping her art class together by phone. The system is easy to use, and accessible to anyone with an ordinary landline phone or a mobile phone. Going forward, especially during coronavirus, we hope residents will want to use the service to keep connected. For example, book clubs, crossword puzzles, quizzes, discussions can all be held on Meetupcall."

Debbie Wills, Community Connections Manager
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