Old-school technology helps Hutt Valley seniors stay connected

Forget about video-conferencing apps like Zoom or House Party. A group of Hutt Valley seniors who usually meet at Wesley Rātā Village in Naenae every Monday afternoon are going old-school when it comes to staying in touch during the Covid-19 lockdown, using telephone calls to deepen existing friendships and develop new ones.

The 34 older people are members of Wesley Community Action’s Ageing Well network, which was established in 2018 to provide new ways for older people to maintain their wellbeing while living independently following the closure of Wesleyhaven resthome and hospital in Naenae.

The network includes a weekly coffee group at Wesley Rātā Village, when the group of seniors/kaumātua from the wider Hutt Valley community meet for coffee, sausages rolls and pikelets, laugher and lots of hugs.

“Hugs are pretty much compulsory,” says coffee group co-ordinator Tracey Scott.

All of them were disappointed that their physical weekly meetings had to stop once the lockdown started. But old-school technology – the telephone – has turned out to be a good substitute.

On the day before the lockdown began Tracey Scott and community innovation advisor Emily Innes headed out in the Village van to deliver a “Support Pack” to all the group members. It included information about Covid-19, an inspirational quote, a home-baked chocolate chip biscuit and an updated phone list for the group.

Phone list encourages Nickie to work her phone

The phone list was all the encouragement long-time member Nickie Preece needed to start getting on the blower. Soon she was having daily calls with her friend and fellow group member Diane  Roberts. But she didn’t stop there – she started calling a few others from the group who she knew less well.

“Once the lockdown began things got a bit boring at home, so I decided to start calling some of the others in the group. I ring them up and chat to them as often as I can – without being a nuisance!”

Now most of the group – all of whom are graduates of Wesley Community Action’s 10-week Ageing Well Course for isolated seniors – are regularly checking up on each other by phone, mostly using landlines rather than mobiles.

Tracey also calls each member of the group at least once a week, and encourages them to stay in touch with each other.

“I check to make sure they have food, and that they are making calls as well as receiving them. They have actually really enjoyed getting to know each other better by talking on their phones.”

The more tech-savvy (including Nickie) have even managed the occasional video call, raising the possibility that, with the right support, the rest of the group might be able to start connecting online in the future.

“We’re looking at applying for funding to buy tablets and mobiles so they can learn how to do things like Skype each other,” says Tracey. “Some older people find it hard to swipe a smartphone, but tablets are bigger so they are more user-friendly.”

Keep calm and carry on

She has found that most of the group have been around long enough to be able to weather the lockdown storm without too much distress.  One member who lived through the air raids on London during the Second World War observed that there was no point in getting too distraught about the situation: “We’ll get through it like we did in the war,” she told Tracey. Scott.

Another suggested trying to avoid watching and listening to the news as a way of coping with the situation, while one 90-year-old member is looking forward to opening a bottle of champagne once the group can meet in person again.

Find out more about the Ageing Well network.

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