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Connecting in Unusual Times

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Zibiah Loakthar, our Cuimhne Coordinator writes:

We find ourselves living in unusual times, many of our old ways of being seem to have been turned upside down in a very short space of time by this coronavirus pandemic. These last couple of weeks phones have been buzzing with pieces of advice, funny memes, photos, cartoons, words of kindness and thoughts shared by friends. I was struck by the lines of one message, shared by many from an original poem written by Haroon Rashid:

“we fell asleep in one world and woke up in another…. hugs and kisses suddenly become weapons and not visiting parents and friends becomes an act of love”.

Our families, friends and communities are finding creative ways to stay together when the world needs everyone to stay physically apart.

Besides traditional phone calls, many of us have been turning to virtual ways of connecting using text messaging and  email as well as platforms that allow us to see on screen the people we are wishing to connect with, for instance video calling using free technologies such as  WhatsApp and Viber, Skype and Zoom.

This week, work team meetings and external meetings, volunteer briefings and committee meetings, book club nights, knit and natter clubs, music gigs, memorial services, birthday gatherings and engagement celebrations have all taken place in collective virtual ways using software like Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Zoom.  

Meeting in this way can seem pretty strange at first. However, over this period of time where we are trying to keep as physically distant as we can from each other, face–to–face–on–screen meetings can feel like a surprisingly warm and welcome way to meet.  

Not everyone at present has the equipment, a computer, an iPhone or an iPad to join virtual meetings. Some of us have the equipment, or have been given it recently, but have little know–how on how to download different apps to help us connect. Sometimes there may be ways round this. I have joined meetings by Zoom this week where people have connected others in by calling them on an ordinary phone and putting the phone on loudspeaker so the person on the end can be heard and also hear what is being discussed.

We may be creatures of habit, but we can learn to try new challenges.  With support, we can learn how to use these apps, become confident in doing so and support others in learning to do so too.

There is some helpful guidance available online for people new to apps like zoom. For instance, Innovations in Dementia have produced very helpful videos on how to download zoom onto an iPhone and a gentle step by step video on how to use zoom: Click here.

A video of someone giving calm and measured verbal instructions and showing where buttons may be located on a screen, that can be stopped and played again, can be for some of us a far more accessible explanation that typed guidelines sent round by email!

We are already all of us pretty skilled in our voluntary sector groups at thinking up innovative ways to overcome social exclusion and these current times stretch our creative brains even more!  

Digital inclusion now feels more important to think about than ever.  Organisations have been finding out who may have the skills and the patience to talk through steps for digitally connected with others. Setting up meetings with a short joining time in advance of the main meeting so that people having difficulties connecting or unfamiliar with the process of how to turn audio microphones and cameras on and off can be guided over the phone if they need by a digitally savvy volunteer. 

It is helpful too to think very broadly about some of the other barriers that may prevent people participating in telephone calls and conferences and other ways of digitally connecting.  For instance, people who may be hard of hearing may find it harder to follow a conversation over the phone, or in audio only where lipreading skills cannot be used. For people self–isolating who may be running out of batteries for hearing aids and having difficulty getting hold of them, charities like this one may be able to offer help:

In the rush to get people digitally connecting, we still have our responsibility to think through safeguarding issues. These might be about the offers of help we accept (see separate blog post) but also too about how we promote digital safety. People who may have been scammed in the past by email or over the phone, or have experienced phishing or malware on their devices may be rightly cautious about new virtual ways of making contact. 

Zoombombing, where hackers access your zoom meetings and throw in racist sexist or pornographic materials, is something people are rightly concerned about too. These concerns are not to be dismissed but things we can actively seek to help each other take precautions over. For instance, there is useful guidance about explaining how to lock meetings so that unwanted visitors cannot join and how to prevent people who have joined from sharing unwanted materials.  See here for example:

Irish in Britain facilitates knowledge and skill sharing between groups. If you would like to share strategies that you have been using in your own organisations to help enable people to stay connected through these times please do get in


Dementia UK has put together useful advice and practical tips for communicating remotely with someone living with dementia. 

Go to our dedicated online section for all our resources and information on supporting our community through the coronavirus health crisis.