Our groups can now meet ‘virtually’ and there’s still laughs… and coffee!” – Digital Champions making a real difference in Breathe Easy Groups

100% Digital Leeds have been supporting Leeds Breathe Easy groups over the last year with access to myCOPD, a self-management app to support them in self-managing their conditions.   Delivering digital champion training with group members has enabled digital support to be embedded across the groups, which has supported members to develop their digital skills and confidence.  Since COVID-19 Breathe Easy groups have stopped meeting face-to face and with support from the digital champions, they have now being able to introduce virtual sessions via Zoom for exercise and a social to keep members connected and living well with their condition whilst in isolation.

Breathe Easy Groups meeting virtually

John, aged 72, is one of the trustees of the West Leeds Breathe Easy group, he’s been putting his digital champion training into practice these last few weeks, his skills, knowledge and confidence growing each week. 

He started by attending the weekly sessions hosted by Leeds City Council Public Health and 100% Digital Leeds with the aim to bring all the group leaders together to discuss what support they might need going forward.  At the first meeting John found his microphone had a crackle every time he moved, this got everyone laughing! But John wasn’t having any of it, he was determined to find a solution and soon got around to fixing it.   He then became more determined to gain more confidence in using Zoom and started navigating using the mute and interactive features.   

John has developed his digital skills and confidence in such a short space of time, he thoroughly enjoys the weekly zoom meetings and had been missing seeing the other members.  John, alike to many of the members has COPD and is missing life outside of isolation.

We all used to have a weekly coffee at Wetherspoons and now we can’t, it’s hard.  So I decided I wanted to offer the members something else, something to lift people’s spirits and give them something to look forward to every week, an opportunity for them to see their pals

John decided to put his new found skills into practice and empower other members who weren’t joining the weekly sessions to join in, he’s been providing 1-1 calls with each of them, supporting them to use their digital devices, access myCOPD and download Zoom to join in the video calls.  John says

The How to Guides for using Zoom on different devices have really helped, I don’t know every device but I can ask the members which device they have and use the guide to give them step-by step instructions to access Zoom and join a meeting

John is now hosting the weekly West Leeds peer support social meeting via Zoom and plans to get in touch with their exercise instructor so that they can start doing their vital exercise sessions again together on screen.

Being a Digital Champion isn’t just about giving people instructions and guiding them through the process, it’s about finding out what the ‘hook’ might be for people. Having patience and giving people the confidence to take their first steps online is really important. The opportunity that they will be able to see their friends after all this time is the real ‘hook’! The members feel really proud of themselves when they finally join the call, and they should be! I know it’s made a real difference, it’s having such a big impact on their lives right now.

John has embraced the role and challenges of being a Digital Champion, putting his training into practice and has enabled his fellow members to meet as they once did each week, his passion and dedication for peer support has been amazing and has enabled more of the members to join the Zoom social group.

Our Breathe Easy group might not be able to meet face to face, but we can still meet ‘virtually’, and there’s still plenty of laughs, support, advice and coffee!

Sue, aged 69 is one of the group leaders at the East Leeds Breathe Easy group and has used her digital champion training to the full.  Being one of the 4 exercise instructors she understands the importance of keeping active and has been keen to support the group members to meet virtually so that they can continue the support and exercise they had in their face-to face sessions. 

She has provided calls with members to show them how to use Zoom and has given so many of the members the confidence to access it, “If I can do it, you can do it!” she says.

Sue began the virtual sessions with a social catch up which consisted of plenty of laughs! Members found it hilarious that they could all see each other on the screen at the same time!!  She was then determined to introduce a virtual session to focus on the vital exercise they need to help manage their long term conditions.  She modified the choreography exercises and they began with a cool down, and then last week introduced circuits!

Doing the exercises together is real peer support and it motivates members to keep up with their self-management and it lifts member’s moods.  It’s been a long time now in isolation so having a guaranteed weekly laugh is so important

Sue, with COPD herself is also aware of how living with a long term condition and being isolated can have an impact on people’s moods and mental health and the importance of being socially connected with family and friends, the East Leeds group members have been meeting for nearly 10 years so to them; they are family!

Sue admits that she isn’t the quickest to learn new skills but she became determined to not only attend the Zoom meetings but to host her own so that the East Leeds group members can keep socially connected during these tough times.  Each week sees new members joining and Sue is able to use the How to guides, along with her skills, knowledge and confidence to talk members through the steps needed to join the meetings. 

She’s empowering and inspiring many members to take their first steps with digital, exploring a new digital world where attending a Zoom session becomes part of the everyday!

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like without having these virtual weekly sessions to take part in.  We don’t know how long this lockdown is going to last and due to having COPD we are in the cohort of people who will be shielded the longest, we need to make a long term plan just in case!