OPAL is one of our Neighbourhood Networks in Leeds supporting over 60’s living in Cookridge, Ireland Wood, Tinshill, Holt Park, Adel and Bramhope.

In the face of COVID-19 OPAL quickly had to close their centre and suspend all of their social activities for their community. Working with 100% Digital Leeds the team became Digital Champions and began to explore ways in which they could inspire, motivate and support their members to go online whilst in isolation. Knowing the benefits that being online can bring for their members, increasing independence, supporting health and wellbeing, access to online shopping and for social connections.

Digital Champions were keen to develop a virtual offer of social activities for their members to support those most vulnerable people in isolation to stay connected and boost their mental health. Using inspiration from Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Virtual Coffee Mornings and the resources produced by 100% Digital Leeds, they started to look at ways to set these sessions up. Most importantly, looking at ways they could support their members to overcome the barriers to these – lending them devices if they had no connectivity, providing digital support over the phone to increase their skills and confidence and taking away the fear factor of being online and sharing the benefits.

OPAL soon developed the ‘Friday Chat Group’ using Zoom and started supporting members remotely to access the session. Where many members didn’t have digital devices 100% Digital Leeds supported through their Tablet Lending Scheme which has been invaluable. This has also enabled OPAL to successfully receive funding to purchase their own tablets which they can now lend out to members with no connectivity. These have enabled their vulnerable members to have video calls with family, join the OPAL virtual sessions to be reunited with their friends who they haven’t seen for 4 months and they’re learning to use them for a variety of things such as shopping and ordering their prescriptions.

Members share how much of a difference it’s made to them:

“I’m so thankful for the iPad you’ve lent me. It’s really lifted my mood as I was feeling really depressed and fed up. I can now email my friends and I play solitaire. I’ve also found the exercise classes on You Tube good and I really enjoy doing these. Lockdown has been hard and lonely but using the iPad I’ve been able to chat to my sister in law, and I’ve got something to keep me going and occupied playing the word games and puzzles!”

“It’s been amazing to join in the OPAL meetings and see my family. It’s kept me occupied and that’s been really good. Both me and my husband have got more confident and we didn’t think we would ever be able to use one, but here we are! We’ve not seen our granddaughter since before lockdown and when we saw each other on the iPad for the first time we didn’t know what to say to each other, we just looked and smiled! It was so emotional, we now see our grandsons every day on it too.

Another thing that l have found good is the theatre shows and other links. It has been great to enjoy the shows! Also the virtual trips, I have visited Rome and various zoos and other places. The world is literally at my finger tips! I am so grateful. Lockdown would have felt a lot longer without it. Also the brain training apps and physical exercises videos, the mindfulness courses and tai chi. The quizzes that have kept us both occupied. Sorry, I could go on and write my own blog l think!! It’s been life changing! Not to forget the library books l have borrowed and read on the iPad. We’ve not had time to get bored during lockdown and it’s kept us going.”

The iPad has opened up a whole new world for me! Embracing new technology, it has been a real good companion. In the old days I would ask God something but now Google knows everything! I’ve been using Google Maps to see my friend’s house in Australia. It’s the next best thing since sliced bread!

OPAL have recruited more digital champions who share their skills and enthusiasm and really spend the time to support members and build up their confidence. Helping with Online Shopping has been vital and life changing for many and left them feeling less anxious that they could get their food shop without putting themselves at risk leaving the house.

Members that have been taking part in the ‘Friday Chat Group’ on Zoom are now going to support other members to join the sessions, as one of our older members said “If I can do it at 80, you can do it!”

Rowan at OPAL shares:

We always have a real giggle on our zoom sessions, we’ve been singing today, and one of the group suggested recording it so we can have a laugh at it in the future! There were so many belly laughs happening! The first few sessions were so emotional seeing members being reunited with each other after such a long time, sat having their cups of tea’s waving at each other. Asking each other how they are, what they’ve been doing, what they’ve been reading, it was brilliant!

OPAL are thinking of new and innovative ideas for the virtual sessions to keep members motivated and many different themes have interested members with low digital skills to take their first steps online to access them which is great. Ideas such as ‘Posh Frock Friday’, Virtual Bingo, Virtual tours and more!

“Zoom is great for helping me feel part of a group, rather than a chat between a couple of people. Its so lovely to see people who otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see for months. Being shielded is a lonely and isolating experience, My fellow OPAL members are also some of my friends and I’m really missing them. Zoom is helping me to feel connected to them again. I do look forward to our regular Friday afternoon get together’s now and its encouraging me to comb my hair and wear something different!”

“OPAL have supported me to develop my confidence and skills with digital, this has meant I can now join Zoom chats with friends from OPAL, Yorkshire Dance, Health for All and Tai Chi. It’s made a huge amount of difference to my lockdown experience as I live alone and am shielding. From only being able to see my granddaughter when she brought my shopping and then only seeing neighbours at the Thursday clap and a little bit of chat over the fence. I had a blank diary but now I have lots of things in diary, there’s no going back now with digital!”

Thank you to OPAL for sharing this update and well done for all this amazing work supporting your members to take their first steps online, it’s making a huge difference to so many.

Last updated: 21/9/20