Life

Anne Hailes: It's never too late to become a 'baby Zoomer'

Dinah Weiner zooming from the comfort of her home

I'VE just become a 'baby Zoomer'! I managed to join a union meeting of around 14 people although I just waved at everyone and said hello. Then, lo and behold, two days later I got a request from Engage with Age to chair a conference with an audience of 50 and a panel of experts – and me.

Now, that's no problem in reality, but virtual reality via Zoom was scary. However, nothing ventured nothing gained and the experience opened my eyes to many things, especially how people of a certain age are taking to Zoom in their thousands – and I loved it.

:: What is Zoom?

THE idea was developed in 2011 as a platform for the world of business to communicate via video, cameras in boardrooms all over the country so meetings could be conducted 'live' with interaction between those attending, any number of people on the screen at the one time each taking their turn to speak. Brilliant idea and it took off.

Today, it's the go-to tool not only for conferences but for storytelling, quizzing, family group chats and the rest. What was originally embraced by young whizz kids has proved a valuable facility, especially during the age of lockdown and people working from home.

And age is no barrier: apparently 65 to 74 year olds are known as 'younger older', 75 to 84 are 'older' and over 85s are deemed to be 'older older'. Some organisations even classify 50 as being the age of descent into old age: rubbish.

With no one coming to the door for three months it didn't matter what you wore or how you looked. However, even though you're Zooming in your own home, you have to prepare. Get your background sorted – bookshelves are popular – put on something respectable, do your make-up, make sure your face isn't in shadow and don't allow the camera to shoot up your nose.

Recently, for the first time the Bahá'í community were unable to hold their Ridvan Festival in south Belfast, so families hooked up on Zoom and were able to celebrate together. Last week, a 50th Zoom birthday party was held when a family couldn't join with their daughter to give her a hug, and the fun was great. A grandmother talks most days to her granddaughter in Edinburgh and is able to watch the little girl grow up without losing touch and while showing her the unique love a grandparent has for their grandchild, especially important as who knows when we'll be able to travel to give real hugs.

It's no wonder that older people have taken so well to Zoom. At the Engage with Age conference the subject was 'Older People and the New Norm' and there were many aged 80 and over tuning in with questions and opinions. Such was the importance, a paper on the issues of concern is being prepared to go to all councillors, MPs and people of influence.

Engage With Age is a charity which works with a range of organisations to combat social isolation and loneliness and to promote health and wellbeing. Until last March, director Eamon Quinn hadn't heard of this electronic conferencing, but now it's a mainstay of his organisation for debates, sing-songs, dancing, quizzing and 'chocolate bingo' – an hour of fun and friendship.

As Eamon points out, not everyone has a computer nor an iPad or a smart phone. "That's where libraries come into the picture as so many of them have computer suites and, in my experience, they are always busy."

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DINAH Weiner is 79 and life has taken on a new excitement. She's a member of a creative writing group that is about to launch a book of reminiscences gathered by visiting care homes and meeting men and women with stories to tell. That can't happen now, so Dinah decided on remote visiting and now makes contact via zoom meetings.

"The first time one of the ladies on my screen said it was lovely to see me and thanked me for getting in touch. 'You know,' she said, 'we're the forgotten people'. Well, she isn't forgotten anymore.

"Another resident asked if I could get her some murder mystery books to read but not too racy, one of the others sitting in on the conversation quick as a flash offered: 'I'll take them!'."

Workplace Revolution

BEFORE this, Dinah worked in the retail business where pen and paper were the tools of the trade. "Then came technology and I was able to cope with that. Although I was a bit fearful of the Zoom, I've managed very well and I'd encourage others to have a go."

Already, her colleagues Gerry McCool and Peter Newman are zooming as well. "It's a lot of fun and a great way of making friends and at our age friendship is very important."

A couple of times a week, by prior arrangement with the care homes who set up the link for the residents, Dinah goes into her lounge, opens up her computer, puts away the phone and calls in on her friends.

She talks of her own experiences and encourages others to share theirs. She was born close to the shipyard and although she has lived in north Belfast for years, connecting with a care home to the east of the city has brought her right back to her roots. "I feel close to the community again," she says.

So, it might be joining friends for a virtual coffee all on the screen at the same time, showing a new photograph of the family, admiring the garden, just like the real thing. There is still resistance from some older people and that's quite understandable, but as confidence grows, more and more will relax into something that is a lot more than a phonecall.

The first 40 minutes is free and that's to anywhere in the world or just across the road. Check it out.

:: More at Engagewithage.org.uk

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