People can be lonely at any age, but when you are older it seems to become more common. The physical problems of getting out and about, the death of friends and partners, the difficulties of managing on a fixed income, or the isolation of impairments like deafness, can all make it harder to make friends or stay in contact with the family and friends you have.
Social media is one way to reach out, but many older people are not online and are baffled or frightened by new technology. Being online is empowering too – being able to apply for your own blue badge, search for insurance or utility deals, or order a delivery from a supermarket, without having to ask for help helps people feel in control of their lives.
Last year Age UK Barnet helped 300 people learn to get online, working with 9 secondary schools and sixth form colleges, two primary schools and Mapledown School. They also held one off workshops with companies like John Lewis and Geeks on Wheels, as well as drop-in sessions at 5 libraries.
The feedback was great – all the people we asked came away feeling happy with the session, more confident with IT, and would recommend it to friends.
The classes are one-on-one, so older people can learn at their own pace and focus on what they want, whether that is their first Skype to distant family, or their first Facebook message to a grandchild. It also means that they can build a relationship with the students who are teaching them. And that, in my mind, is a very good thing, because working together breaks down those stereotypes – that older people are slow, humourless, weak and pitiable, and that teenagers are lazy, selfish, and aggressive, and let us all see each other as people. One woman told me that, before she took this class, if she saw a large group of teenagers at the bus stop she would have felt too intimidated to join them, but now she sees them differently, and one sixth-former told me that before he had taught our clients he had never had to communicate with a deaf person before, but he now knew to make eye contact and not use slang.
Age UK Barnet’s digital inclusion project is called MiCommunity, because ultimately it is about building a community. The internet community doesn’t have the same boundaries of borough, city and country that Barnet has, but it is a community nonetheless, so I would like to extend thanks to two artists who live nowhere near here, but picked up the call on Twitter and responded by sending in a postcard.
Louisa Crispin @louisacrispin draws delicate, intimate nature studies. There is a quietness to her work, which is compelling, in the same way that a quiet voice in a rowdy room can force you to stop, focus and really listen. You can see examples here:
Lis Watkins @lineandwash paints utterly charming watercolours of urban scenes. London comes to life under her lively palette and unsentimental eye. You can see more of her work here
Back in the local community, Finchley Art Society, who supported both last year and this year’s sale, are holding an exhibition in the Trinty Church Concourse, Nether St N12 7NN from 8-23 Nov. Mon – Thurs 9am -9pm, Fri-Sat 9am-6pm ans Sun 2pm-6pm. Do pop along to support them. Below is one of their contributions from last year, by Loretta de Lange.
Thank you all.