Staying connected: not everyone’s online

The Covid-19 outbreak and social distancing rules have affected the way organisations and support groups meet.
man sitting next to a laptop

And while online sessions using video conferencing can be a boon for those with the right technology and skills, they are not accessible to everyone.

Since March, all Healthwatch-run meetings, from our health and care forums to our Board meetings, have moved online.

Most have continued to be well-attended because people can join from home across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough without the time and cost of travel.

Making sure everyone can still have their say

However, not all of our regular attendees and contributors are able to join in this way. And we are exploring how to help people stay involved and have their say and improve local services.

With a second Covid wave starting, it’s unlikely we will be able to restart face to face meetings until maybe April 2021. However, we are looking at a “blend” of online and offline so that people have both options.

This month, our Partnership Support Officer Debbie invited Stuart, a stalwart Independent Member on the Carers’ Partnership Board, to trial the web-based video-conferencing service Zoom.

Carer Stuart tries Zoom

Full-time carer Stuart, from Wisbech, is a long serving member of our Carers Partnership Board.

The Board helps to improve services for carers in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and usually meets every two months in different places across our region.

But since the start of the pandemic, meetings have switched to online.

“I’ve been involved with the Partnership Board for nine years.  I enjoy it because it keeps me in touch with developments on services for carers. I can also put forward any concerns that I hear,” Stuart explained.

“I tried joining the previous meeting remotely - by telephone, using the landline and hands-free option. But that didn’t work very well because the quality of the sound was really poor which was difficult especially on a meeting lasting a couple of hours.

“So Debbie suggested I try using Zoom on a laptop and I decided to give it a shot.”

Debbie set up the session at our Healthwatch offices in Huntingdon and made sure that Stuart’s visit was fully risk-assessed and safe.

He sat in one of the meeting rooms with the laptop already set up and connected to the meeting, while Debbie also joined online and took the minutes.

“It did feel rather eerie as there were so few people in the building but on the plus side, there was lots of parking for once,” joked Stuart.

“It took a bit of getting used to seeing people’s faces in those little squares as they joined in – and seeing myself on there as well was rather off-putting.

“Sometimes people just disappeared and there was just a black space on the screen, which was a bit disconcerting, but it was just the internet connections fading in and out.

The technology seemed quite fiddly and I felt that it was a bit of a distraction and slowed the flow of the meeting.   
— Fenland carer Stuart

“With presentations, I think it’s important that you still have hard copies of documents that you’re discussing and not just sharing these on the screen.   

“Zoom was better than no communications at all and it was definitely worth trying. I’m very grateful to Debbie for making all the arrangements.

“However, for me it wasn’t as effective as meeting face to face where you get the personal interaction with others,” summed up Stuart.

“I do hope that we can get back to having our usual style of meeting. I worry that the longer the meetings continue online, the more reluctant people are to leave home and meet up.”

Helping people access services in different ways

The Carers’ Partnership Board has constantly raised the need to ensure that there are routes of using services other than just through a website.

Over the coming months, all five Partnership Boards for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – which work to improve adult social care in our area – are exploring the so-called Digital Divide.

They will be looking at better support for people who are online but also making sure that service providers are aware of the barriers that prevent people from accessing and using computers and the internet.

These include:

  • Living in very rural areas with no broadband or mobile connection
  • The cost of equipment – computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone - and connection
  • Lack of confidence/not sure how to use the equipment
  • Worry about scams.

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Other ways to contact us

 Call: 0330 355 1285 

Text: 0752 0635 176

Post: Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Maple Centre, 6 Oak Drive, Huntingdon, PE29 7HN.

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