The Future is Hybrid
Posted by Jane East on 21st April 2021
“You’ll never get me on here, it will be a miracle.”
This was our older neighbour, Liz in Manchester Cares, when we suggested in the early days of the pandemic that she might want to join our online social clubs. 41 virtual Zoom clubs later, she told us: “Having time together and a purpose at the moment, when you are on your own, is so useful.”
In March 2020, The Cares Family transitioned from exclusively face to face, to exclusively digital. It’s been a tough but valuable journey — not just for neighbours like Liz, but for us as an organisation too. We’ve had to learn how to deliver engaging programmes online, whilst finding the best way to support people to get connected. Perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve learnt is that in order to be truly inclusive, our future has to be hybrid.
Today the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee released its report Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World, which explores the rapid shift to digital across our society and its implications. The Cares Family had the opportunity to contribute to it. It is no surprise to us that the Committee found that more of us have experienced a greater sense of loneliness during Covid. Or that digital inequalities which existed before the pandemic have been exacerbated by it.
In March 2020, we estimated that 60% of the older people we worked with had no online access. Our response was to offer tech support to our older neighbours so that they could join our Virtual Social Clubs but also build their digital skills for the future.
The House of Lords report talks about a ‘hybrid world’, with “an increasingly blurred mix of online and offline aspects of life”. We have found that virtual connections have brought genuine benefits. Some people have been able to take part in our programmes who have never been able to before. We have seen meaningful connections and friendships forged not only across generations but across cities and countries. Cheryl from North London Cares has participated in 38 phone-in clubs to date, and told us:
"I've never met Valerie or Nish or Tony in person, but I feel like I have. It's given me a connection at a time when that's been hard to come by. It's really funny but I think of them as my phone family now and I look forward to what we are going to chat about next!"
But at the same time, we recognise the statement of Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar who said to the Committee: “Research points to the fact that nothing replaces face-to-face interactions…” Despite our successes, we estimate that more than half of our older neighbours who came along to our in-person social clubs have never joined a virtual one. This is for lots of reasons, but the most prevalent is digital inequality.
To successfully tackle the digital divide, it will take not only devices and broadband access but also skills, confidence and ongoing support. Having longstanding trusting friendships with the older people in our network gives us the perfect starting point for taking them on a digital journey.
Our future at The Cares Family definitely looks hybrid.
Our neighbours in Manchester Cares recently went on a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. Now, how cool is that? Every month we’ve been bringing neighbours together from all our branches in London, Liverpool and Manchester for a magnificent virtual disco. And the dancing will go on. But we are all, at the same time, longing to see one another again in person. To sit down and have a cup of tea across the table together, or a pint in the pub, and, dare I say it, a hug.