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Virtual Neighbours Network

FROM: Guy Patterson

What NEED does this meet?
Older people are often isolated, through no fault of their own and without any obvious solution. At the same time, many older people are learning basic computer skills, and these skills enable them to use the Internet. By linking those who have acquired these basic computer skills, and encouraging them to exchange local information on opportunities to get out and about, they will both be less isolated, and more likely to use local facilities. In addition, they will potentially travel outside their own areas to share in facilities on offer elsewhere - a particular benefit will be for older people to meet and explore new places in walking groups - older people taking exercise together is the key to their staying healthy, being intellectually stimulated and avoiding isolation.

What is the APPROACH?
To contact local computer course tutors and arrange to visit those groups of older people (often referred to as 50+ groups) when they are approaching the end of the course and explore the different uses of the Internet. To encourage the people on the course to use email to stay in touch, and to join a Virtual Neighbours Network that offers them access to a database of other people who have attended computer courses and are aged 50+. Explain the benefits of sharing information about local facilities, and in particular the opportunities that exist in the form of walking groups.
The 'distinctive' element is that so often people undertake to learn new things, and are successful in terms of the courses they attend, but are then unable to apply their newly-acquired knowledge and skills in such a way as to extend their knowledge base, increase their skills and go on to apply them in new ways, ways that allow them to actually change their lives. The Virtual Neighbour approach is one that sees the linkages between what people learn and how they apply their learning - in particular it sees the link between IT skills and physical activity - bringing people together who might otherwise remain isolated, and improving their health - particularly in the winter months when people are less inclined to go out - it is envisaged that the walking groups will incorporate learning about environmental issues, discussing the way people can get involved in conservation etc.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Older people who are isolated are particularly vulnerable to depression. The opportunity for older people to make contact by means of the Internet is obvious, but the reality is that people learn the basic skills and remain isolated - the Virtual Neighbours scheme will make it easier for them to see how they can use their IT skills to overcome isolation, and take exercise. It may seem obvious, but it is perfectly feasible that these Virtual Neighbours could as easily reside in Argyle and the Algarve, as in different parts of the same English region.

What is the COMPETITION?
I have not had the opportunity to fully research whether there are other, similar services out there, but i know that those IT projects that exist locally tend to maintain relatively restricted geographical boundaries (Local Authority areas etc). I am also convinced, through research i conducted in the late 1990s into retirement migration in Southern Europe, that such a scheme would quickly acquire an international dimension.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The initial development costs would include the development of a Virtual Neighbours Network (VNN) website. Once this was set up the Network would build itself - in other words the 'one or a million' principle would apply. Costs would be incurred in publicising the Network, but funds could be sought from Local Authorities, Primary Care Trusts etc.

November 13, 2003 in Connecting People, OAPs | Permalink


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I think this is a fantastic idea! We get requests for this kind of training/education all the time - as I've said elsewhere, this group is one of the fastest-growing in terms of internet usage, and the next few years will see even more growth. There is a real need for this kind of service both in North America and the EU.

Posted by: Sarah Welstead at Nov 14, 2003 9:49:18 AM

Guy - I need your email address! Can you send it to me?


Posted by: Sarah Welstead at Dec 3, 2003 2:10:26 PM