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 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

UK version of

FROM: Sarah Walstead

What NEED does this meet?
Retired people are younger than ever - 62 for men and 59 for women, according to the BBC - but as the population of the UK and the EU ages, it's important to get retired people, and their skills, back into the workforce. In addition, the average 60-year-old these days isn't usually ready to potter around the house knitting booties for grandchildren: they're active, vital, and ready to learn new things.

Meanwhile, businesses - small and large - have a need for temporary or part-time employees, and would love to hire the experience and skills of retired people instead off having to take sullen 19-year-olds from temp agencies - but they don't know where to find them. In addition, if an employer only needs someone for 3 days next week to stuff envelopes, it's not cost-effective to post a job on Monster (£250 per job) - but it is on Retired Worker (£25 or less per job).

So we launched Retired Worker ( it's an employment website, sort of like or, except it's been designed especially for retired people who want to work on a temporary or part-time basis - and we made it friendly for these users, who often aren't - yet - expert web surfers.

What is the APPROACH?
Our approach is distinctive simply because nothing like this currently exists, as far as we know.

In terms of our specific approach for this demographic, we've designed Retired Worker with a typical 60+ person in mind, and addressed some of their specific issues. For example, retired people often haven't created a resume in 20 years, and they are apprehensive of doing so. They are also sometimes unfamiiar with 'attaching' documents to emails, as they would have to do to send a resume to a job site. Retired Worker, on the other hand, is a point-and-click system, that allows users to create profiles (selecting various skills, and skill levels) without having to write a resume or attach files.

Employers create their job postings in the same manner, identifying skills and skill levels they need.

The system matches Employees to Employers automatically; Employers get an email telling them who in the Retired Worker database matches their requirements, and then Employers contact Employees directly (using a secure method) to arrange inteviews, work, etc.

The best part is that the cost is much lower than regular job sites!

What are the BENEFITS to people?
For retired people who want to work, the benefits are clear: they don't have to submit a resume or have the sophisticated search skills they need to find an appropriate job on typical employment websites; they don't have to check the site every day because the system will automatically match them to jobs which require their specific skills; and they can participate in a community with other retired people like them. Most importantly, the response we've had from Retired Worker users so far is that they feel 'welcomed' by the site - it's not cluttered, it doesn't require sophisticated computer skills, and we've included details like the ability to large-size text if required.

For businesses, the benefits include more cost-efficient job postings; avoiding email inboxes filled with resumes from people who aren't qualified for the position (our matching system prevents this); quick turnaround (employers know who matches their requirements within 24 hours); and most importantly, access to a wealth of skills and experience they haven't been able to tap into before.

What is the COMPETITION?
We don't think there are any other services like ours out there, especially in the UK.

We think our idea should win because it meets all of's mandates:

1. It is founded on electronic networks (the internet).

2. It has real-world impact beyond using computers. There is increased social capital, bridging between groups, and reduced social exclusion, because we are facilitating the integration of older workers back into the workforce, where they can use and teach their skills and experience with/to younger workers. The government and the EU have predicted a crisis in the workforce in the next 25 years, as the population ages and the younger workforce shrinks - Retired Worker is a way to alleviate this.

3. This has VERY low cost scalability. The database and system is already built and running in Canada. It only has to be adapted to the UK marketplace, and is not restricted to a specific neighbourhood - heck, we could cover the whole EU for only an increased hosting cost.

4. Development community: We think that this project would attract development communities, but more importantly, it would foster a community of its own. We'd like to see Retired Worker have discussion boards, education tools, etc. that would help retired people get back to work and keep working as long as they want to.

5. Retired Worker is very low maintenance. Yes, there are initial requirements such as PR efforts to attract attention to it, but in Canada we've had absolutely no trouble doing this on a 'we did it in our basement' kind of way - we call newspapers and television stations and they have been more than happy to run stories about Retired Worker. The challenges of an aging population are foremost in many people's minds.

6. Things people already do, done better: Well, people have already done employment websites, so I guess you could say we're just doing it better for this demographic.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
It's not difficult to build the idea, since it's already been done.

Logistics, however, is where we would need some help. We'd need to find someone, preferably from within the demographic, to be the 'face' of Retired Worker UK, and there is a certain amount of effort required in terms of making calls, emails, etc. to businesses and the media to get sponsorship and PR for the site, but this has not been difficult in Canada, and judging from the amount of British media coverage of the challenges of an aging population both in the UK and in the EU, we don't think it would be difficult to get Employees, Employers, and advertisers on board. Depending on the revenue model desired, government might also want to be involved.

Cost for this: We think it can be done on a shoestring (as we've done it in Canada), especially if we have the support of an organization like MySociety. Ideally we'd have an office and server in the UK, which could be as little as £500/month, plus a salary for the 'face' of Retired Worker, and possibly some part-time or temporary staffers who could help attract initial attention/PR. So it could probably be successfully launched for £10,000 over 3-6 months - though of course a little more wouldn't hurt, mostly for marketing!

November 13, 2003 in Connecting People, Matching System, Money, OAPs | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack