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Council helps turn centenarian into cyber surfer

At 103 Grace Chandler may be the ultimate silver surfer. She Skypes, she tweets and now she’s planning a Video Log to keep her 70,000 Facebook fans happy.

The transformation from knitter to social networker came about thanks to a programme launched earlier this year by Waltham Forest Council. The authority dedicated £30,000 to multimedia training for older people and those with learning disabilities.

“The technology of today opens up a world of opportunity and we didn’t see why age or disability should hold people back,” said Councillor Angie Bean, Cabinet Member for Adult Services.

“Grace is proof that it doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s so much that the digital age has to offer. She’s just one of 300 people we have helped in a variety of ways get the most out of modern technology.”

The programme brings multi-media into day care centres and older people’s homes, providing training for staff and residents and allowing access to technology in a way that makes it accessible and in keeping with what they want.

Some specialised equipment has been purchased to allow people with sensory and physical impairment access to technology. For others it is about bringing people into the modern age with regard to things they have always enjoyed such as music and photos.

Providing people with memory sticks to store information, downloading music and helping people use the internet has all contributed to an improvement in the quality of life of the individuals concerned.

Grace was provided with multimedia training at George Mason Lodge, the older people’s home she lives at in Leytonstone. “I retired 30 years ago and they didn’t have computers then,” she said. “I’ve never used computers until now, I’m used to typewriters.”

A keen knitter, Grace has combined her hobby with her new found knowledge by taking part in the annual Big Knit, which invites people to knit a hat for bottles of Innocent drinks and smoothies. She has already knitted 65 hats and has appeared in a YouTube film as part of the publicity for the campaign on the Innocent Facebook page.

Speaking of her use of technology she said, “It’s not knitting, but it’s good to learn. A bit confusing at times, but I’m getting there. I sent my great niece a Skype message and she thought it was an imposter. She couldn’t believe I was using a computer. That made me laugh.”

Grace is also a dab hand with a MP3 player and has a Twitter account (@Georgem88216884). She is planning – with further help from the Council officers involved in rolling out the programme – to embark upon a regular series of Video Logs, sharing her knowledge and opinions on a range of topics.

The programme is obviously incredibly beneficial in allowing people to keep in touch with family through the likes of Facebook and Skype, but for some people it can have an even greater impact.

When a lady with dementia moved into one of the borough’s care homes she soon showed signs of upset, making staff became concerned at the cause. It turned out that even though her son visited regularly, her illness had convinced her he was not coming to see her.

Staff realised that there was a way to alleviate her anxiety by the use of a video camera. By filming his visits and uploading the films to a computer, staff were able to show his visits, providing her with the reassurance that she was loved and supported by her family.

“Ultimately technology is just a means to an end,” explained Cllr Bean. “Whether it is a letter from a loved one or an email is not really the point. The programme we have invested in is not really about technology, it is about people. Waltham Forest Council believes that just because you’re born in 1910 like Grace, it doesn’t mean you have to be left behind.”PHOTO: Grace Chandler, the oldest resident of Waltham Forest Council’s Older People’s Home George Mason Lodge in Leytonstone, embraces her new found fame as a darling of cyberspace.

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