In Spring 2020, at the start of the national lockdown, the Royal Exchange Elders programme was in full flow. Regular workshop sessions were taking place and work on a new intergenerational production was about to begin. Very quickly the programme was adapted and reimagined for a new digital world and the sessions moved online. What became apparent was that ‘online’ wasn’t accessible for everyone, and so PHONE A FRIEND was developed. The project was designed for people who wanted to do something creative with another person, but who were facing barriers to taking part online or who were just Zoomed out!
Elders programme manager Andy Barry said:
'Combating feelings of loneliness and isolation has always been an important part of the Elders programme, and it became even more vital during lockdown. It was genuinely brilliant to see how many people fully embraced ‘zooming’. The sessions were creative and dynamic, I think everyone felt very connected to each other and the theatre. However, it was noticeable that not everyone was able to get online or use zoom easily and as a group we wanted to make sure that we could offer something to everyone. PHONE A FRIEND was led by our Elders Leaders and together they have created something that is really special as well as being an important lifeline.'
The Elders Leaders are graduates of the Elders Company who volunteer to support the Elders programme. Participants who signed up to the project were partnered with an Elders Leader, who contacted them four times on the phone for a 30-minute call during a two-week period. During each call, the pair had a chat, caught up and explored some creative questions so that together they created a story.
Elders Leader Glyn said:
‘I thought that the idea behind the PHONE A FRIEND project – to include Elders members who were not actively engaged in either the Elders Monday, Elders Leaders or those who were members of the Company - was an excellent idea with the potential to becoming an important addition to the Elders programme. It was a way of reaching out and engaging older people who found accessing the Royal Exchange building or the sessions which were now on zoom, a barrier to taking part in the programme.
It was quite daunting for me going into the task as I didn’t know either of the participants very well. Each person had a very different style and I spent time drawing out story ideas and helping with structure and dialogue. In both instances it was important to be a guide and facilitator and to remember to concentrate on making the process an enjoyable one. It was a very positive experience and being able to share the stories over the phone has been so rewarding and hopefully made people smile. Eighteen new stories have been created and are free to download so that anyone can phone a friend and spend some time reading, listening or maybe even creating a story of their own.’
Participant Pat said that she got a feeling of ‘satisfaction’ from the project, she added: ‘I felt like I was doing something. We’re on a lockdown and you just feel a bit hopeless and I felt wanted. I felt a purpose in my life.’
All of the stories from the project have been recorded and will be played on Sonder Radio each day at 10am from Monday 21 September.
Sonder Radio is a station catering for elders living within a care environment and independently in the community. You can tune into the stories via their website