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How Barnsley is using recycled tech to support its local care homes

An initiative from Barnsley council has seen refurbished laptops and tablets given to care homes in order to give them the support and help they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thornhill House care home has explained the benefits the refurbished technology has brought to its residents and staff, and the positive impact on residents' wellbeing. 

Earlier this year Barnsley Council planned to recycle over 100 old laptops and iPads. But when the UK went into lockdown, they realised those devices could be refurbished and given to care home residents to use during this period. The Council’s IT services staff worked over the Easter weekend to refurbish the devices and install video systems and user guides, and Adult Social Care teams distributed the laptops and iPads to care homes in the borough.

Cllr Jenny Platts, Cabinet Spokesperson for Communities at Barnsley Council, said: “We are so pleased that we can redistribute some of this technology that we know will bring joy to families who are unable to see each other in these difficult times… it’s great that we can use modern technology to stay in touch with loved ones.” This innovation has helped residents stay connected and to access vital medical support.

Christian Whiteley-Mason is the manager of Thornhill House care home in Darfield, Barnsley. Back in March when lockdown started he used his own mobile phone to help residents make contact with their families. Not one of his residents had ever used a mobile phone or an iPad or laptop to see their families. In fact, they didn’t even know it was an option, so they needed lots of help. Christian started with WhatsApp, but it wasn’t easy because the phone screen was so small and many residents have poor eyesight. Some residents’ families got them iPhones, and staff helped the residents to set up Facebook pages so they could use FaceTime. Even so, Christian’s phone was in constant demand.

The Council devices were, Christian says, “a massive, massive help”. They could use Skype as well as WhatsApp and FaceTime. Residents could see their families more easily on the larger screens – and Christian got his phone back. Making contact online gives residents and their families comfort, reassurance, and peace of mind. One resident now has an ex-Council laptop in her room and calls her daughter on Skype morning and evening.

Through the coronavirus and beyond, flexible and inclusive innovations like this will be much needed to support people’s wellbeing, at home and in places like Thornhill.

Another benefit for residents is that they’ve been able to have online appointments with their GPs who haven’t been able to visit the care home since lockdown. Dr Mellor and Partners have been willing to work closely with Thornhill House to make this happen. They log in to make their calls online, see the residents who need medical attention, then issue any necessary prescriptions.

It’s not only residents and their families who have been helped through this initiative. Staff, too, have been able to keep in touch with their families online. Coleen, 64, is a care assistant who has worked at Thornhill House for 31 years. She doesn’t have a mobile phone, and since lockdown she hasn’t been able to see her son and his family who live some distance away. She says, “Christian has been letting me talk to him on FaceTime and it’s been lovely.”

Maggie, 62, is deputy manager and has worked at Thornhill House for nine years. She says, “I cannot work these fancy phones so I won’t have one.” Her daughter has two young children with disabilities, one of whom needs shielding. Before lockdown they came to Maggie’s house daily, but now she can’t see them for at least three months. Maggie says, “I can speak to them on the phone but it’s not the same as seeing their faces.” Seeing her grandchildren online has made a huge difference to Maggie’s wellbeing.

At Thornhill, staff and residents have been finding a variety of creative ways for residents to keep in touch with family members who don’t use Skype or WhatsApp, with Facebook live videos of events allowing families to log on to see the residents in real time or catch up with the video later. But of course not all families are on social media. So, in a further step towards inclusivity, Christian has had a DVD made of recent Thornhill House events that families can have as a keepsake. 

Through the coronavirus and beyond, flexible and inclusive innovations like this will be much needed to support people’s wellbeing, at home and in places like Thornhill. Barnsley’s initiative has inspired other Councils to look at their stock, with Belfast City Council refurbishing 30 tablets.

Barnsley joined the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities in 2019 and are working towards becoming a member of the WHO Global Network.

Age-friendly Communities and COVID-19

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