By Eddie Gilmore, Irish Chaplaincy CEO
(This article was first published on the Independent Catholic News website on 10th June 2020.)
'It's the nicest thing anyone has done for me. I felt so lonely during lockdown. Now I feel so connected.'
So said Ann, who is supported by the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors Project and who is one of the first recipients of a pre-programmed Tablet, via our 'Keeping Connected' project.
Rory, one of the Seniors team, explained: 'Ann really loved it. I called over to her yesterday to see if she was getting on OK with it. She was there listening to LMFM, her favourite (Drogheda-based) radio station. She was thrilled with it.'
Ann went on to say, 'With this tablet, I've been able to see my nephew, my friends in London and even my friends in Ireland. I love listening to the Irish radio and getting Mass. I can't thank you enough.'
Paul, the Seniors Manager, and I had discussed at the start of lockdown about how we might be able to use technology to keep people better connected but were both a little unsure about how or even whether it would work to issue people with electronic devices. Then one of our wonderful volunteers Joe came up with a cunning plan involving tablets, dongles and SIM cards. We decided to trial it with a few people and Declan ordered a first batch of tablets and programmed them so that things could be easily accessed by pressing a button or swiping. He also made some easy to follow instructions.
The next question was how to deliver the tablets. Another of our wonderful volunteers, Martina, had returned in March from cycling round the world for two years with her husband. She was ready to cycle some more, and has been pedalling around London making the initial deliveries. The first recipient was 89-year-old Mamie who has been supported by the Irish Chaplaincy for many years. 'I'm so excited to try this out', said Mamie when the tablet came out of the box. 'I can now speak to you all face to face at the Chaplaincy and plan to speak to my sister (who lives in Galway) for her 100th birthday.'
I was very touched to see the first pictures of 'Keeping Connected' in action: Ann holding up her tablet, and Mamie sitting watching Pentecost mass from her local parish in Archway.
Mamie said afterwards that she was going to use the tablet to call Fr Ugo, her parish priest. And another of her first actions with the new device was to join Facebook. Ann added that she was thrilled with the tablet and said it's the best gift she's ever had and can't believe she's got it. She had never used a computer or tablet before, but says she is getting on with it well.
I'm so pleased that people like Ann and Mamie are seeing the possibilities that this technology can offer. I hope we'll be able to find the funds to supply many more people with tablets, and I'm confident that our 'Keeping Connected' project will last well beyond the lockdown.
Read more about the Irish Chaplaincy Service here: www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk