Connecting people and being sociable are at the heart of group travel. But how are groups staying in touch during the lockdown? We hear from group organisers about their experiences and tips.
With self-isolation the new normal in the UK, our usual methods of socialising are halted. Luckily, phones and the internet – described as a “godsend” by one group travel organiser – enable us to stay in touch with loved ones, friends and colleagues despite social distancing.
For Lynda Wright and husband Tony (from the Horizons group), Zoom and Skype video calls are a favourite. “Technology is fabulous and I embrace it completely,” Lynda said: ”my husband’s become a Chiltern U3A Zoom expert, on tap to help anyone set up Zoom meetings.”
James Silvester, who organises trips along with his wife, Marilyn, for the Hartley and District Active Retirement Association, has been finding practical as well as fun ways of maintaining positivity among his group. James said that his group’s website now has a “bored button” accessing several games to play: “Quizzes, Dingbats and one named “Just for Jim” which links to the Charlton Athletic website (as I am a big supporter) are available for members.”
WhatsApp has also been a useful tool for James and his group (and one of our recommended apps for groups to use). He added: “Members are continually adding comments and posts and even videos and photos of previous club holidays and outings.”
However, for James, nothing can beat an “old fashioned” phone call. He told us: “Marilyn and I have had to call many of our members concerning cancelled or rearranged events and a good long chat usually takes place.
“Our intention now that many local and district communities schemes have been put into place for vulnerable residents, is to use the “telephone calling list” we have set up to speak, using that old fashioned telephone call, with all of our members on a regular basis.”
Another fan of phone calls is Joan Hanks, who runs St Andrew Ladies Luncheon Club. Each member of the group’s committee have been contacting six members each, usually weekly but sometimes more often if needed. “The response has been wonderful”, Joan said: “While some members have others living with them, some are isolated so the response to our calls is lovely.”
Another inventive way to ensure more isolated members stay in touch comes from Anne Bartlett and her group, Friends of the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum. They’ve adopted a ‘buddy system’ for those who don’t use email, to ensure everyone keeps informed about group updates.
And Ian Wilde, who heads up the Birmingham National Trust Association’s trips, said: “We keep in touch by telephone at least once or twice a week as most of our members are between 70 and 95.”
Phone calls prove a reliable method of checking in with group members for Rosalind Earp of the West London District Oddfellows. She said: “Some of them have a WhatsApp group set up, but most of them keep in touch over the phone,” given that a number of members don’t use the internet.
Rosalind also highlighted the importance of keeping tabs on the wellbeing of group members, most of whom are feeling positive. “I’ve referred one lady to a befriending service because she suffers from anxiety,” she said, “it’s a charity to combat loneliness, they chat to people on the phone a few times a week.”
For apps and practical advice on how to keep members sociable, here’s 5 ways that groups can stay connected.
For Bob Walker, group organiser of Mancass, “email and the internet have been a godsend” for talking to and updating his members, especially given the “daily challenge” of cancelling and re-arranging events. He said: “I must say that the group travel trade have been very supportive in this and a big thank you is well deserved.
“I have tried to keep my group updated via email in most cases, by text messages or phone in others, of the state of play of events and their options. I have also kept our website updated with the latest information that I have on our future events.”
Bob’s had a lot of contact with his members, and reaches out to fellow group organisers who might want to communicate, too. “I assume they are very busy like me, but I am on the end of the phone (or email) if they wish to discuss or chat about anything.”
John Lovelock is another advocate of email for keeping in touch with members of the Hedgerley Historical Society. “I was able to send out a PDF copy of our programme. We’re being positive and saying, this is a bit of a blip,” he said, noting the importance of looking forward to future trips.
Community spirit has also helped for his group. He added: “A lot of our members keep in touch informally; we’ve got over 230 members and the majority live in Hedgerley and neighbouring villages, so a lot of people know each other.”
Marian Durbidge, in charge of the Go Together Travel Club, has encouraged her members to stay in touch by email or phone.
“We are posting, emailing and putting info on the website, which is now up and running.”
Her second group, the Herts Theatre Club, has been considerably affected by the coronavirus crisis: “Theatres are a challenge and we may have to wait some time before we can obtain refunds.” But Marian is keen to stay positive: “The main objective for us is to keep the communication going and to make sure our members feel confident that we will do our best for them.”
We’d love to hear how your group is staying sociable during this challenging period - get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.