Real-world drop-in closes, online drop-in starts soon

Meeting room at Whitmore Community Centre - no people, tables and chairs stacked

Real-world drop-in closed, not suspended

Our last session was 2 March. The 9 March drop-in was suspended. Today we felt that it was unsafe even for a podcast session with only six people in the room — so that had to be cancelled too.

We cannot tell you when we will be open again.

Online drop-in, online learning

The whole point and purpose of the drop-in project is real-world social inclusion — explicitly counteracting the social distancing of the virtual world. But now we have to counteract the really serious effects of social distancing implied by the COVID-19 crisis.

So we are going to fast-forward existing plans to offer an online drop-in and online learning to older people who are isolated at home. That might be all of us soon.

Many of you already have the basic resource — a GSuite account. More than 100 people have email accounts at seniors.org.uk, bold.org.uk, szs.net or agewell.org.uk. Those are all GSuite accounts, and they all provide immediate access to an online meeting room app named Meet. We could add about 450 more, and it’s all free for us.

If you have a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or a desktop computer that is not too old — and an Internet connection at home, you should be able to use GSuite Meet. We expect that many of you will need help while you are using it, so we will recruit volunteers to join the sessions.

The online drop-ins will be group events, not conversations between 2 people — so you can expect to see familiar faces and hear familiar voices.

We still have many details to work out, and we still don’t know how we can include digital beginners and people with no Internet at home.

The 24/7 Online Drop-in

Everybody with one of the GSuite accounts has already received a link to the first experimental online drop-in. We are still testing it, so nothing much will happen for a few days. The information you need will be in your email and messages soon.

Our response to the COVID-19 coronavirus

Normal drop-in has been suspended

(Edited after posting to remove references to Whitmore Community Centre, which does not figure in our current plans).

After the 2 March session, we suspended the weekly drop-in because Internet access had stopped — but we were expecting to return quite soon.

But on the following day, we realised that Internet access had become irrelevant. We can’t restore the normal drop-in until the COVID-19 crisis is over.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything — but we would have to make substantial changes to ensure your safety. Here are some of the ideas and principles we are working on …

COVID-conscious etiquette and safety

  • High-visibility reminders of current guidelines and information — on the walls and on our screens.
  • Wash hands before entering or re-entering the meeting room, and again before leaving the building.
  • Keep at least 2m from every other person.
  • Don’t come if you feel the least bit unwell.
  • Don’t come if you live with, or care for, other people who are more vulnerable.

The equipment we use

  • Many people bring their own devices. We can insist that they should be clean — and not used by anyone else, not even volunteers.
  • Most people also use our laptops. We can ensure that each laptop is used by only one person during each session and cleaned after use. After that, they go back into the cupboard, and are not touched again until the following week.

Transport

  • Possibly the greatest risk.
  • Don’t use public transport unless you really must — and never during the rush hour.
  • We can adjust our opening and closing hours, eg- to finish at 4 instead of 5 pm.

Keeping in touch with you at home

  • We are giving a lot of thought to this, but there are no easy solutions.
  • We have email addresses and phone numbers of nearly everyone who has been to the drop-in recently — that’s you and about 300 others. So maintaining contact is not the main problem. Most people want real-world face-to-face help or support. That’s our speciality.
  • However, remote and online communication is well within our technical competence — and we expect to have at least one workable proposal soon.

Workshops instead of drop-in

  • We know there is a demand for short courses and workshops. We haven’t been able to meet it because the demand for open drop-in has been so much greater.
  • Last time we arranged Monday afternoon workshops was October 2019 (Google Photos 1 and Google Photos 2). We were instantly oversubscribed — but we were in control of the numbers. All we would have to do is reduce the maximum from 15 to 8, and repeat to prevent disappointment.

Audio activities

  • We haven’t done podcasting or Internet radio for a while — simply because we have been far too busy with the drop-in.
  • Both are suitable for small groups of people, and explicitly require you not to handle the equipment.

Your ideas, your preferences

It could be a very long time before we can get back to how it was last week. But what do you think we could do next week, next month, or the remainder of the year? If you  are a regular drop-in user, you probably know how to contact us quickly. The details are also on our Information page.

How we are coping with the loss of broadband Internet at Whitmore Community Centre

A temporary difficulty, hopefully

The Vodaphone contract has ended. Centre management are unable to renew it.

Our short-term workaround

We are using a portable wireless router with an upmarket 4G data plan. This is working quite well in the Meeting Room — but it won’t work at all for the desktop computers in the IT Room. Good, but not good enough.

Our long-term solution

We have a solution that will restore improved Internet access to the centre. We have put this totally-workable plan to centre management — and we will tell everybody else when we have their response.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade

2020 - Happy New Year

Our Community IT Drop-in, 2020

Every Monday afternoon is an IT drop-in afternoon – 2 to 5 pm as usual

  • The drop-in is a weekly grassroots event offering digital beginners and learners help and support with phones, tablets, laptops — and understanding the Internet so that we can use it safely and sensibly.
  • And of course, it’s a social event – so people who have no interest at all in digital technology are very welcome.
  • We have been quite busy for the last few weeks, but we always have space for a few more people.

Run entirely by older people

  • The drop-in is a free community asset run by local older people, for everyone.
  • We have no age limits. Current age range is 4 to 91 (though most are 60+).
    We do not recognise borough boundaries.
  • No targets. No questionnaires. No remote-control management. Nobody is a client. Everybody is an asset. Everybody can be a contributor.
  • All you have to do is come – and then hit the buzzer next to the front door.

You can use the large Meeting Room, best for …

  • Fast wifi connections.
  • Use our community laptops.
  • Or bring your own device (laptop, tablet, phone.
  • Do anything you want to do, online or offline.

You can use the smaller IT Room with desktop computers, best for …

  • Job search, applications, CVs, etc
  • Claiming benefits
  • Online forms of all kinds
  • Learning word-processing and other applications
  • Online courses
  • Anything else you need to do

When

  • Every Monday afternoon, 2 to 5 pm

Where

  • Whitmore Community Centre, 2-4 Phillipp St, N1 5NU

More information

Laptop Workshop in the Community Room (29 August 2018)

How to use our Chromebook laptops

Our new laptops are Chromebooks, providing very safe and very fast access to the Internet. So far, people using them have logged in as Guests.

But we can offer you a better way to use our laptops. A User login would allow you to personalise your Chromebook experience and save your workspace, so next time you log in (from any computer), you can carry on where you left off.

If you have an email address at Gmail, seniors.org.uk or bold.org.uk, you are ready to be a User now. If you have an email address somewhere else, we can give you a free G Suite account at either seniors.org.uk (if you are retired) or bold.org.uk (if you are still in the job market). Or, if you prefer, you could just create your own standard Gmail account. Either of those options would allow you to add yourself to our Chromebooks as a User.

So the workshop on Wednesday morning, 29 August, will be about claiming a G Suite account, adding yourself as a User to our laptops, understanding how everything works, and maybe exploring G Suite features. It’s really very easy. The workshop will be short: 10 am to 11 am. Of course, afterwards you may continue using the laptops until 1pm.

When and where

Return of the Laptop Café

New laptops in the Community Room

Escape from the IT Room

We are finally out of the tiny IT Room that has space for only 8 people. We have expanded into the much larger Community Room with 9 new laptops, and space for you, your laptop, and 20 other people.

So on Wednesday mornings, the Community Room is the 50+ Laptop Café (the name we used at The Lawns computer centre and Piccadilly Community Centre). That’s in addition to the large Meeting Room that we have been using for about 2 years. Now we can accommodate about 40 people in two large spaces. connected by the garden and the kitchen.

The new laptops are all Chromebooks — very fast, very safe and very easy — giving us instant access to the Internet — and exactly what we need to resume workshops and short courses.