By Kath Smith, Associate Researcher, Newcastle University OHU and Manager of Remembering the Past*
I have a calendar on my desk that is frozen on the date 23 March 2020. I don’t feel able to change it because it represents a pivotal point in Remembering the Past’s existence. This was the day that our building closed its doors and some very quick decisions had to be made about how to run the organisation from that point on. No mean feat when you’re a micro charity. In practice this meant grabbing the laptop and some sound equipment and taking it all home. I often wonder what happened to the milk in the office fridge. On 24 March the volunteers took up the challenge of turning the laptop on my kitchen table into a connected virtual office. First it was Team Viewer, then in quick succession they restored our email networks, installed Zoom and MS365 with all of its capabilities. Suddenly the challenge wasn’t about survival but one of development and opportunity.
Operationally, we’ve used the freedom to change brought by CV-19 to introduce a new project management system and improve communication links between volunteers. In the process we’ve found new ways to share our collections and to collect material. For instance, our online presentations have been well received and a joy to deliver (once we got the hang of it). Strategically, we’ve used the time to reflect on the huge gaps that have emerged between those who are digitally included those who are not. Care homes are a salutary, but not exclusive, example.
Was it easy? Not always. Was it fun? Not always. Was it worthwhile? Amazingly so. Things will never be the same again and, so far as Remembering the Past goes, that’s absolutely fine.
*Remembering the Past is charity which provides innovative and engaging responses to the issues of social and digital isolation faced by older people in North Tyneside. Its team of highly trained volunteers develops projects to collect the reminiscences, memories and oral histories of local people, adding the resulting stories to its web-based community history archive: www.rememberingthepast.co.uk.