We’re adapting our services and now six of our groups are online, with one meeting in a COVID-safe way up until the latest national restrictions. Our new staff member Hermione joined two of our most popular online groups as part of her induction, to gain a full understanding of our work and the impact it has on our service users.

Our Gentle Exercise and Musical Memories groups provide a much-needed break in the week for some, a chance to socialise and move about. For others, the groups may be the only time they speak to another person for several days or weeks at a time. Last year alone, we ran 26 groups and they met 758 times in total.

Sadly, when the pandemic took hold and lockdown was introduced we had to suspend our groups, as they all involved face-to-face interaction. So, we started looking at how we could bring them back virtually, through online platforms. We’re now delighted to have a small selection of our groups back up and running! We worked closely with our wonderful tutors to be able to provide them weekly via Zoom, and have since welcomed back many of our members who attended them on a regular basis, as well as some new joiners.

The Gentle Exercise group takes place every Friday and is run by an experienced tutor. The steps we took to move the session online involved reaching out to group members by phone or email with instructions on how to attend virtually. We started out with a couple of people who were able to join us in the first few weeks, with family, carers and Link Age Southwark staff doing all they could to support our older friends to navigate the technology and get online. The group now has on average 9-10 people join each week and it involves discussion, storytelling and of course, a good deal of gentle exercise.

Hermione recently took part in the group and was delighted to have the opportunity to meet some of our older friends. They started off with everyone’s highlight of the week, with one member saying that they’d received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a family member, and another having been busy tidying up their garden. Exercise was a big theme too; walks around the block and climbing the stairs were go-to activities during the week to keep moving, with one member commenting, “[we’re] doing the best we can with the restrictions”.

Before the exercising could begin, the group voted for their favourite song to be played as the finale, and Let’s Twist Again won by a country mile! With everyone seated comfortably, the tutor gave clear instructions for each sequence of exercise, incorporating gentle and effective movement into the routines.

There was plenty of stretching, strengthening and laughter; Hermione’s highlight was fist-pumping the air to We Are The Champions!

Next was our Musical Memories group, which was created for people living with a mild to moderate diagnosis of dementia. The group is very popular with service users and carers alike, as it aims to fulfil the need for weekly social contact through singing and chatting, as well as maintaining a sense of familiarity and routine. This is more crucial now than ever before for many of our group members.

Hermione went along and joined 14 others (we said it was popular!) in an extremely joyful and energetic session. The experienced tutor brought bundles of zeal and humour to the group, and there was a real sense of fun being had by all throughout. To avoid any audio problems and lag time, the group members were muted and sang along with the tutor in the comfort of their own home. Hermione was delighted to see everyone giving it their all, even if it took her some time to get used to belting out Build Me Up Buttercup alone in her flat, much to the probable dismay of her neighbours.

The session started with a warm-up; one group member came prepared and played the harmonica beautifully to I Am The Music Man, while the other members mimed the accompanying actions of each instrument. The sessions are often themed and this one was full of ‘green-fingered’ songs such as English Country Garden, Green Green Grass Of Home and Morning Has Broken. Requests were welcomed too and the tutor talked through ‘on this day’ news and famous birthdays in between songs. Hermione came away feeling uplifted, with the entire session running true to its aim, to promote a feeling of wellbeing and positivity for all.

It’s extremely important to us that our groups remain an integral part of the services we offer. Both the groups Hermione attended have changed in the way they run physically, but not in the impact they have on our service users. A weekly stretch, singalong and chance to socialise helps to ensure that the older people of Southwark and those living with dementia can age healthily and happily, meet new people and remain part of the local community.

This Christmas, our Big Give campaign aims to raise funds that will enable us to continue to diversify the way we offer our groups, to include face-to-face, online platforms and conference calling. This will help us to reach those who are housebound and ensure nobody is excluded in our community. Any donations, big or small, made to us during 1-8 December will be matched through the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Find out more