SeniorHangouts: 'It's my lifeline'

SeniorNet's new online offering has been invaluable for isolated seniors

Many SeniorHangouts members would give digitally savvy teens a run for their money, says project manager Dr Vinay Karanam.

SeniorHangouts is a new online initiative from SeniorNet NZ, which teaches digital skills to older adults. AMI is proud to offer customers aged 50-plus free SeniorNet membership for 12 months, to help them build the confidence to do more online including managing their insurance, through an ongoing partnership.*

New Zealand has 56 SeniorNet Learning Centres but lockdowns meant face-to-face learning with its treasured social opportunities gave way to online classes. Seniors are now hanging out, virtually on Zoom, thanks to SeniorHangouts, which was launched in 2020. Group members are upskilling from the comfort of their home, via the very technology they learn about.

Never too old to learn

A year on and SeniorHangouts is living proof that you are never too old to learn, says Vinay, who is both a tutor (they call them buddies at SeniorHangouts) as well as project manager. Vinay has a PhD in science and technology and says he absolutely loves what is being achieved.

"We have people who are all 50 plus - the eldest is 94. They don't attend just passively. No, it is proactive, and you should see their enthusiasm. Their knowledge could put some teenagers to shame."

It was SeniorNet's new executive officer Heather Newell who wondered whether an online version of SeniorNet could work. The answer is a resounding yes - about 3,640 seniors have tapped into this new opportunity.

300 seniors at a time on Zoom

"We had no idea it would be so fabulous," says Vinay. "There is much enthusiasm and great spirit. We have people who don't have a computer at home joining in from public libraries, and we even had someone on a smartphone from a hospital bed."

The Zoom sessions cater for 300 people at a time. They are held at 10am and 1pm Monday to Friday and run for 30 minutes, which incorporates 20 minutes learning time and 10 minutes chat.

As you would expect, Vinay says, there are regulars - about 40 people who are on every day, and about 60 who attend weekly. For those who can't make it to the live sessions, they are recorded and available on Google classroom. As of November, more than 800 recorded sessions had been clocked up and 10,000 hours of live sessions.

Socialisation is a key benefit

As the chatter shows, friendships are being forged and SeniorHangouts has been of great value during lockdown.

"The feedback includes statements like 'SeniorHangouts is my lifeline'," says Vinay. "Another person said, 'I listen regardless of what is being discussed as I live in a retirement village and I can't get out and can't see family and friends, so SeniorHangouts gives me an opportunity to socialise and make new friends'."

As for what's covered... so many things. These include how technology can be used for entertainment (Netflix and alternatives such as Tubi and Plex that are free), social media, online government services, online banking and shopping, connecting with family and friends, how to download apps and put things like loyalty cards on apps, and how to use gadgets and devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, smartphones and smart watches.

Seniors can also learn about cyber security, health and wellbeing. There are also special interest groups covering topics like genealogy, holiday planning, electric cars, power generation, drones, cooking, photography and saving money.

The general consensus is that SeniorHangouts has a permanent role, post-Covid, as a learning tool and a way of connecting socially isolated people.

"I think it is absolutely a thing for the future," Vinay says. "There are many advantages to this system in conjunction with face-to-face SeniorNet gatherings."

Being able to join a session from the armchair at home is advantageous for those with mobility issues, for example, and those who may have to travel far to visit a SeniorNet Learning Centre. Virtual gatherings save money, time, and travel stress, there are no bad weather concerns, and it's a net zero carbon option too, Vinay says.

*AMI will pay the 12 month SeniorNet membership fee for any AMI customer over the age of 50 who joins before September 2022. Simply mention you are an AMI customer at your local SeniorNet Learning Centre and AMI will take care of the rest.