The coronavirus pandemic has created a world that relies on sophisticated electronic meetings – but in part of North Yorkshire a technological “back to the future” approach has been adopted to ensure no-one is left behind.
When lockdowns were imposed, many library customers felt they were missing out, particularly those who enjoyed the social contact of visiting their library and meeting others, in addition to the pleasure of reading.
So North Yorkshire’s library service moved to plug the gap in people’s lives by setting up a call and chat group.
But instead of using the latest digital technology and virtual meetings using the internet, the decision was made to take a technological step back, and the weekly meetings are held through old fashioned telephone conference calls – a system older users unfamiliar with the internet know and trust.
It also means no-one is excluded because they do not have internet access, while virtually everyone has access to a telephone.
The 45-minute weekly phone calls are set up not only to talk about what everyone has been reading, as the conversation can also move on to other topics.
The sessions provide the social contact that has been lacking in many people’s lives since early 2020.
The group was launched in March this year with a grant from The Reading Agency. This is being used to pay for the calls, though it is hoped fresh funding will be found when that is exhausted.
It was set up to operate in the Selby and Malton areas.
Outreach Librarian Alison Tutill said numbers in the Call and Chat group had been kept deliberately small to avoid the conference calls becoming overly complicated.
“We were trying to get to people who were lonely and isolated,” she said.
The group functions by using a couple of volunteers to join other members in conversation.
“We wanted to be inclusive and a lot of people don’t have computers, or do not like using them, so we chose conference calls instead,” she said.
Volunteer Dave Baff has been working through the pandemic to deliver books from Selby library to members and now takes part in the Call and Chat sessions, too.
He attributed the popularity of both to the fact that they provide human contact for those who would otherwise be isolated.
“Most of them are avid readers and they get a lot out of it,” he said.
Albert Hamer had been a member of a reading group which “fell to pieces” as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and said he was pleased to be involved with Call and Chat as an alternative.
“We used to have a reading club and all read the same book, but with this we discuss books and anything else,” he said.
“This gives us a reminder of what it is all about, it keeps us happy,” he said