In the past month most of us will have used an online app like Zoom or Skype to participate in classes, talks, book clubs and even parties while keeping a safe distance from others. We’ve written about life in lockdown for some residents, but what’s it like for those on the other side of the Zoom app, providing the services? We spoke to Damian Griffiths of Catbytes Digital Community who has been helping many local businesses and organisations move their services online.
Tell us about some of the organisations you’ve been helping?
I’ve been working with Caroline White of Dancing Ducklings Children’s Dance Club and have set her up to use Zoom to stream her classes from home. I also got Zoom integrated with the existing booking sites she works with Hoop and Happity (Happity is a Lewisham based organisation by the way!) I also helped Caroline with getting a webcam that would work best for her and optimising her internet connection.
The club sessions have been getting better and better, and we are in the process of putting together a short promo film to show just how good they are.
I’ve also been working with local trainer and dance teacher, Orlene Henry, advising her on what equipment would be best to move her exercise classes online and how to use Zoom. Her first online sessions are kicking off on Monday 27th April.
I have advised the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust about how to run their “stable and steady” club remotely online. This club gives elderly people advice about how to avoid falling over.
They will be using tools like Whatsapp, Skype and Zoom for this purpose. Zoom is the online tool of choice for many people at the moment, but it is not always the best. For one thing, not everyone has it, so there is work in making them install it. Another issue is that it requires more configuration than Whatsapp or Skype.
If your clients are elderly and not very engaged with communications technology then it could be better to use Whatsapp, which is very simple, like making a phone call. This is especially true if your sessions are one on one, rather than one person tallking to a larger group.
The Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum have a Wellbeing Day every Monday which includes knitting, healthy eating, ukelele playing, origami and support with using digital technology. I have consulted with them about how to move this project online. I am also working on their website to make it more effective as a platform to continue to communicate with their members.
St Andrews Church in Catford, like a lot of churches, has moved it’s services online. I have just finished their new website and have added the Youtube uploads of their live Facebook Streams to the front page of the website.
The Ladywell based charity Lewisham Local have been given responsibility by Lewisham Council for managing the Lewisham Food Network, which is a consortium of organisations helping ensure that people who are isolating are able to get food deliveries.
It includes the Lewisham Irish Centre, and the Honor Oak Community Centre. I have helped their staff use Zoom and sort out some technical issues with the way they had their meetings set up.
Are these organisations able to continue to provide their services as before, just online?
There is always some adjustment, and it is not always possible to move everything you do to an online form. Community Centres can’t run their services online at all. Their spaces are designed to allow people to congregate and have had to close. However, in most cases they have shifted to doing food deliveries from their buildings.
Typically a space in the building is used for storage before being sent off. This is usually done with the support of the Lewisham Food Network, run by Lewisham Local.
The impression I get from Dancing Ducklings is that of course the ideal scenario is to continue doing the classes as before. However, with that not being possible at the moment, it is great that Caroline is growing more confident with performing online and realising the benefits that online brings with it: you are still reaching customers that are stuck at home, and now, the whole world can be a client!
As far as community organisations such as Lewisham Local, the Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum, and also the NHS falls service are concerned, it is clear that going online is quite difficult. This is quite a contrast to local churches, which are dealing with the challenge quite well.
St Andrews had all their services on live stream in two weeks, and seem to have recordings of every one. Unlike some of the other organisations, like the dance clubs, they have a mission to speak to their congregations, so they aren’t weighing up financial considerations before deciding to take the plunge and go online.
Also, they have a set up which adapts to Live streaming well – one individual who has a message to give to an audience, without the need for a lot of feedback or interaction.
Churches also have a good knowledge of who they are trying to reach to. St Andrews pastoral team consists of five people. They calculated they had 100 households in their regular congregation. So they assigned themselves 20 people each to keep in touch with.
I have not encountered anything like that level of organisation anywhere else. Definitely not in local community organisations, some of whom are still getting off the ground in terms of speaking to their members (although to be fair Lewisham Local are extremely stretched at the moment).
Also, churches often have dedicated members who have professional backgrounds that make them IT savvy. They are able to draw on a range of skills effectively in a way that VCS organisations aren’t.
In general the organisations I work with have a strong social focus. I can’t see how there can be any replacement for people interacting in the same physical space. Anyone who uses Zoom will quickly see how it isn’t a great substitute for a real meeting.
I’ve tried to run a couple of purely social meet ups, and they are ok to find out how people are going. But I’m not getting much feeling of wild enthusiasm for them. Just hanging out on any online platform is not so good as doing that in real life. I don’t believe the world is changing forever like some people say. When things get back to normal, people will just appreciate it more because they will realise what they’ve been missing.
What are the key points for local businesses to keep in mind when moving their services online?
Go for the simplest thing that will work. If you can do it on Whatsapp then do use that, if not then Skype, if not Skype then Zoom.
Speak to people that have already done it, and go online to do research.
If you are taking payments for what you do, then you will have to make sure you have a way of doing this online. You may be registered on a website that takes payments, but if not then you will need another method. There is a third party site called Zapier which enables Zoom integration with Paypal and Stripe.
If you are using Zoom, then do some test runs before you do your show live. Zoom can record what you do, so do a recording of yourself doing the show. This will help you position your device, and see whether the microphone and camera are adequate.
Built-in laptop cameras are quite poor quality. You will usually get better results from a smart phone. If you use a smart phone put it in flight mode so noone calls you when you are performing. Smart phones don’t have such a good internet connection as a laptop with an ethernet cable attached to a router.
So to get the advantage from this you may want to get a webcam for your laptop and use that. Webcams are not all cheap. However, it is worth investing in a good one. The Logitech 920 and 922 produce good results. They also have good built in microphones. However they are about £90-120. The Logitech Brio is probably the best Webcam out available, but it is not worth the difference it makes at £200.
If you are doing a perfomance or class on Zoom, always make sure you select the option that says “mute participants on entry”. If you don’t do this then everyone will see whoever is making a noise rather than you, which will be chaos.
If you are doing a show or performance, make sure that you look at your camera, not at the computer screen. If you look at the camera it looks like you are looking at the people that you are talking to. If you look at the screen or the people it looks like you aren’t really interested in them and have something else on your mind.