An interview with Billie Skene from Older People, Active Lives

The OPAL service (Older People, Active Lives) is based in West Lothian and supports independence and wellbeing among people 60+ across the region. Billie is one of OPAL’s three Service Coordinators, in this interview, Billie talks about how we can keep generations connected even when we are apart and the experience of OPAL during the pandemic.

Kate – “Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and OPAL for our members. What to do you? Where are you based?”

Billie – “I’m Billie, one of OPAL’s three Service Coordinators. I joined OPAL in October 2019 after working for 7 years as a wellbeing coordinator in a nursing home. The OPAL service (Older People, Active Lives) is based in West Lothian and supports independence and wellbeing among people 60+ across the region. We support people in a wide range of ways, including telephone befriending, online groups, puzzle packs, walking groups, and ‘blether buddies and mail mates’ (our phone and letter-writing networks between clients).”

Kate – “How and why did the online sessions start?”

Billie – “Our 13 groups across West Lothian had to close immediately due to the rising concerns over coronavirus in March 2020. We kept in touch with all our group attendees as lockdown began and it was quickly apparent that they really missed the groups. We launched our first online group over Zoom in May 2020 and then went on to launch another 4 different ones – a monthly cooking demonstration, dementia-friendly musical memories group, a singing group, and an evening group for those who preferred to meet at that time. The online groups have been a great success and we’re continuing to introduce new ones.”

Kate – “What have the differences been in organising online and face to face?”

Billie – “The main difference has been having to adapt activities to an online format – we quickly learned to use various Zoom features such as breakout rooms and screen and audio sharing.”

Kate – “What online activities have been popular?”

Billie – “Talks from various people and organisations are always popular. We’ve had a ‘bring your pet’ session that also had a live video link-up to goats on a farm! Sessions featuring party pieces from group members are always a great laugh.”

Kate – “What have been the ages of participants and how have you recruited them?”

Billie – “Our attendees are over 60 but we also have volunteers attending and facilitating the groups who are age 18 upwards. We now have a local nursery with children aged 3 to 5, who join us fortnightly for exercises. We promote the groups mainly through social media and sending out posters and flyers in the community.”

Kate – “What has been the feedback. Do you have any quotes or stories?”

Billie – “The Zoom groups from OPAL are a life-line.”
“Thank you for a magnificent singing experience this afternoon…it was thoroughly enjoyable”
“Who would have thought you would sit in your house wishing a zoom was coming on”
“The tea party last week on the group was great, you don’t feel alone. What you are doing is working – it really helps.”

Kate – “What are your future plans?”

Billie – “We plan to gradually reintroduce our face-to-face groups but we’ll also keep some online groups running. The online groups are a great way of reaching people who are less mobile or housebound, or for some other reason are not able to attend our face-to-face sessions.”

Please contact Billie Skene, Senior Service Coordinator from Cyrenians OPAL Older People, Active Lives by email or by phone on 01506 815 815.

You can also visit their website to learn more.