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Sunday, 20 September 2020


New company helps age sector charities expand community services for older people

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SPARKO Virtual Retirement Community, a new British tech company endorsed by several Age UK organisations, is offering a simple yet innovative platform for age sector charities to connect with members, communicating with them directly to deliver interactive activity programmes and services – all through their home television set.

The service is a combination of easy-to-use technology integrated with charities’ services which improve the quality of life for older people, reaching across the digital divide and allowing them to remain independent and active within the local community. At a time when charities are faced with financial constraints, this helps them save costs by making member communications and service delivery more inclusive and cost-effective.

Charities and housing associations can also use the service as a platform to interact with members and offer a range of services and activities. This is even more important now charities’ physical activities are restricted due to coronavirus isolation restrictions.

A box connected to the television provides users with unlimited communication via video chat and entertainment whilst enabling charities’ local community coordinators to provide social and technical support, help at home, volunteer activity coordination and high levels of safety and security.

The user can enjoy live discussion groups, live classes and groups from language lessons to fitness, mental wellbeing and cooking, interacting through their televisions using a simplified remote control. They can easily make unlimited video or audio calls to loved ones and friends, share photos and get access to a library of thousands of videos chosen to suit their interests, along with a Happy News channel.

Charity support staff, family members and carers can set up reminders, including when to take medications, information about local activities, healthy living and wellbeing tips and more, which pop up on the television.

Orit Eyal-Fibeesh, chief executive officer of Sparko Virtual Retirement Community, said:

“This is a simple yet innovative way for charities to improve the wellbeing of members in the comfort of their own living rooms. Instead of struggling with mobile devices and Skype, Zoom or FaceTime logins, we offer charities a tool to reach a wide base of members, delivering programmes at a time when day centres and other social or essential activities are restricted.

“Members are able to keep mentally and physically fit and stimulated – with plenty of help and support from their charity. They can video call with family and local friends and other members in their community all via their television set.”

Christine Scales, 72, a member of Age UK Lambeth from Brixton, south London, said:

“I wouldn’t be without this service because it has changed my life. I can ring anyone and we can see each other straight away. I love dancing so I asked them to put some dance videos on and now I dance in my living room. I like doing exercises and now I can use these lovely exercise classes on my telly.”

Age UK organisations in Lambeth, East London and Oxfordshire have run successful pilots and all endorsed Sparko.

Jane Caldwell, chief executive officer of Age UK East London, said:

“We love this service because it is a brilliant way to use the technology that all older people have in their own homes already, their television, to connect to activities, information and to each other. It opens the door to a range of tailored content with exercise and educational classes and great dramas including old movie classics.

“If an older person can’t attend their usual class we can live stream the class into their home and if they are nervous to attend a new class they can connect to someone who also wants to attend. Older people have been enjoying speaking to their sons and daughters through the video call function and reporting that it’s so much more personal than a phone call.”

Along with the box connected to WiFi and the television set, Sparko provides a camera for video calls which can be covered for additional privacy. A broadband connection is required. It can be installed easily by a family member or, if required, by a member of the Sparko team wearing full personal protection equipment.

An app available on Android or iOS allows video calls to be made between family members, carers and the elderly user, and photos and messages to be sent straight to their TV. They can regularly check in to make sure the user is safe and well, and create diary reminders for important medications, birthdays and special occasions.

Moti Bari Barmherzig, founder of Sparko, said:

“I have dedicated the past four decades of my life to researching and improving the wellbeing, quality of life and social integration of older people. I believe that the feeling of being part of a community is especially important to older people because it is the mechanism through which beautiful memories are made. That is why I created Sparko, in the hope of leaving a legacy where the older generation are never isolated and never forgotten.”

Once coronavirus distancing restrictions have eased, the charity can deliver additional services and users can also enjoy extended care and outdoor activities including home visits, repairs support with admin and general errands – along with social activities including religious events, classes, festivals and walks.

For further information, visit the sparko.tv website or call 0333 305 0182.

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