Sean Szmalc from Titanic Honor and Glory where he spoke about the Titanic.
By Judith Haw
Online zoom sessions for Erskine Reid Macewen Activity Centre Veterans have proved to be a lockdown lifeline since the centre closed its doors in March due to Covid.
The Activity Centre on the Erskine Veterans Village in Bishopton has been a huge hit since opening in January 2018 but when lockdown restrictions came into force, staff knew that keeping in touch with the Veterans was more important than ever so many activities moved online. The sessions were set up so quickly there was no break in service.
A weekly timetable is issued to over 100 Veterans with activities including art; stand- up-comedy; music; photography; catch up chats; afternoon teas and mindfulness. There are also regular telephone calls and one to one therapy sessions. Over 120 activity sessions have taken place in 31 weeks. 80% of the zoom users are over 65, with 50% of attendees living alone.
Memorable sessions have included a talk by Sean Szmalc from Titanic Honor and Glory where he spoke about the history of the Titanic with touching personal stories from survivors he had met over the years.
Therapist Morag’s timeslots are always popular where she takes the Veterans on a mindfulness journey of relaxation and positive thoughts.
Marking Armed Forces Day was incredibly important to everyone and would normally have been commemorated with a celebration at the centre, but instead there was a fun filled zoom afternoon where members were joined by Veteran Minister Graeme Dey MSP; Erskine Chief Executive Ian Cumming with music from Forces Sweetheart Kirsten Osborne. WW2 Veteran Barney, age 94, enjoyed the day saying: “I had a wonderful day which I would otherwise have spent alone had it not been for Erskine.”
When lockdown restrictions eased the ERMAC team were able to deliver 48 outdoor socially distant sessions at the centre with 188 attendees which included archery; Tai Chi; bowls; a walking group; art and photography.
Alan, aged 62, served as a soldier in the Army including in Northern Ireland. He is living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe arthritis and is cared for by his wife. He said the zoom classes have been a godsend.
“If I’ve had a bad night, as I don’t sleep well due to my mental health, the banter with the Veterans and staff on zoom gets me through the day. They are not staff, they are friends. Spending time with them is like being in the Army and going back to your family. I attend the Art classes, twice a week.
” Some days I might not be in the mood, and I might not always draw, but I still log in and it helps get me through a bad day. Going to the sessions also helps my wife, giving her some time to herself. A highlight for me and my wife was the virtual high tea – the food was delivered for the tea and it was absolutely superb. I also have one-to-one calls with Morag which helps me without a doubt.”
Another Veteran who has greatly benefited from the friendship at ERMAC is Margaret, age 66, who was in the Wrens and was widowed 18 months ago. Margaret said: “I moved from Perth to Glasgow after my husband died and it was quite a shock as I have never lived alone before. I first went along to ERMAC last year and from the minute I went into the centre there was a welcoming atmosphere.
“My late husband was in the Royal Navy so I am used to Service banter. I was just getting to know people when the centre closed due to Covid. The zoom sessions have been a godsend. They have made me laugh, smile, cheered me up on a dull day and given me the chance to get to know people a bit better. I especially enjoy the Wednesday afternoon, which I call my party time, where there is a comedian, singer, quiz or bingo – and always lots of laughter and banter.”