'It’s certainly different to meeting face-to-face, but it’s been really positive'

Posted: Thursday 28 May 2020 at 10:01

Since social distancing guidelines were introduced in March following the coronavirus outbreak, all of our face-to-face services have been suspended and replaced with a range of remote alternatives.

It’s been almost three months since any of our macular support groups were last able to hold a physical meeting. But, despite not being able to meet face-to-face at present, the groups are continuing to provide vital support, helping to ease feelings of loneliness for people with macular disease who are in self isolation.

Groups have been doing everything they can to ensure members stay in contact with each other. Group leaders and volunteers have been making regular calls to individual members to check how they are; some have set up WhatsApp groups where they can message each other and share cookery recipes and jokes. One group even arranged for food parcels to be delivered to members. 

One of the most popular ways of staying in touch has been through regular group telephone calls. But what are telephone group calls like? What can you expect if you call in to a telephone meeting?

One group that has embraced the new telephone format is the Dunfermline Macular Society Support Group. Its group calls have proved to be so popular, they have been increased from once a month to once a week.

Judith Barton, the group’s leader, says: “When the telephone meetings were first suggested, probably like a lot of group leaders, I was a bit sceptical because I couldn’t really see how it was going to work.

“Originally, we were going to have a call once a month, the same as we would for a face-to-face meeting, but we ended up having a huge turnout for the first one. So, we’ve been having a call weekly and we’ve been averaging around 15/16 attendees for the past few weeks.”

Like many of the telephone call groups, Judith and the group’s volunteers have tried to ensure many of the activities the group would normally be enjoying can still go ahead, such as talks from guest speakers.

Judith said: “We’ve had some sort of guest speaker nearly every week. 

“We try and have as much variety as we can to keep it interesting and we try to involve everyone. One of the things that has been especially important is the sharing of information and members telling each other about local services, such as establishments providing hot food for people who are self isolating. We have lots of funny stories being shared too and there’s lots of laughter.

"We’ve also run a quiz where everyone split into teams and had to answer some topical questions.”

The group has also managed to find a way to ensure its forthcoming summer outing can still take place.

“Our June meeting was going to be our summer outing to the local sensory garden in Aberdour. Although we won’t be able to go there, I’m arranging a virtual tour instead, so the group can be walked through it and have it described to them by a guide. Then we can go and visit it in person when it’s safe for us to do so." 

She added: “It’s certainly different to meeting face-to-face, but it’s been really positive – people seem to be getting a lot out of the calls.”

Maria Storesund, Macular Society head of regions, said: “The telephone group calls are here to provide support in exactly the same way our face-to-face support group meetings do. It’s been great to see the way our members have embraced them and all the benefits they’re already enjoying.

“The calls can help people who are coming to terms with a diagnosis of macular disease and want to gain a greater understanding their condition. They also help us to ensure that everyone is kept up to date with all the current news and information, and the latest advice around treatment while social distancing measures are in place.

“But most importantly, they enable people with macular disease to continue to take part in social activities, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

Run by group volunteers or the Macular Society’s regional managers, the telephone group calls are open to anyone with macular disease, their families or friends. For more information about group telephone calls in your area, or other remote support services, please contact the Macular Society on 0300 30 30 111