How Famileo app is helping this Yorkshire family to keep connected with personalised newspapers
The enforced isolation of the Covid pandemic cut all of us off from loved ones, but particularly older people living in care homes – and only last month, it was reported that millions of pensioners feel loneliest in the summer.
There are more hours in the day to fill and fewer visits from loved ones.
One initiative, an app called Famileo, aims to enrich family interaction. It has taken France by storm, with more than 1.5 million using the platform, and now Famileo is in Yorkshire.
Younger family members can add photos and messages on the app, which are compiled into a personalised newspaper that is printed and posted to their relative – usually a grandparent.
As campaign groups in the UK warn mobile apps leave elderly people struggling and excluded, Famileo offers a solution which crosses digital divides.
Terry Massey, 60, lives in North Rigton in North Yorkshire, and uses Famileo for his mother. Mary, 86, moved to live at Mapplewell Manor Care Home in Barnsley last year, shortly after the death of her husband of 66 years.
Terry, a researcher at Harlow Consulting in Harrogate, visits her often, but Mary now has some difficulties with her memory.
“I’d actually bought her a camera that prints photos out, so that whenever we visited, we could take a photo, print it, and she could remember we’ve been,” Terry says. “Famileo has solved a lot of problems for me because wherever we are we can now send a hard copy of our photos to my mother.”
Now 17 members of Terry’s family are on his mother’s Famileo app, contributing photographs and messages, which are printed into a gazette for her every Monday. “It really helps keep mum in touch with what’s going on with her children, grandchildren and their spouses,” Terry says.
Take Terry’s son Ben, 25, for example. “He moves around, he’s an archaeologist. So Famileo is very useful in his case. We also have a nephew who was in Australia. Most families have some members living abroad.
“My son and younger relatives are all digital natives. We have a family WhatsApp, but a few of us have said how we like getting Famileo ourselves.
“We get a link online to look at it, and when we post and update it, the rest of the family chip in. We take a lot of notice of my mum’s Famileo. It’s more cohesive than anything else.
“A typical Famileo gazette will have maybe 10-15 photos a week, all with short notes explaining where we were.
“And she keeps them all, every one of them, in her room. I know it means a lot to her. My sisters visit every Monday, when she gets it, and she’s always flicking through it. It helps with her memory, too.”
Famelio was the brainchild of 43-year-old French entrepreneur Tanguy de Gélis, who was inspired by his own grandma, Elisabeth, now 95. He’d bought his grandma an iPad one Christmas so she could join in the family WhatsApp group, and not be left out.
“One day when I went to visit her, I noticed the iPad on her table gathering dust,” Tanguy says. “She told me it wasn’t easy for her to use and that she missed the family postcards and letters she used to get.
“So that got me thinking about an app with a digital interface for young people and a newspaper for the elderly.”
Tanguy and his business partner Armel de Lesquen took the idea into care homes in France. They met doctors, nurses and carers.
“It’s very difficult for families to keep in touch with elderly relatives for a lot of reasons, including geographical or digital divides. These professionals saw how important Famileo was – and a great way to keep residents connected.”
He was taken aback by its success. The pandemic saw a spike in demand, as it became available to everyone, not just in care homes. It’s one of the top 40 Apps in France, and is now expanding into Spain, the UK and the United States.
“In Famileo, we’re very lucky because every day we can feel the importance of what we do. We receive lots of thanks and messages for the service, and that drives our ambition to open in new countries.”
“Famileo has two positive impacts. The first of course is it helps grandchildren write to grandparents very easily, but the other positive impact is it helps everyone keep in touch with the others in their extended family.”
The hard copy newspaper is key for his mother Mary, Terry says. “When she was younger, she could handle a mobile phone and text, but not as she’s got older, and she can’t go near a PC. It’s difficult with keyboards, with co-ordination and eyesight, no matter how clever she might be, it’s a big step – it’s a foreign country.”
“She has a library from the last few months of Famileo, she can go back to,” he adds. “She’s not reliant on people popping in saying hey, look at this on my phone, which when you get older can be a little irksome; she has a repository of hard copy images which is lovely for her to look back on.”
Terry is a keen walker and runner in the great outdoors. He recently did the 192-mile Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk.
“There are some wonderful nights just on the moors with curlews and grouse, or being laid at the side of a river, watching the stars and listening to the running water.”
Terry took photos along the route for his mother’s Famileo. “It was good to keep in touch with her and send photos from that. It’s all about joy. It’s a way of bringing all that joy to my mum.”