'Zoom is everyone's best friend now' as Yorkshire's societies embrace technology to cope with the pandemic

Dating back to 1852 and thought to be the world's oldest organised photographic society, it has survived two world wars and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

So it's no surprise that the Leeds Photographic Society (LPS) has not been deterred by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, despite social distancing restrictions making it much harder for its members to meet.

Like many clubs and societies across Yorkshire, many of which cater for an older membership, it has adapted to circumstances with the help of technology, ensuring vital social contact and staving off boredom and loneliness for many.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Read More
Police stopping cars on West Yorkshire border to ask them why they're travelling...

Meetings which used to be fortnightly are now held online once a week, while guest speakers and competition judges have agreed to take part on Zoom rather than travelling to its base in Roundhay.

Among the highlights of its programme is a talk on Tuesday December 15 by Joe Cornish, a renowned photographer now based in Northallerton and noted for his large format landscapes.

During the summer when people were allowed to gather in groups outside, regular outings were organised to go and take pictures. Club President Howard Gould hopes members can meet up again for the same purpose when circumstances allow it.

"It is something you can do in these challenging times," he says. "You can be out and about and while you're exercising, you can be taking photos and even take photos at home and in your garden.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Walking buddies Betty Wright, (left) and Elizabeth Lowe, (right) setting off from Aberford, near Leeds, on their 5-mile socially distanced walk. Pic: James HardistyWalking buddies Betty Wright, (left) and Elizabeth Lowe, (right) setting off from Aberford, near Leeds, on their 5-mile socially distanced walk. Pic: James Hardisty
Walking buddies Betty Wright, (left) and Elizabeth Lowe, (right) setting off from Aberford, near Leeds, on their 5-mile socially distanced walk. Pic: James Hardisty

"And of course now they're saying that it's good for people's mental health, taking photographs when you're out and about."

Though LPS has kept going throughout the pandemic, he is aware that some smaller clubs have suspended meetings until they can meet in person. But he adds: "The danger is that for very small clubs if people don't rejoin and if they lose their income they may ultimately fold."

The difficulty in gathering in groups has forced clubs to find innovative ways to continue the activities that provide friendship and connection for members. The consequences of not doing so for older people can be stark, with the impact of loneliness as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

But in a 2018 report the University of the Third Age (u3a) suggested an alternative approach to ageing, based on shared learning, skill sharing and volunteering.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Members of Leeds Photographic Society on an outing.Members of Leeds Photographic Society on an outing.
Members of Leeds Photographic Society on an outing.

The u3A, a UK-wide movement of locally-run interest groups, has 53 branches across Yorkshire. Regional trustee Margaret Fiddes said that even though the situation is grim, members have found a way around it.

She surprised herself by setting up a YouTube channel so people could record guided tours of their gardens, while keen walkers are now buddying up in twos rather than going out in big groups.

"One way or another, we've managed to encourage people to adopt and adapt to all kinds of different technologies, and it's actually quite remarkable what's going on", she said.

"And over these past few months it has been a lifeline especially to people who live on their own and they don't get out. So, everybody has started using Zoom, it's become everybody's best friend. And they're using WhatsApp, and YouTube.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"They are doing the ordinary stuff, the old fashioned stuff, some people still print off a physical newsletter for those few members who are not online, and they go round and put them through letter boxes or they telephone each other.

"We still do talk people through it, there was one lady who was talked through how to use WhatsApp, which she'd never even heard of before and before you could say 'Jack Robinson' she never shut up frankly, but this is a very good thing.

"Our national office has put together a winter programme which all the u3as can tap into which ranges from things like yoga to Latin, a complete range of different sorts of things that will appeal to absolutely anyone and everyone, so it's trying as hard as you possibly can to stay in touch, keep people occupied and interested while all this is going on."

Elsewhere, in October, a project was launched for communities to spot and identify birds from their own windows, in a programme that could result in artwork to feature in a Leeds museum.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And a virtual music-making project has been taking place in Withernsea with Manchester Camerata during the last few months to help ease social isolation and make people feel better during these unprecedented times.

Working with Withernsea Ladies Choir, composer Richard Taylor and musicians from Manchester Camerata, participants have composed a new piece, ‘Unlocked Voices’.

Singers composed their own music during their online workshops, formed a ‘kitchen’ samba band and have taken part in mindfulness movement in association with Active Withernsea, the town’s sport and wellbeing organisation.

The Unlocked Voices song forms part of a specially commissioned film.

To book a place on the Joe Cornish talk on December 15 email [email protected].

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.