I’ve spent the last several years building the Stitch Community to help improve the lives of our members around the world.
For me personally, that makes the current coronavirus crisis feel especially heartbreaking.
After all, the Stitch Community is exclusively for people over 50, and we address social isolation by providing ways for our members to connect with each other, most notably in social groups at events and activities.
In other words, we are a community filled with the segment of the population most at risk from the virus, and a big part of Stitch is based on something that increases the likelihood of getting exposed.
On top of that, the coming months could potentially see prolonged periods of social isolation for many members, which we know can have an extremely detrimental effect on our mental and social health. As you may have heard, loneliness kills.
That’s why we’re scrambling right now to make sure the community responds to the crisis in a way that keeps all members safe. If we can help it, we don’t want a single person to suffer because of this virus.
Thankfully, the Stitch Community is an incredible force for good, and we know many of our members are already mobilizing to help make sure everyone gets through the crisis OK.
We issued an official statement about the crisis a week ago, but that was primarily advice & recommendations based on the public health situation in the Stitch communities around the world.
Much more important is how the community is responding to the crisis.
That’s what this article is all about. It covers:
- What the crisis means for Stitch Events & Activities, particularly our recommendations for event and group organizers
- What we’re doing to help our members stay socially connected through the crisis (including the introduction of a Group Video Chat feature and virtual events to Stitch)
- What Stitch members can do to help others, and to ask for help themselves, during the crisis
The health risk from the virus is obviously real. But so too is the impact that we’re all going to feel if we don’t find ways to stay connected.
It has been pointed out elsewhere that “social distancing” is actually the wrong term to be using. When people say “social distancing”, they really mean “physical distancing”. We actually need our social connections now more than ever. They form the fabric of our communities and are what will help us get through this crisis.
Please read on to find out how you can make a difference.
Stitch Events & Activities
As I described above, Stitch was created to improve the health and wellbeing of all our members, so it goes without saying that we don’t want any members to suffer as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
That’s why we are encouraging our members to postpone any events & activities they have planned.
Even if government advice in your area doesn’t yet prohibit social activities, we are asking our members to consider changing the date of their activities until after the crisis has passed.
The key word here, however, is “postpone”, not “cancel”.
The progress in controlling the growth of the outbreak in other countries indicates that the current situation will not be permanent, and that life will eventually return to normal.
We think it’s not only important to ensure that all Stitch members are kept safe, but also to make it clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And at the end of the tunnel, there will be something to look forward to.
That’s why we’re asking all event organizers not to delete or cancel their activities on Stitch, but to postpone them to a later date.
The current uncertainty means you probably don’t yet have any idea when to reschedule them to, but that’s OK.
Here’s what we did with this week’s Stitch Quarterly Get-Together, which was scheduled to be held this Thursday in Sydney.
This event was fully booked out, with 65 people booked in to attend, plus a waitlist of people hoping extra spots would open up.
As the news about coronavirus started to spread last week, however, we decided to take immediate action and be totally safe, even though the official government advice here in Sydney was that events of this size are still fine.
We cancelled our reservation at the venue and told all attendees the event would not be going ahead this week.
We did not, however, cancel the event on Stitch.
As you can see in the image above, we simply updated the title to add “Date TBD”, and scheduled it for an arbitrary date 6 weeks from now.
Our announcement to all attendees made it clear the event won’t actually be taking place on the 30th of April, but by that date we expect to have a much better idea of when the event will be able to be held.
And if we don’t, we can always reschedule again.
If you are the organizer of an event or activity on Stitch, we’d recommend you do something similar. You just need to:
- Update the date to something 2-3 months from now (or later)
- Update the title to include “Date TBD” or similar
- Update the event description to note the event listing is now a placeholder, and the actual date will be advised
Of course, if your activity related to a public event, such as a concert, which has now been cancelled, you can’t simply change the date. You can, however, change the activity to something that would appeal to the people who were meant to be attending. “Sydney Writer’s Festival”, for example, could become “Social get-together for bookworms”.
If you need help doing any of this, please just let us know.
New (and safe) ways to stay socially connected
It’s easy to forget that there is a lot more to Stitch than community events & activities.
That’s because our community activities are the most publicly visible aspect of the community, and we love sharing stories and pictures of our members staying socially active and having fun.
It’s also because we’ve put our biggest emphasis on connecting in the real world, as we believe that’s where enriching relationships most often form.
Unfortunately the coronavirus crisis has put much greater urgency on finding ways for members to stay socially connected (and sane) when they can’t get out and about.
Here are two of the things we are working on right now to help with exactly that.
Group video chat
Stitch already provides a bunch of ways for members to connect with each other online, whether that’s through online messaging, group chats, the discussion forums, or even the chat sections on events and activities.
Those features were built, however, to support the social interaction that happens on Stitch in the real world, rather than where members would spend the majority of their time.
Having to type messages is great for discussing ideas or to coordinate logistics about an event, but not so great when you just want to enjoy someone else’s company. You really need to see someone for that to happen.
That’s why we’ve spent the last week fast-tracking work on a new feature designed to help our members stay socially-connected through the crisis: Group Video Chat.
We’ve got a basic version up and running, which you can see below:
We’re now working around the clock to get the first version of this feature built and released to Stitch. It’s going to be pretty simple at first, allowing Group & Activity organizers to start a video chat at the touch of a button.
We’ll then expand the feature to include Stitch Discussions, one-on-one messages, and the ability to schedule “virtual” get-togethers at a set time and date.
We are working very hard to be able to release the new feature very soon: stay tuned for the announcement!
Stitch Discussions, bigger & better
One of the hidden secrets of Stitch is the Stitch Discussion section.
I say “hidden” not because the Discussion forums are hard to find (they can be accessed directly from the main Community home page), but because Stitch members who live in active areas typically don’t use them all that much.
That’s usually a good thing: if you live in an area with a vibrant and active Stitch community, it makes total sense for our members to be spending time attending events and activities, rather than spending their time online.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great friendships to be made through the Discussion forums. Some of the strongest and longest-lasting friendships on Stitch have been between members who met in the forums.
In fact, Stitch’s very first marriage was a couple named Carol & Doug, who met through the Stitch forums and formed a connection even though they lived in different states. You can read a post by Carol & Doug here.
Having said that, it’s fair to say that the Discussion section of Stitch hasn’t seen a lot of improvement over the last 12 months or so, as we’ve been prioritizing the features of Stitch which get people together in the real world.
The coronavirus has highlighted the need to rethink that approach.
We’ve seen a marked uptick in the amount of participation in the Discussion forums over the last couple of weeks, highlighting that members are looking for alternative ways to stay socially connected.
So over the coming few weeks we’re going to be rolling out a number of improvements to help raise the awareness of the forums to Stitch members more broadly, make them easier to use, and make it easier to connect with other members about shared interests and ideas.
The first of these improvements will be a weekly update about all the activity in the forums relevant to you, making it easier to find discussions you may be interested in. We’re planning to have it released by early next week.
Look out for it!
Providing help where it’s needed
Nobody really knows how the crisis is going to play out, but one thing is certain: a lot of people are going to need help.
The needs are going to vary from location to location, and person to person.
Some people are going to struggle to purchase basic items if they are physically isolated.
Others may need help with mobility or other services.
And who knows what shortages that some neighbourhoods are going to experience over the coming weeks.
Whatever happens, we think there will inevitably be areas that Stitch members will be willing and able to help.
We have just created a Stitch Group in Sydney for members to join so that they can both offer, and ask for, assistance during the crisis. Members who join the group will be volunteering to contribute where they can, and to be part of the discussion about how and where the community can help.
And we want members to ask for help where it’s needed too, whether it’s for themselves, or someone they know.
We are encouraging Stitch members in other locations to follow our lead and set up community assistance groups in their own areas over the coming days.
(If you are a Stitch member in another location and would like to see what’s happening in the Sydney group so you can get some ideas of your own, you can find it on Stitch here.)
Doing the right thing
One thing that has struck me during this crisis is the way that politicians are suddenly talking about “being good to each other”, and “doing the right thing”, as though that’s a new concept that people need to be told about.
Anyone familiar with Stitch knows that the community only exists because our members have already demonstrated a willingness to do things for each other.
Stitch members don’t need to be told to look out for other people.
They just need ideas and suggestions about the best ways we can all help each other through the crisis and keep everyone safe.
I am just as concerned about the crisis as everyone else – probably more than most, given I have to worry about the wellbeing of all members of our community around the world – but it’s at times like these that I am also extremely proud to be a member of Stitch.
Hang in there everyone, we’ll get through it together.