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ROLE MODEL

'What is great is that relatives can see what the resident got up to at the home's fete'

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Lilla Harris decided that the solution to keeping older people in touch with their families was just a click away.

Lilla Harris was working as a nurse and manager in a care home when a resident’s son came to look around. “He’d been really impressed with the tour I’d given him,” she said. “He said it was absolutely beautiful and he was going to move his mother in, and then asked me what a lot of relatives asked - if he could email her.”

Ms Harris replied they would do what they always did - print out the email for her. “But I thought, that’s just not good enough - we have to do better.”

That eureka moment led her to want to start a social network just for older people, and the concept of finerday.com was born.

“It was a couple of years before I gave up that job, and started working on it in earnest but I always thought there was a big hole where no personal letters or photos were shared and I knew how much that would mean to the residents,” she said.

“I knew that making it about family would keep residents coming back. It would connect them. As our lives get bigger and bigger, with more and more people, theirs were getting smaller and smaller.”

Ms Harris’s experience as a nurse taught her much about people and how they feel - marrying that with technology and business acumen made her a strong web entrepreneur.

She qualified as a nurse in 1982, working as a staff nurse on a male ward, focusing on urology and general surgery. She then travelled, went into midwifery and worked in nursing for older people.

When she met business strategist Howard Bashford, her empathy was matched with the skills of someone who could turn it all into a website.

“I’d done a lot of talking to older people, to find out what they wanted, and I ran surveys and some pilots,” says Ms Harris. “So I was adamant we had to have memories pages.

“I know that older residents like looking at pictures online whenever they like.

“There were other must-have features. We wanted to create closed family networks that were safe for everyone. And I was adamant that I only put on what was needed, colours worked together and we had easy-to-see website colours and buttons.”

The trial with residents was a success, with relatives surprised that no one had thought of it before. It has also been a critical success. It won most exciting newcomer at the Nominet Awards 2011, scooped a UK IT Industry Award 2010 and is a finalist for the community project of the year in the 2011 UK IT Industry Awards.

Ms Harris knows that the site will only be sustainable in the long term if enough people use it. So she set up Go ON Adopt, encouraging schools to help older people in social housing and care homes to use the internet.

“I don’t mind if it’s Google Earth they are looking at to check out houses where they used to live, rather than finerday.com. I just want them being shown how to use the internet,” she says.

“Younger school kids can give older people the time and that takes the pressure off the homes. It’s sustainable - as one school year leaves, another joins. It has been great - even students’ parents get involved.”

Go ON Adopt has won a building a networked nation UK ISPA award this year.

The sites are popular with residents with family abroad. Increasingly, homes are using it so relatives and residents are connected to each other and the home.

“What is great is that relatives can see what the resident got up to at the home’s fete,” says Ms Harris.

More than 50 homes are using finerday.com, and a couple have linked up with each other to share best practice.

As for finerday.com, Ms Harris has big ambitions. “We want to do video messaging. It will be huge because it’s hard for the older person to be in the right place at the right time [for a Skype call]. But they - and their relatives - can record a greeting and watch whenever they like.”

She has set up another free website - ouryesterday.org - which contains reminiscence and nostalgia media, including a twice-weekly newsletter for older people, their families and care staff.

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