Comradeship is one of the core values of the RNA, and the Association works hard to ensure that older shipmates who cannot get out and about very easily do not feel isolated.
The Internet and social media make it easy connecting people around the world – so long as you can use the technology. Some people just find it tricky to get their heads around the finer points of Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Youtube and the like – logging in can be a faff, establishing connections, updating software and the like are not always straightforward, and people can feel vulnerable with regards to online security.
But there is now a way to make video calls, join online classes or talks and enjoy entertainment tailored for the senior community, all through a simple, dedicated system that plugs in to your television set.
Essentially, Sparko is a simplified version of the Internet which can be accessed from the comfort of your sofa/armchair, through your TV. And thanks to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC), that option is available for free to shipmates in the RNA.
The kit and service is provided by Sparko, a British ‘virtual retirement community’ which operates through interactive TV equipment. The Sparko TV kit is a small box which plugs in to a standard TV and comes with a small camera and a very simple remote control. The whole package comes with help and technical support if you need it.
Sparko brings people together using simple digital technology – your nearest and dearest can access the system using a free smartphone app. Once setup, Sparko enables you to make video calls to family and friends, watch specially-chosen films from an extensive library (including some of the old classics), learn new skills, pick up a new hobby, or take part in games. The system was trialled with the help of branches of Age UK, who welcomed Sparko with enthusiasm.
Some shipmates are already on board – S/M John King said: “Sparko has enabled me to stay in touch with other RNA members even when I've been forced to stay at home.”
And S/M Ernie Davies said: “I can ring anyone and I can actually see them. At last, we can see each other!”
The Sparko tool does not interrupt or interfere with your normal TV programmes – the camera is only activated if a person is on a video call or taking part in a live/class activity, and will show a small light when it is in operation. A privacy slider for the camera is included to cover the lens when it is not in use to ensure peace of mind.
If you, or someone you know, would benefit from joining Sparko, they need to complete an Expression of Interest form which is available online at https://royal-naval-association.co.uk/sparkotv/
This should then be sent to Lynda Pearson (firstname.lastname@example.org), the RNA Welfare Programme Manager, who will review the form and get in touch with you in due course.
*In order to use Sparko the TV must have an HDMI port available (most televisions less than 15 years old should have this) into which the Sparko kit is plugged. The RNRMC are providing funding for this RNA project, enabling shipmates to use Sparko TV for free.