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“It’s been a god-send for me”: Why 73yo artist Robyn loves the VSC

Life isn’t always easy. That’s something 73-year-old Robyn Bourke, Murwillumbah local, knows better than anyone.

Four years ago, her son passed away, followed by her husband two and a half years ago. Soon afterwards, the pandemic hit, and Robyn found herself well and truly alone for the first time in years. 

“Some days, I wasn’t talking out loud to anybody,” Robyn tells us. “Something happens and you want to tell someone – but no one’s sitting there to tell them everything you thought of. I was having to find things to distract myself, like putting YouTube on or just going and lying down to have a sleep.” 

Enter the Virtual Social Centre (VSC), Feros Care’s answer to combating senior loneliness and engaging participants in new skills. It’s an ongoing platform that allows anyone to stay connected and have a variety of experiences, all from the comfort of their own home. 

Participants use their own computer, tablet or laptop to log into the VSC whenever they like, joining any session of choice from the calendar. There’s everything from singing, drawing, cooking and language lessons through to meditation and writing workshops. 

“When the Virtual Social Centre came along, it really gave me a new interest in life,” Robyn explains. “I’ve been fortunate with people who could help me learn how to do it all, and I’ve met so many new people. It’s such a joy!” 

Making new friends   

Robyn has been living in Murwillumbah for the great majority of her life and has seen it change significantly over the years. Village life just isn’t what it used to be, and it’s more difficult to connect than ever.

“As a 20-year-old, you’d walk up the street and see everyone! It would take you all morning to do your shopping,” Robyn says. “Now, you very rarely see anyone you know. It’s very busy now, with lots of new people. I still chat to everyone, but it’s not the same.” 

With lockdowns further limiting her freedom of movement, Robyn has now met a whole new group of people that she looks forward to seeing each week – and the bonus is that they come from all over Australia, offering plenty of variety and opportunities to connect.

“It’s just like a normal friendship, but there’s people from all over. We’ve got people from Wollongong, Mackay, Hervey Bay, Melbourne. We often do a weather report at the start of every session, as you often see the other ladies with jumpers on while you’re sitting there in a t-shirt!” 

Doing things you love – in just the way that suits you 

The Virtual Social Centre offers so many different activities that it’s easy to find something that matches up with what a participant already loves to do. 

Robyn has gone from singing alone at home to joining the VSC’s ‘Sing to Feel Good’ session, where all voices are welcome to join a singing coach.

“I love the singing, we all sing the songs together,” Robyn says. “And I’ve got a dreadful voice, but the good thing is that we’re all muted and no one has to hear it! My neighbours thankfully haven’t said, ‘Robyn can you please be quiet.” 

Robyn has also had the opportunity to give back to the community through her crafting, which she has always loved to do; her Sunday craft group finds initiatives to engage with, and all connect with each other while working on various projects.

“We knitted a lot of beanies this year and gave them to the church, it was lovely. They gave them to a lot of homeless children for winter. Now we’re making trauma teddies for the ambulances and hospitals to give to kids. That never would have happened for me without the VSC.” 

Learning new skills 

Once a participant has explored the possibilities on the Virtual Social Centre, it’s a great opportunity to get them to get out of their comfort zone and try new things – such as exercise. 

“I’m really a lazy person by nature and I just say to myself, you’re going to do at least one VSC exercise session a day,” Robyn explains. “Sometimes I do more than one, but I’ve got a deal with myself that I do some exercise of some description every day. I’m learning so much! I’ve never done tai chair before.” 

There’s also the chance to find a new lifelong love of an experience. “I discovered drawing; I didn’t know I could do it but the VSC taught me that. My auntie, she’s got a beautiful big bird feeder and she took a photo of it and sent it to me. I drew a big picture of it and gave it to her for her birthday. 12 months ago, I couldn’t have done that!” 

Robyn’s top tips for technology 

Robyn has navigated her way through the tech world, with the support of Feros Care – but she’s happy to be part of it. 

“The people who don’t know much about it, there’s always support available for them,” she explains. “If I couldn’t do something, I sat there until I could work it out. Sometimes I have to go away or turn it off and start again, but that’s okay, it’s very hard to wreck anything!” 

Do you know a senior who might benefit from accessing the Virtual Social Centre?

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