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Seniors enjoying VR in front of the caravan, Source: Département des Bouches-du-Rhône

In Bouches-du-Rhône, a caravan takes the digital universe to senior citizens

In Bouches-du-Rhône, a caravan takes the digital universe to senior citizens

Mobile houses provide help and leisure opportunities for the elderly in the French department

The Département des Bouches-du-Rhône, France has long demonstrated its public support to seniors with a view to fighting against their social isolation, raising their awareness of digital tools and assisting them with online administrative procedures. In this regard, in 2020 come Les Maisons du Bel Âge Itinérantes (which translates as 'Mobiles Houses for the Elderly') - mobile administrative offices aimed at people over 60, as well as their families or caregivers.

These are located throughout the Bouches-du-Rhône region (with Marseille as its central city) and are designed to guide seniors in their queries and assist them in dealing with administrative procedures or requests for services. The mobile teams try to facilitate the daily lives of seniors and help them navigate through the world of the Internet and social networks.

Bringing the digital universe to remote areas

These mobile houses for the elderly are the extension of an existing, and a very successful, project of the Department – Les Maisons du Bel Age. The idea this time was to reach small towns or certain districts of large towns with few public services available for seniors. Thus, each week, Les Maisons du Bel Âge Itinérante travel across the Department’s territory to take the digital world closer to people in an old-fashioned way.

To make this possible, the authorities organised a call for tenders to select a private service provider. The winner rented a caravan for 6 months and fitted it according to the specifications given; the beneficiary also provided the traction vehicle and the driver. Reception agents, on the other hand, are Department staff members.

Following the initial success of the service, the authorities launched a second call to this time purchase a camper van and the traction vehicle. At the moment, the Department carries out the operation on its own but is hoping to receive European support funds (in particular, from programmes dedicated to digital inclusion and local public service).

Currently, the caravans offer up to 12 hours of laptop training sessions for beginners and individual support when using mobile phones, tablets or computers. The target is to increase the outreach from 3,000 to 5,000 seniors in the period 2021-2024.

Additionally, and after a successful experimental phase, a new service will be added later in 2021 – the lending of up to 5000 tablets, with a 4G package included. These tablets will be adapted to seniors’ needs (featuring a simplified interface and large characters).

seniors and VRSenior citizens being initiated into Virtual Reality. Source: Département des Bouches-du-Rhône

However, Les Maisons du Bel Age are not just a place to learn new skills – they also take care of the psychological well-being of the elderly by giving them the chance to play games. What’s more, citizens are being initiated into the world of virtual reality (thanks to travel, relaxation and cognitive stimulation modules).

The Maisons are also spaces that promote social ties, offering a range of leisure, sports and cultural activities, as well as weekly events, outings, workshops (memory, nutrition, health, digital) and targeted conferences on issues related to ageing.

Noureddine BADER, Manager of Digital Development of Les Maisons du Bel Age, at the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône spoke to us about the innovative idea in the framework of the project “EUDIGIT – European Digital Citizens”.

He shared that the feedback they get is highly encouraging: “The municipalities very often ask us for the possibility of coming back for an additional week: we have already been present in more than 20 municipalities or neighbourhoods in less than a year and around ten new additional municipalities want to join us. We have received over 3,000 visits to the caravan.”

Caravan outsideThe visitors of the service are most often just curious or willing to perform basic administrative operations, but they usually discover much more than what they came for. Source: Département des Bouches-du-Rhône

According to Mr Bader, about 70% of the visits were made out of curiosity – to discover the system and to learn more about its mission. The next most popular demand is for help with administrative procedures - tax declaration, retirement files, home services assistance files, renewal of identity papers, mutual health information; and finally – to participate in VR workshops, which appears highly popular among seniors.

After the initial success, the plan is for the caravan to continue to travel the territory of the Department for the next 3 years. The team plans to multiply partnerships with social structures and associations in the area where the caravan is installed.

Also, there are plans to start hotlines and offer better monitoring of user requests: as the caravan is only present for one week, it is necessary to consider a follow-up. They are also thinking of broadening the activities offered within the caravan, to include digital workshops on tablets, and activities for prevention of memory loss, among other things.

Sabine Bernasconi, Vice-President of the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône responsible for senior citizens also commented: "By the end of 2021, we will have succeeded in opening around forty Bel Age Houses spread across the country and that is a source of great pride. These places are essential on a daily basis to support our seniors, fight against the digital divide and maintain social ties.

They have also demonstrated their usefulness during the health crisis by providing solid support for the most vulnerable. With the Maison du Bel Age Itinérante, an innovative local system, we also offer the inhabitants of the Department easy access to our public services, as close as possible to their needs. "

If you want to learn more about the project, contact Noureddine at noureddine.bader@departement13.fr or visit the website of Department 13.

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