Feature: Kildare sports, clubs and groups adjust to life on Zoom

Covid-19 pandemic has changed our social lives

Feature: Kildare sports, clubs and groups adjust to life on Zoom

Brian McGrogan gets ready to hold a Brian's Fitness class online

What is the capital of Chile?”, the voice of a familiar face beams through the laptop screen from Fiji.

It’s 10.30am there and 9.30pm here in Ireland as my sister takes charge of the online family quiz, complete with a ‘guess the chocolate bar’ round, and 10 questions on ‘name the animal’ audio sounds.

Little did we think that we would be spending an October evening in 2020 on Zoom with relatives in Fiji, Dublin and Rathangan.

Living life online has become the norm, whether it be Zoom, Facebook Live, Duo, Teams, What’s App, and Skype.

Even schools are using online apps for homework.

Hundreds of community groups and clubs across the county have had to adapt to reach out to their members.

One such group is Celbridge Camera Club. Chairperson Pat Shaw explains they have had an average of 60 plus members on their weekly Zoom meetings.

“It’s not ideal but there are advantages and disadvantages. If you look at the advantages — we cannot afford to have some very good photographers come and talk to us, but with Zoom they don’t have to travel.

“For example we had Guy Edwardes from Dorset on recently and we could not have had him here because we would have had to pay for his flights and accommodation. There is a nominal fee for them to come onto Zoom and it works quite well.”

On the downside, Pat says the person giving the talk doesn’t get a lot of audience feedback, as its not the same as standing in front of a crowd.

“You have to mute everybody to avoid background noise. Currently we have 84 members, but we would have 60 plus generally going to meetings.

“We probably would have had similar numbers, we would regularly have 50 plus (online).”

He outlines how initially there were teething problems with people getting used to the technology but now that is running smoothly.

The club went online back in September but Pat hopes to get back out into the field in the coming months (if restrictions ease) with members going out in small groups to take pictures and adhering to social distancing.

“Another disadvantage is the lack of social interaction you get from not meeting up. It’s tough on people,” he adds.

With restrictions on travel movements, gyms and group gatherings, the fitness industry has also seen huge changes.

Newbridge resident Brian McGrogan runs Brian’s Fitness classes. He describes how he began to go online before the first lockdown came.

“I started it and tried to build on it. There are a lot of people who couldn’t make my regular classes because of the times they were on, and going to work. I give a live class daily at 9.30am and people can tune in live or they can catch it later.

“We have members who do classes on Saturday or Sunday and they can look back at the classes.”

Brian runs his classes on a private Facebook page in two week blocks, so members can sign up for a fortnight at a time.

Enthusiastic as ever, he says the number of people who signed up started off at 50, then went up to 60, and then reached 70.

“I love it and I had been doing some online classes as part of my other business Fitness for Life, which is mainly about nutrition,” he stresses.

“When I am doing a class I picture the person in front of me, I don’t think of the camera, I try to bring as much enthusiasm and drive so that people feel they are actually in a class.

“I really enjoy it. Going forward, I will probably do a mix of the two, online classes and regular classes.”

Brian also sets a daily challenge, such as a 10,000 step target and then he checks in later to see his members get on.

“The whole idea is to get people active. When the restrictions eased, I tried to have 15 people outside, or six inside but that changed (as Level 3 and 5 kicked in).

“It’s grand at present. The kids head off to school, my wife leaves the house and I just go into the sitting room and start my class.”

With lockdown building barriers between people socially, the online world has opened up global interaction for the Kildare Toastmasters who have had online meetings with clubs as far away as Hawaii.

President Anthony Madden says “It’s been very very positive experience.”

They started with a new committee last July and ran a campaign to get new members on board with seven signing up over the past number of months.

“From the word go, we got stuck in,” he adds.

The group has drawn on the expertise of the international Toastmasters movement. Travel may be off limits at present but the Kildare crew have visited Hawaii, London and Scotland online through Zoom, promoting Kildare’s tourist attractions and fascinating history.

Having been abroad for 10 years, Anthony fully appreciates how well the Irish are viewed abroad.

“Its the hard work and spirit of the Irish that comes shining out,” he says.

“The pandemic is really tough on people and people are lonely and they are looking for something like Toastmasters,” he says.

So life online continues as Zoom becomes the norm. As the capital of Chile springs to mind, the quiz rolls on.

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