CovidComms Awards

How Facebook became the centre of a retirement community in lockdown

Shortlisted: Best use of social media
CovidComms Awards 2020

Established by Legal & General in 2017, Inspired Villages operates and develops later life communities across the UK. Each of the seven villages offer age-appropriate homes with centres offering a range of wellbeing facilities and activities, such as libraries, swimming pools and community clubs. There are also bars and restaurants for residents, who are aged 65 and over.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, more than 600 activities a month took place across Inspired Villages’ six sites – a seventh has since opened – as part of its commitment to the wellbeing of its residents. The company has promoted these activities – and thus raised brand awareness – through media coverage and inviting the local community to get involved.

But the pandemic meant that ‘shields’ had to be created around each village to help residents self-isolate which, at the height of lockdown, meant no visitors and significant restrictions on the activities on offer.

Concerned that its residents might feel isolated and keen to keep a connection with over-65s in the local community, Inspired Villages opted to transform its Facebook page into a Virtual Village Centre. But the idea was not without its challenges: in March 2020, Inspired Villages had just 250 followers on Facebook – it was not a natural medium for its target audience.

Nonetheless, Inspired Villages set itself a target of 2,000 followers within three months and employed a digital agency to come up with a calendar of activities to make the Virtual Village Centre engaging and attractive to new followers.

Without any budget to offer, it also approached ‘influencers’ with clout among its target audience to promote the platform to isolated senior citizens. Mr Motivator, television presenters Gloria Hunniford and Julia Bradbury and Dr Dawn Harper, co-presenter of Embarrassing Bodies, to record motivational messages. (Gloria Hunniford’s message, in which she spoke of ways that she had kept herself busy, attracted more than 23,400 views.

The schedule of activities was soon filled with contributions from colleagues. There was Wine Wednesdays, Foodie Fridays, online exercise classes tailored for the over-65s, such as Legs, Bums and Tums and the One Mile Walk and Stretch, that could be done at home, mindfulness and meditation videos, online quizzes, gardening tips and language lessons. The site was also filled with ‘nostalgia’ pictures – such as an old black and white television or a Chopper bicycle – for Inspired Villages’ target audience to promote conversation.

The Virtual Village Centre also included videos of life in the villages and photographs of local landmarks, such as Leeds Castle.

Within six months, the Virtual Village Centre had more than 14,000 followers – one year from launch, this now stands at more than 22,000. Its content had generated more than one million reactions, 27 million impressions and had been shared more than 70,000 times.

It had achieved its goal of connecting and entertaining thousands of people who might have felt isolated during lockdown, and reinforced Inspired Villages’ brand value of bringing people together in a safe way.