Jim Parker: ‘New normal’ virtual world can never replace face-to-face contact

The Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay. Photo: Derek Harper (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay. Photo: Derek Harper (cc-by-sa/2.0) - Credit: © Derek Harper (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Do you know what I miss the most in all this? People.

Pre-pandemic I sometimes questioned the merit of travelling to the other end of the county, or country, for meetings. Some journeys took longer than the meetings themselves which wasn’t exactly a good use of time in some instances.

But now we have meetings without leaving the office or, in many cases, home where I have been pretty most of the time since this crisis began way back in March.

It has not been easy launching the new Torbay Weekly newspaper from the playroom of your house with Freddie the rocking horse stuck up your backside.

Now meetings over platforms like Zoom or Teams abound. And because it is so easy to log into a link, turn your camera on and make sure you are not on mute, I reckon we have more of them than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong, they are brilliant communication tools and keep families as well as businesses together. But they aren’t the same as meeting around the table – even if you have had to travel air miles to get there in the first place.

Now we have taken the modern, more hi-tech way of communicating to a different level when it comes to awards. Now we have ‘virtual’ ceremonies with online presentations.

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I had the honour and privilege of playing a part in this year’s Torquay United’s Player of the Year awards. We helped sponsor the awards this year and congratulated the two winners via video.

It was brilliant but not the same as stood on the pitch at Plainmoor shaking hands in front of thousands of people.

I used to really enjoy the various awards that were hosted at the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay – I never thought I would hear myself saying that by the way.

I used to dread the thought of standing on a stage in front of a few hundred of people. The fear is still there, but at the same time there is a feeling of satisfaction, helping and seeing people enjoying themselves and celebrating success.

This all takes me back to one of my first ‘public appearances’ many moons ago when I launched business awards in front of 30 or 40 leading people from the world of commerce at a breakfast meeting over at South Devon College.

Combine crack-of-dawn timing, who was there and the importance of what was involved and you will understand why my hand holding my carefully penned speech was shaking.

I got through it somehow with then Torbay mayor Nick Bye to one side of me and then college principal Heather Maxwell OBE the other.

When I got in the car, there was a mixture of huge relief but also satisfaction that I had actually done it.

Then, however, came embarrassment as I noticed the flies on my trousers had been undone all the way through. I assume I got away it or perhaps Mr Bye and Mrs Maxwell kindly kept quiet to spare my blushes.

I couldn’t help but notice the sad and forlorn-looking ERC as I went for one of my strolls along the seafront the other night.

It has remained in darkness with its staff furloughed since this horrible crisis began.

There must be a huge question mark over its future. Its gym and pool, once offering exercise and fun for hundreds, are lifeless. Surely there must be something the Government can do here.

If and, God willing, when we leave Covid behind, I fear a ticking health timebomb of people who have been locked away for months on end without exercise.

We will need places like the ERC and our local sports clubs and leisure organisations will definitely need help persuading those who will have left during this period back on to the playing pitches and into sports halls and gyms.

People who have been locked away with Freddie the rocking horse for the past eight months...