From shipmate to managing a private Facebook group of 50000 strong, David Lopes shares his story and thoughts
David, you underwent a huge transition from a lifelong career in the SA Navy, to managing a private Facebook group of 50,000 strong. How did that happen?
I had 40 years of service in the SA Navy. Prior to my retirement, my shipmates informed me of all these great discounts that were awaiting me as a pensioner. Things like free entry to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on Tuesdays, pensioners discount when using the Table Mountain Cable Car, various restaurants offering Pensioners Menus and discounts at various retailers etc. I didn’t know how to keep track of all of these, and I formed a private Facebook group in December 2018, the aim of which was to keep a record of these deals and hopefully hear of other deals from other people. And so the “Pensioners Forum & Deals” was borne.
Tell us about the enormous growth of PF&D?
All of a sudden, PF&D was inundated with requests to join, and it wasn’t long until we passed the 1000 mark. And then we started hearing from hundreds more pensioners, then thousands, and then we were up to tens of thousands. I was working from my tablet, but couldn’t manage on my own, and so I co-opted Bev Johnstone, my partner, and Mike Wilson, a former colleague, and they joined me as “Admins” in order to assist me with the great interest. Group membership now stands at nearly 50 000 and is growing daily. The group has become a safe place to provide support and exchange money saving ideas.
One of the real “wins” that I take out from PF&D is the socialising of members. This has inadvertently led to a real solution to one of ageing’s common problems – the alleviation of loneliness which can happen as one ages. How did this happen?
PF&D members started forming “Meet and Greet” groups. So many friendships have been formed within these groups, and they are having regular monthly meet-ups, having lots of fun, and the groups just grow and grow. It’s wonderful to see!
Another real win within PF&D is that members speak regularly about the issues that are relevant to the senior market. Can you tell me more about this?
The group became an advisory service on a variety of issues, and members contribute their own experience and input, in order to help others. They also share specials from small and major retailers across the country.
Many SASSA pensioners joined us and opened our eyes to a new world of challenges and hardships. Every cent saved was a cent needed for other essentials.
South Africa jumps from one challenge to the next, Covid, Lockdown, Loadshedding – tell us how your members coped with these challenges?
When Covid struck, the fear was evident. No one knew what to do or where to go. At that stage, we in excess of 40 000 members, mostly from the vulnerable age group. And then lockdown happened. During lockdown, something wonderful happened. Members started offering support to each other and comfort to those that lost their loved ones. This was a turning point, as the members became like an extended family to each other. And then we hit loadshedding, and it became particularly evident, that seniors are a resilient lot. They’ve been around the block a few times. This galvanised them to face it head on and swap tips on how best to deal with it.
David, we have had several conversations over the years, when you shared your views about PD&F being a non-income generating platform. Times have changed – would you like to elaborate on this?
From inception until the current time, the group has not generated any income. It receives no sponsorship, no advertising revenue and has no membership or joining fees. On Fridays we offer free advertising to those trying to supplement their pensions, be it offering a service or selling their products.
PF&D, while still being true to their original aim, is investigating new avenues in 2023 ie mainly to become a louder voice for seniors, negotiate deals (hello data service providers) and to address some of our operating costs, possibly through sponsorship. We aim to be more than just a Facebook Group and to try and have representation from the larger organisations on board.
You’ve Earned It/YEI and PF&D have started collaborating in areas of mutual interest and have some exciting projects in the pipeline.
And your parting thoughts on the PF&D?
Onwards and upwards and don’t forget to be kind and have fun.
Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist who featured frequently as an author and speaker in the mass media during the 1960s and the 1970s, said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- In May 2023, due to medical reasons, David and Bev had to discontinue their day-to-day involvement and management of the Pensioner Forum & Deals group. They have handed the management and administration of the group over to Angela Watkins, from You’ve Earned It, in her private capacity.
- It is with deep regret that we let our members know of the passing of Beverley Johnstone on 30 June 2023 from Motor Neurone Disease. Bev was one of the admins of the Facebook Group Pensioners Forum & Deals and was the life partner of David Lopes who started the group 4 years ago. Our deepest sympathies go out to David and all their family and friends.