A few months ago, our Outreach team spoke to Mei (69) on the phone, and chatted about the strangeness of this year and what we’ve been doing to keep spirits up. Mei shared the importance of keeping fit for her mental health, and how since the Covid-19 lockdown she has been less able to exercise as local groups stopped meeting face-to-face to protect their communities.
We asked Mei if she’d ever consider joining a virtual Social Club, and in particular, our Seated Yoga club, and she explained how she had never been able to get to grips with Zoom.
As we all know, this is not a rarity. Age UK estimate that over 79% of digital exclusion occurs in those aged 65 and over, and as organisations have moved online during the pandemic, the importance of the internet and access to technology has only been heightened. As we moved our own programmes online, creating virtual Social Clubs to keep our older and younger communities connected, we knew we had to keep our offline neighbours engaged too. Afterall, only a fifth of our older neighbours have access to the internet at East London Cares.
So, as well as giving neighbours the option to join clubs using their landlines, kicking off Phone a Friend, and setting up #AloneTogether, we’ve been supporting older neighbours to get online and feel digitally confident.
We were able to connect Mei to a volunteer for one-to-one tech training, after which she told us "this is super! You are brilliant, this is brilliant and so kind". Since then, Mei has joined us at 11 virtual Social Clubs, where she has stretched at Yoga, sang at Choir Club and got creative at Photo Crafting Club.
On another call, we spoke to Laurie (74), who told us about his love of music, history and mindfulness and how it has helped him during this tricky year. While on the call we asked Laurie, who had just got a new iPad, if he had ever heard of YouTube. When he told us he had not, we spent a joyous hour on the phone with him where we showed him all YouTube had to offer, and he told us, “this is incredible – I feel like a whole new world has been opened up to me”.
We watched videos of Roy Orbison, Lady GaGa, guided meditations and old footage of east London – now Laurie is able to settle down and enjoy these whenever he chooses. For others, access to technology can simply mean being able to see loved ones face-to-face for a chat, who they’ve not been able to see and hug for almost a year, or organising online shopping if leaving home isn’t possible.
While the digital divide is a problem bigger than any one of us, we’ve been working hard to do our bit to tackle it. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve made over 40 tech-based interventions, offering our older neighbours one-to-one support to join virtual events, use Zoom and FaceTime, set up email addresses, and use their devices so that they can connect in all of the ways they would like to.
If you know someone who is over 65, in Tower Hamlets or Hackney, who could do with a helping hand navigating technology, you can refer them to us for tech support here. And if you have an older person in your family, or an older neighbour why not offer to show them the ropes yourself, or let them know we're here to help if they need us. As Jeewaun told us on FaceTime, “this is marvellous and so kind – thank you!”
Posted by Sasha Khan on Monday 4th January 2021
Sasha is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at East London Cares, reaching older and younger neighbours and connecting them to our Social Clubs, Love Your Neighbour programme and Winter Wellbeing project. Previously Sasha has worked at Age UK and Coram, and volunteered at our sibling charity North London Cares.