In the last two years, East London Cares has developed a wonderful online community of older and younger neighbours sharing fun and laughs through our Virtual Social Clubs – our online friends are still spending time with each other, even as we host face-to-face activities again. But a challenge many of our older neighbours face is the digital divide – a gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not, or who lack confidence using tech.
Through outreach, we regularly met neighbours who aren’t online but are keen to connect with their community and access virtual activities. We’re trying lots of different ways to support people to get online – through monthly tech social clubs, to one-to-one support and working with community partners. While there are some challenges in digitally connecting neighbours, there are many wonderful successes too! Here’s a brief overview of some of those successes over the last few months at East London Cares.
We were introduced to Sharon* (67) last year for some help with shopping and going to the bank. For health reasons, Sharon couldn’t attend our face-to-face social clubs, but expressed interest in getting online so she could keep up her interests now she was at home more. Our first hurdle was helping Sharon get a device, so we turned to our community partners. Hackney Council were able to provide tablets for Hackney residents, and in December we collected one for Sharon. Accessing an internet connection was the next hurdle, but through our connection grants we were able to offer Sharon a mobile Wi-Fi hub with some data to get her started.
We visited Sharon at home to help set up the tablet and a portable Wi-Fi hub. With so many brands and options to choose from, working out how different devices function can be tricky and it took two of us to navigate the complicated set up! We like to think ourselves as tech savvy, but this really showed how complicated getting online can be, regardless of age or experience, and how important having a bit of support is.
Since then, Sharon has been downloading books, browsing the internet and is joining our Virtual Social Clubs, as well as signing up to her first face-to-face ones! It was so exciting to help get Sharon online, and this experience helped us set up a step-by-step plan to get more neighbours Zooming and browsing away in half the time.
One-to-one support is just one of the ways we’ve been tackling tech troubles at East London Cares, Social Clubs are another. What the Tech is our monthly tech face-to-face club hosted at Pembury Community Centre, and it has been a great way to get neighbours together to share learning and troubleshoot over a cup of tea. At our most recent club, neighbours practiced downloading apps – one we all found so useful was a live bus timetable! The group all agreed that it’s hard to remember instructions and tech lingo is difficult to keep up with, with some saying they felt disempowered. But by the end of the session everyone had downloaded an app, setup a Zoom call and discovered some wonderful digital guides created by AgeUK.
“Tech can make you feel disempowered sometimes, so getting together like this makes you feel like you’re not alone.” – Gillian, 71.
Over the next few months, we’ll be trialling a tech drop-in session where neighbours can visit us at our office in Bethnal Green to help get setup before joining their first What the Tech club, look out for a follow up blog on this soon.
We’re learning everyday alongside older and younger neighbours, and constantly adapting and figuring the best ways to get more confident using tech, connect with our community and share lots of time and laughter together. If you’re a community partner that can support older neighbours with devices, an internet connection or digital skills then we’d love to hear from you! And if you’re interested in volunteering to support your older neighbours and boost their digital confidence, follow the link below to sign up to an induction.
Posted by Anna Howe on Wednesday 13th April 2022
Anna is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at East London Cares, meeting new older and younger neighbours across Hackney and Tower Hamlets and connecting them to our network and wider community.