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June 26, 2019

Digital Angels: creating connections, on and off-line

“I’ve always wanted to use a SMART phone or tablet but I was never able to do it and I couldn’t find anyone to show me and it felt like double Dutch to me.”

“Go ahead! It’s been the best thing for me. I certainly didn’t expect to get to this stage. Have a go and see what could happen.”

Research shows that although older people are still less likely to use the internet than younger people, there are more older people online than ever before. It is wonderful to see initiatives such as 100% Digital Leeds getting people on-line.

Part of the initial Time to Shine plan was to use IT to reduce social isolation by connecting people both on and off-line. In 2015 we funded the wonderful Digital Angels project at Age UK Leeds. Over two years the project worked both in individual older people’s homes and care homes, with fantastic results.

Since then a number of Time to Shine projects have continued to develop groups to enable older people to increase their digital skills and enable them to connect with others. It’s a great, fun way to engage with people and an invaluable tool to address social isolation.

The Digital Angels project found that the way the project was offered to older people was important, and the best way to seek engagement is through the possibility of exploring interests and hobbies.

“If the staff and volunteers ask ‘are you interested in computers?’, the participants may say no, but if you say ‘what is your interest?’, ‘is it music? – you can go on YouTube and hear your favourite song’, also if someone is struggling with shopping, tell them about how the internet can help” (Digital Angels project worker)

Our delivery partners have developed a range of methods to inspire older people including the on-line knitting group at Bee Together, the face-time group at Don’t Call Me Old and techie-tea parties at Age UK Leeds. Person-centred projects which considered the older person’s needs have been most successful.

“I feel it is a new interest and it has given me a new lease of life and I enjoy it immensely. It has helped me to get in contact with family abroad – I can now contact them more frequently and I now have more contact.”

We’ve found flexibility a key factor: some people may need additional time and coaching to get online; others may need help to adapt technology to their needs. Staff at Age UK Leeds worked with a number of older people experiencing sight-loss. For whom simple adaptations such as maximising font size and lighting made huge differences.

We have found that flexible and person-centred digital support does help reduce loneliness and increase wellbeing through enabling social contact, helping to link to hobbies and increase independence.

Read a full case study of Digital Angels project by our evaluators, Care Connect.

Hillary Wadsworth
Programme Manager (Legacy)