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October 19, 2023

The power of a warm welcome: bridging the digital divide for older people

Profile image for Jessica Duffy

Good Practice Mentor

16-22 October is Get Online Week. Helping people to get online is something we’ve been working on at Leeds Older People’s Forum, thanks to the help of 100% Digital Leeds , since well before the Covid gave older people an extra incentive to get online – and we’re still doing it now. I’ve been wondering how, as Good Practice Mentors, we can help those who want or need to embrace the challenges presented.

In today’s ever more digital world, staying connected online is no longer a luxury but a necessity as services may only be available online, or come at a significant price differential. For many older people, embracing technology can be a daunting experience. However, a friendly welcome to a community group can make all the difference in helping them get online.

The digital world can offer an unfamiliar landscape. Anxiety about making mistakes, encountering technical difficulties, and the ever-present fear of scams, can be paralysing. A friendly group of peers can provide a safe and supportive space for older people to share their concerns, ask questions, and take those initial steps into the digital realm. Working in a group people can learn from each other’s experiences, discover helpful tips, and receive hands-on guidance. This peer-to-peer support is invaluable in demystifying technology.

The digital divide is not just about technology; it’s also about maintaining social connections. As older people get online, they can connect as the rest of us do through email, video calls, and social media. Whether people want to reconnect with family, or are simply looking for their tribe (I always remember the man at one of our groups who needed to learn to use Facebook, as his passion was angling, and the information he needed to join matches had all gone there – in a flash he’d lost his social circle). Being offered the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether the online world is for them is important – but they need to feel they can ask for help in a supportive setting

As humans we know digital engagement can offer people many social and financial opportunities. I often wish my Dad had been able to use technology to keep in touch more easily, but as Good Practice Mentors we aren’t digital specialists – so what can we do to help?

As specialists, we also know that many people who have become chronically lonely don’t engage with services, don’t think they are for them. While previous life experience might lead them to believe computers live in offices, offices are places for a particular skill set, and phones are things teenagers use. If you run a group that engages older people with digital skills we do know how to help you reach out and find some of those people, and how to run and manage groups to make them friendly and welcoming places where they can stay and find out more.

My conclusion: as Good Practice Mentors we carry on doing what we are good at and share the learning from the Ageing Better programme , to help groups find and welcome people into a social situation where they can do whatever they need to do. A friendly welcome to a community group can play a pivotal role in helping older individuals get online. It serves as a beacon of support, guidance, and encouragement, effectively breaking down the barriers that stand between them and the digital world. 

Jessica Duffy
Good Practice Mentor