A pilot project amongst older residents in the south of the Island has shown how going online can make connections for people who are isolated and lonely.
Involving Government, business and the voluntary sector, the trial has helped pave the way for a new strategic partnership approach to making sure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of digital technology – “Digital Inclusion”.
The six-month project was supported by Manx Telecom, who provided iPads and free access to 4G. Zurich gave technical support and Southern Befrienders found the three participants, who had never used computers or tablet devices before.
Prior to the trial they all expressed anxiety or nervousness around new technology and did not wish to appear “stupid”. Following the trial all three identified that their feeling about new technology had changed.
The participants identified benefits from accessing the internet such as “Being able to look up stuff and listening to music”, and “Enjoyment. I look things up. I have been round Buckingham Palace. They charge £30 entry and I did it for free. It is lovely going round these things.”
Although no participants said they used the tablet for shopping, two of the three had used it to find and compare prices. This led in one case to a saving of over £200 on a renewal for insurance.
All three participants identified that being involved in the project had improved their confidence using the internet.
All participants identified that being involved in the project had improved their wellbeing and reduced feelings of loneliness. Responses included: “I feel more connected to things” and “Yes, I watch films and can get in touch with family. I also watch various people from SAGA reporting back on destinations around the world – one reported back from Ethiopia.”
Cath Hayhow, Director for Adult Services, Department of Health and Social Care, said: “Inclusion is a key factor in supporting older people to stay independent and the digital agenda is an important way of making sure people are included in what’s happening within our communities. This project was invaluable in helping us to better understand how older people use technology and the impact this can have on their sense of wellbeing.”
Val Haslam, Scheme Manager, Southern Befrienders said: “Southern Befrienders is a Manx-registered charity offering one-to-one volunteer befriending to more than 120 older, socially-isolated people in the south of the Island, as well as a regular programme of outings and social events. We were pleased to be involved in the Digital Inclusion project, as it fits well with the work that we do. The feedback from the participants is that they enjoyed embracing new technology and, with some initial support, went on to explore the internet including Facetime and emailing, social media, on-line shopping and listening to music.”
David Smith, Marketing Director, Manx Telecom said: “Tablet and smartphone technology, together with Manx Telecom’s world-class 4G network, which now has 99% population coverage, has been an important element in the success of the pilot project. We recently invested £10million in 4G mobile broadband and on-going network enhancements and the result of this investment is the key ingredient for the success of digital inclusion. We’re looking forward to working with existing and new partners to build on the success we have seen in the trial.”
Merita Taylor of Zurich International Life said: “One of Zurich's IT employees spent time with the participants teaching them how to use their iPads and get the most out of their digital experience. Not only was this a really fulfilling experience for her, but it was also really worthwhile to see the difference this made to the participants by opening up a whole new, digital world to them. This was a fantastic project and Zurich was only too delighted to support it."
Policy and Reform Minister John Shimmin MHK said: “We know being online can make a significant difference, whether it is helping people find work, offering improved learning opportunities, allowing a business to sell their products online or providing online donations for a charity. Digital Inclusion can also reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness by helping individuals stay in touch with friends or family and other support networks.
“From this very small scale project it has become apparent that given the opportunity and support, older people identified as being isolated or vulnerable can learn to use technology to access the internet. Although not life changing, those who participated in the pilot found it to be life enhancing and of benefit to them.
“Most people take digital technology and the internet for granted. It is something that has become so deeply embedded in daily life that it is hard to function when access to it is lost. Yet there is still a small portion of the population that is not online due to the barriers they face.”
Minister Shimmin continued: “We will be submitting a Digital Inclusion Strategy to the July sitting of Tynwald which will set out our ongoing commitment to help tackle digital exclusion. It reflects the challenges Government and the Island continue to face in enabling more people to gain maximum benefit from the life changing opportunities digital technologies offer. A fundamental part of the strategy will be to bring partners together from organisations across the Island who are committed to reducing the number of people who are offline.
“We recognise that the private, public and voluntary sectors have already made great strides in tackling digital exclusion on the Island, with a government driven strategy we can create a shared vision on digital inclusion working together to achieve greater things.”
There is a long and short video to accompany the project here -