Helping older people use digital devices with Falkirk Council

Falkirk Council logo with crest showing a boat and a stag and text reads 'Ane for A'

In 2022, AbilityNet's 'ConnectingU' digital device programme in partnership with tech firm, Lenovo, enabled us to distribute 300 Lenovo digital devices to older and disabled people at eligible organisations, to help close the 'digital divide'.

Recipients of the devices received free training and advice through AbilityNet's free Tech Support services including a freephone helpline, online resources and Tech volunteer support. 

The impact of ConnectingU

Being online opens you up to a whole new world of opportunities. Whether it's filling out forms online, finding the best deals on the market, or being able to connect with loved ones, having access to digital devices can be really useful and offer a way out of isolation.

As part of the ConnectingU device scheme, Falkirk Council works with people between the ages of 66 and 92 years old, some of whom reported being "frightened by technology and thought it wasn't for them", according to Anne Donoghue, Community Learning and Development planner in the Health and Social Care Partnership team at Falkirk Council.

However, since receiving their Lenovo devices via the scheme, "they are now finding that it isn't scary" and is "really useful to them," Anne says.

Four people sitting at table looking at digital devicesWays AbilityNet volunteers offer tech help

AbilityNet's volunteers helped the recipients of the Lenovo devices with their emails, password security, and gaining access to apps of interest.

Ann revealed that some recipients felt they needed more than the initial two to three visits, as for some of the group it can take a while to process new information, "or they forget what the written instructions mean and what they are for because they have no one to guide them through," she says.

As a result, Falkirk Council brought the recipients together so that they could learn as a group, with help from Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' (SCVO) Essential Skills Framework and volunteers. 

The project has also helped reduce isolation, created new friendships, and has been great for peer support. "None of this would have been possible without Lenovo gifting the devices," says Anne.

"The feedback about the AbilityNet volunteers has been amazing," Anne reports. "The support they have given has been exceptional throughout our time referring to them, especially if they have downloaded the BBC iPlayer - this has been a real hit with participants!" she says.

Feedback from participants and trainers
    •    "This has helped me a lot. Even although my knowledge is not great I have been (able) to help others"
    •    "The instructors were good to me who is slow, I would like to keep coming to class"
    •    "Definitely [would like] to continue with classes"

How access to digital devices has empowered the users

Two women looking at tablet device on tableFalkirk Council workers who were assisting with clients involved in the project commented about the impact of the ConnectingU project on people taking part.

"Mental health money should be redirected to groups like these because it has helped her [the client's] anxiety and confidence as well as her digital skills," said one council worker.

Another participant was delighted she could access M&S online to shop - seems she purchased her underwear from there previously and has missed it since the shop closed in Falkirk.

About another participant who is 70 years old and lives in a tower block with 84 flats in it:

"This has been a real progression for her. She only knew her immediate neighbours in the two flats adjacent to her and she had lived in the block for five years. Through becoming involved in the project she now knows more people and has become a volunteer."

Although progress has been made via the ConnectingU scheme to provide access and skills with digital devices, some of the participants are worried about the cost of connectivity in the future. If you are also finding this a concern, AbilityNet has a Cost of Living crisis factsheet which offers ideas for cost-saving initiatives, including advice about 'social tariffs' for low-income families.

Plans for the future of digital in Falkirk

Inspired by the success of the ConnectingU project among its clients, Falkirk Council has gone a step further and secured funding to purchase five Amazon Alexa devices and smart plugs.

"We are demonstrating them to the group and giving them out to people who feel they can use them. We are encouraging them to ask their family to buy them more plugs for appliance and light bulbs to use with their Alexa," says Anne. "The participants are taking to this really well and the volunteers are setting them up in their homes ready for them to use. We are hoping to secure more digital devices and turn older peoples’ homes into smart homes," she says.

Many older people and disabled people experience difficulties with their technology, and can’t find the support they need. AbilityNet's amazing volunteers provide one-to-one technology support remotely and through home visits. Get involved today - apply to become a volunteer.

* Images shown include Scottish Seniors Computing Club (Falkirk), which is also working with Falkirk Council. 

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