The Elfords: A Digital Inclusion Story

Published: Jul 4th, 2013 | Author: Laura Simpson

‘The Elfords’ are a self-empowerment group of people recovering from mental health issues who access the NHS facilities at the Elfordleigh Resource Centre in Launceston. The group has been supported in its initial development by members of the local Community Mental Health Team. It is now managed by a committee of members who oversee a programme of social activities that group members can participate in.

In 2011, The Elfords identified that they needed to build their confidence in using computers in order to gain more social inclusion via the internet.

Following an initial volunteering initiative organised by Volunteer Cornwall, called ‘Award in Volunteering’, The Elfords were put in touch with Jay Chapman from Citizens Online. This contact led to Jay providing a series of basic computer courses starting in September 2011. The courses were held once a week as a morning and afternoon session over a six week period. After the first morning session was held, one of The Elfords asked to stay and help those starting in the afternoon session. This became a regular occurrence and some of the more computer literate members of The Elfords were also encouraged to support Jay in delivering the training sessions to their fellow group members.

“I loved learning new things during the morning classes and then helping to teach others during the afternoons”, says Chrissie Whelan, Chair of The Elfords.

The style of teaching at the sessions was adapted to individual’s interests and skills levels. This increased The Elfords’ confidence and the realisation that they had the ability to take this further in their own right.

As interest increased during the sessions, members of The Elfords began to think about what they could do to continue improving their learning and how to use their new skills to advance their own creative abilities.

A partnership was then developed with Groundwork, who provided an in-house training programme based on ‘Digital Champion Volunteers’. Then, in February 2012, The Elfords received the good news that they had been awarded a grant of £11,860 from the Cornwall Grant Programme.

This funding has enabled the group to continue their volunteer activities and they have since provided support to computer courses in other community health venues in East Cornwall. It has also helped them to further develop their IT skills, and since March 2012 they have been working with a local multi media studio ‘M-MAD’ to create a series of films, music, videos and writing. All the work involved young learners from M-MAD Studio who supported the group and involved themselves in much of the creative work. An exhibition of this work is planned in Launceston for summer 2013.

“The project has closed the gap between younger and older people, helped towards better understanding of mental health across the divide and enabled a group of people to access a range of facilities and information they had not been able to prior to the project”, says Krystyna Zdan-Michajlowicz from M-MAD.

Involvement in the basic IT courses originally provided by Citizens Online and the further skills and confidence developed through work with M-MAD has been a key element in The Elfords programme of self development.

In addition to the exhibition of individual’s work a DVD is also planned to express how Elfordleigh has given members of the group the opportunity to move forward and remain in a stable state of health and mental wellbeing.

“The project has really empowered The Elfords and enabled them to go on and learn lots of new skills. It wouldn’t have been possible without the initial support from Jay at Citizens Online, which gave them the confidence to continue their learning with M-MAD”, says Lesley Hicks from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.





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