Working collaboratively to help older people become more digitally confident: how are we doing?

Josie and a learner

While more older people are accessing the internet than ever before[1], 3.7 million people over the age of 55 are still not online, making up 94% of all those offline. That still feels like a lot!

The older people most affected by digital exclusion are those with the lowest levels of income, health and education. As many essential services continue to move online, they are at risk of being left out. It therefore probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that helping older people to get online has featured prominently in our digital inclusion work in Brighton & Hove.

In order to achieve this, we’ve been working in collaboration with local organisations like Brighton & Hove City Council’s Seniors Housing services, Age UK Brighton, Impact Initiatives (Hop50+), Possability People (Citywide Connect) and Libraries.

Our work with the council, for instance, has seen us work with scheme managers and local residents across 23 of the city’s 26 sheltered housing schemes, delivering 648 sessions and helping over 330 people (one third of those living in council seniors’ housing). Our Digital Champions, equipped with tablets and portable WiFi hotspots, have been providing personalised digital support in communal living rooms, most of which do not currently have connectivity. Over the past 2 years, they have helped local residents feel less isolated using tablets, reconnect with estranged family members using Facebook family and share their passions with others.

Peter Huntbach, Seniors Housing Services Manager, says:

“Working with Digital Brighton and Hove has been a real success in our schemes. The number of people who have come along to the gadget workshops and become more digitally aware has exceeded our expectations. As more services and information become digital it’s important that people don’t fall behind and miss the opportunities that this technological change can bring. The examples from our schemes shows just how beneficial this can be.” 

Building motivation through trusted and friendly support

Motivation or lack of interest is often the first and biggest barrier. Over 84% of older people not online have no, or little, motivation to get online. You might have this great free voice recognition app you want to showcase but you soon realise that you’ve lost them at the first mention of words like ‘digital’ or ‘tech’ – that can become a tough ask!

What we’ve learnt from our delivery work is that an eagerness to get to know a learner, to find what they’re interested in through conversation and patience is far more important than being a tech whizz. “Being able to communicate is just as important if not more so than assisting with the technology”, as Peter, one of our volunteer Digital Champions, puts it.  And breaking through the motivational barrier and getting someone excited about digital also means building trust and getting to know that person. It doesn’t always mean sending them on an ‘IT basics’ course – that’s not necessarily motivational! Having continued, trusted support is key. As is often the case in any inclusion work, it comes down to people, relationships and trust. So where can you find that kind of friendly support?

There is a lot of support out there if you want to start becoming more confident with all things online. For example, you can find friendly one-to-one support from ‘Tech Buddies’ in Hove at the Hop50+ Café; at the Age UK IT Drop-in Service (where we’ve also been running 14 editions of the ‘Internet Essentials’ training course), at the Hangleton & Knoll HaKIT drop-in and through the Library Connect Service. You can find a comprehensive list of available support on the Digital Brighton & Hove signposting site. We also talk about it at length in a recent interview we did for Radio Reverb’s ‘At Home this morning’ (23 April 2019 show).

Connectivity and home support: breaking down remaining barriers

Connectivity and the lack of support at home  have also contributed to digital exclusion for older people locally. The good news is that both these issues are currently being addressed in Brighton & Hove.

Brighton & Hove City Council are gradually rolling out WiFi connectivity this year for communal areas in all their Seniors’ Housing Schemes.

“As a result of the success with Digital Brighton and Hove we took the decision to introduce free wi-fi to the communal lounges to encourage more of our residents to make the step of going on-line,” confirmed Peter Huntbach.

This means that tenants able to get to the communal room will be able to get online every day rather than say having to wait for one of our Digital Champions to bring a WiFi box for their monthly digital session. And Brighton & Hove Libraries are also piloting a Home Library Connect service, offering digital support at home for those not able to get to a drop-in session or workshop.

With less capacity to run digital sessions of our own in Seniors Housing, increasing ‘embedded’ digital support is also a must. Volunteer Digital Champions are able to fill some of the gaps but it’s equally important for staff (e.g. scheme managers) to feel confident enough so that they themselves can provide day-to-day support for those residents keen to start making the most of their new WiFi network. And through Digital Brighton & Hove, staff can have free access to a number of great online learning resources through the Digital Champions Network, which can help build their understanding and confidence.

All the above factors, in combination, offer an opportunity to carry on providing friendly digital support working with and through existing services, collaboratively, which has always been the aim of the deep-dive work carried out by Digital Brighton & Hove over the past two years.

We look forward to carrying on supporting these initiatives and working together to tackle digital exclusion in our city.

Read our full Evaluation and Impact report.

You can also find out more about digital inclusion for older people in our report published last year.

[1] 93% of those aged 55-64; 83% of those aged 65-74; and 47% of those aged 75 and above (ONS, 2019)