When lockdown was announced in March 2020, the team at Leeds Irish Health and Homes knew they needed to act to keep our community in Leeds connected - and that the answer would have to involve technology.
Anne Pearce, LIHH’s Digital Inclusion Officer, quickly organised regular online Zoom meetings for clients. However, the challenge was significant.
“It was a shock for all of us, wasn’t it, when Covid hit? But for older, isolated people it was doubly difficult - they’d lost contact with the outside world and many didn’t have the equipment or technical skills to fall back on,” says Anne.
Care visits were still allowed, and so Anne visited clients in full PPE to deliver SIM-enabled iPads so that clients could connect even if they didn’t have wifi at home.
The online group started slowly, with Anne sharing her screen and going through very straightforward instructions for tasks like replying to an email. But as time went on and the group’s confidence grew, Anne’s engagement became more ambitious.
“We found virtual tours for Irish museums and went on YouTube to watch videos from travel bloggers in Mayo,” sayus Anne. “The day we saw some live footage of penguins in a zoo was a particular favourite!”
There have been a number of success stories: Willy, already a talented musician, learnt how to play the banjo by watching online tutorials. Douglas, another client, has started to write his memoirs using Google Docs.
“I was there when one client managed to get through on a Zoom call to her family - she hadn’t seen them for 18 months because of Covid,” says Anne. “Another client made contact with her daughter in America.”
On Christmas Day 2020 when restrictions changed last-minute, members of the LIHH team logged on and made Zoom calls to clients who otherwise wouldn’t see anyone. “It was important that we did it,” reflects Anne.
As restrictions lifted, the online groups continued. However, more and more clients were keen to meet up in person and so face-to-face sessions started again. Today, Leeds Irish Health and Homes continues to provide tablets, 1-to1s, a surgery at the regular Friday Luncheon Club at the Montague Burton Resource Centre and online classes every other Thursday afternoon.
“We guide people through any problems they might be having - last week, I helped a client register her new iron on the Morphy Richards website. The week before, a gentleman wanted to access the Migraine Trust website. It’s very varied, but it all helps people feel informed, in control and connected,” says Anne.
Current work also involves advising people about scams. “There are a number doing the rounds currently, including one around the government energy support scheme. We’re educating people not to follow links they’re unsure about or disclose any personal details.”
But despite the potential worries about being online, Anne is convinced that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. “I’ve seen people reconnect with family, old friends and Ireland through using the internet,” she says. “For many, it’s a lifeline. Our work ensures people have the skills to access it, and they aren’t left behind.”
For more information about accessing our Digital Inclusion sessions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org