Reducing loneliness through digital connections - a case study
Research shows that while the proportion is increasing, older people are still less likely to use the internet than their younger counterparts. The Digital Angels project (DA), run by Age UK Leeds across South Leeds, supports people to get online and network with others, through one to one and group sessions in a range of community settings. This case study considers the extent to which DA has helped to reduce loneliness and promote community engagement.
DA was found to have led to reduced loneliness and increased wellbeing, through enabling social contact (using online and face to face settings), helping people to link to their hobbies and interests, maintain fitness and increase independence.
Findings showed the importance of helping participants to explore their interests, rather than trying to sell the project from a digital perspective. DA proved useful not just for new users, but also those who have used a computer before to improve their skills, or be re-enabled to use equipment due to developing a health condition. To ensure people who struggled to get outside could benefit, the project team felt that running a digital inclusion project that was not classroom based, such as DA, was particularly important.
As well as positive outcomes for participants, Digital Angels has led to the development of new partnerships across South Leeds, this in turn has helped to build capacity and help promote sustainability.
A challenge was that in some residential communal areas, Wi-Fi was not available for people to use, this meant residents could not go online between visits from the team. Maintaining partnerships with other organisations if a key contact was relied upon was also referred to, as was ensuring appropriate matches between volunteers and participants for one to one support. A key challenge for participants was a lack of confidence due to fearing the unknown, or of becoming victim to online scams (though ongoing support from volunteers was able to mitigate this); cost was also a factor for some. Another issue concerned balancing the social benefits of holding group sessions with ensuring participants were encouraged to get online.
Learning and recommendations
Lack of online facilities can be a hindrance to using ICT in communal accommodation settings, the project team acknowledged this and it is felt that the local authority should consider these factors when developing digital inclusion strategies.
Where community venues are used, there is a need to ensure that staff teams, and not just individual staff members, are committed to helping achieve project aims. Other suggestions include ensuring senior management are involved, and producing an agreement in writing, that all staff (across both organisations) could refer to.