2020: An extraordinary year of working for better digital inclusion

16 Dec 2020


The world has changed forever. Over the past 8 months online access has become essential for everyone. Booking medical appointments, shopping, socialising with friends and even attending funerals and church services is almost impossible for those who are not digitally skilled to some degree.

Lockdown has been incredibly difficult for all of us to deal with but for people who struggle with digital, life has been even harder. At a time when people need IT training the most, the social distancing restrictions have made face-to-face delivery almost impossible. At Leeds Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme, we’ve had to adapt our usual ways of teaching in so many ways.

The start of lockdown was a terrifying time for many. As we teach mostly over 70s who are more at risk, it was a huge blow for us to realise we couldn’t run our usual longer group sessions. But we never gave up. We looked at what we could do instead of focusing on what we couldn’t, and adapted our delivery accordingly. In our immediate response, we delivered Zoom training over the phone to 70 of our members so they could access our virtual Zoom activities, and we worked on ways we could deliver IT training in centres in a safe way.

When the pandemic eased in August, we bought transparent screens and delivered face-to-face training for groups of three. This worked well. We taught them using a projector to avoid getting too close to them. We ran the training for six weeks and the feedback we got was that our members benefitted from the social inclusion just as much as they did the IT lessons.

We knew we had to get close enough sometimes to point to where they needed to click on the screen but we wanted to stay socially distanced and protect ourselves and them - so we came up with the idea of a “pointing stick” which we use in all of our in-person lessons now.

When the numbers increased again in October, we stopped the small groups and moved to 1-2-1 appointments. This means we teach less people now, because it takes two days to teach six people instead of one day. But we can keep everyone safe and that is our priority.

Despite all the challenges, we have delivered 60 1-2-1 appointments since September. Over half of these are members that have attended for six weeks to learn using Learn My Way - a website of free online courses built by Good Things Foundation. The rest are people who need help setting up new phones, tablets, learning how to use Zoom to chat with family and tips on how to shop online or use WhatsApp. Many have struggled because they need support with IT now more than ever, and family and friends are unable to come to the house to help them. Our members trust us and feel safe coming to see us to get help and support.

We know Christmas this year will be an even bigger challenge for a lot of our older members as many will not see their family. We are delivering 1200 presents to every member and delivering an early Christmas Dinner to 70 members. We're also running a Virtual Xmas Programme and will have staff available on Zoom over Christmas for people who will be alone to come online for a chat and a quiz and keep them connected with others.

The lady mentioned below is just one example of the many members we have helped over the last eight months to reconnect them to a world that is moving online and leaving many behind.

Brenda’s Story:

80-year-old Brenda came to see me in October. Her mum was in a care home and since September the only way she could see her was via SKYPE.

She says: “Sam and Good Neighbours have been my saving grace. My mum was 100 years old this May and it's been traumatic only having window contact since the lockdown in March. In September that wasn't possible as even that was not allowed. Anyone who has been in this situation knows how traumatic that is for both parties. We were told we could SKYPE one another, but the only problem was I didn't know how. Because of the lockdown nobody could come to my house to show me. I cried. Things seemed impossible.

But since speaking to Sam at Good Neighbours I have learned so much - not just how to Skype. I feel I can ask about anything and Sam will always help. It has been a sanity saver going to Good Neighbours. My Mum had a fall two weeks ago and even being able to see her on Skype was a blessing. Thank you, Sam and Good Neighbours.”

Thank you to Good Things Foundation, 100% Digital Leeds and BT Skills for tomorrow for their support and funding which enables us to keep this vital work going for our members.