A PILOT project to help older people in Salisbury get online is to be extended thanks to a coronavirus fund grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation.
Safer and Supportive Salisbury used a £3,300 grant from the community foundation to launch the trial in the summer, helping ten older households access the internet by lending them a tablet and providing socially distanced one-to-one training on how to use it.
Now the group is to use a new £7,600 grant from the community foundation’s coronavirus response and recovery fund to extend the scheme to dozens more people and set up a weekly coffee and computer café to stay in touch with their original triallists.
Volunteer Jane Ebel, who ran the trial, said there are people already signed up for the next phase but the group wants to extend the training to people who are homeless, unemployed, living with disabilities, staying in the city’s women’s refuge or who are single parent families.
“The pilot has been fantastic on a number of levels, it served its purpose in that we have got people connected who have not been connected before,” she said. “People have been able to see relatives they haven’t seen to for six months, others have been emailing for the first time and some were able to follow virtual church services.
“But there is a sector of the community we haven’t reached and we need to work out how to get them because they are going to be a much tougher contingent – but probably more in need.”
She said with more services only being available online, people who are not computer literate are missing out. “Most of them need regular access to health services and they are frustrated because phones are not staffed and they cannot sort out their issues. With the second wave of Covid, there are fewer active hubs and volunteers available in the community, so it is possible that the winter will be harder to endure than the first wave during spring.”
The grant will be used to buy more tablets and cover volunteer trainers’ expenses, as well as open the weekly café in the city to encourage the existing users.
“Since the pilot came to an end we have had GPs, Wiltshire Libraries and Wiltshire Council asking us to help out providing tablets and training, which is great,” said Mrs Ebel. “We had ten households taking part in the pilot, but we had at least another ten who we have been talking to. We have also been talking to U3A because there is a whole section of their membership who don’t have computers that they are really keen to get connected because they are missing out on their activities.”
One woman from Cornwall contacted her to say her elderly in-laws live in Salisbury and she thought they could take part. Said Mrs Ebel:
“They are now signed up, they are using it and they are emailing and can Zoom with their daughter-in-law down in Cornwall. It needed several phone calls and some support from the younger members of the family to make it happen but it’s great for the family who worry that they can’t see them often.”
She added: “Our oldest new member is a 98-year-old who rang and told me ‘I think it’s time I got online’ so we will be getting him Zooming his daughter in New Zealand.”
The group has worked closely with Wessex Community Action to identify people needing help and is hoping to take donated laptops as part of the Army’s Operation Mercury scheme.
Mrs Ebel said that adding new skills was just one of the benefits felt by the people on the pilot. “We have learnt from the pilot project that even telephoning our learners and potential learners, gives them a huge mental boost and lifts their spirits,” she said. “They have enjoyed the visits hugely and have learnt to develop new skills; but we realise that to be successful, the support needs to continue otherwise they will lose their learning. That’s why we are so grateful for this grant.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are so pleased to see this pilot has been a success and delighted to continue our support. This brilliant project is opening up a whole new world for people who might otherwise be lonely and isolated.”
Anyone with a friend or relative they think could take part in the scheme can contact Jane Ebel on 07515 822479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Response and Recovery Fund has raised almost £1.2 million and distributed £950,000 to groups all over Swindon and Wiltshire through more than 200 grants. To donate or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.