Making new connections with Tea and Tech
Technology can be a means to enable older people to renew and develop social contacts and engage more actively in their communities. It can also provide opportunities to participate in meaningful work and other activities (whether on a paid or voluntary basis), interact in new ways with family and friends, develop new skills and experience and share their newly acquired expertise with others. However, because older people tend to have quite a bit of fear and anxiety regarding the use of technology, it was felt that taking steps to overcome these in a friendly and informal environment would encourage improved access to information and IT, allowing people to stay more connected with the outside world, their local communities, and families and friends who lived outside their immediate area.
Working in conjunction with Salford City Council, a five week programme was designed covering the following subjects:
Week 1 – Hopes and fears
Week 2 – The basics of a computer
Week 3 – Google searching
Week 4 - Surfing the internet and communicating.
Week 5 - E-mails and social media
Each session lasted two and a half hours and was delivered in a friendly and informal way over five weeks by qualified adult learning tutors. The technology used included both lap tops and tablets, which were provided for the classes, as was free wifi.
The older people who have attended the Tea and Tech course are now more comfortable and confident about using IT. They are putting their new found skills to good use across a range of situations – such as skyping family and friends far away, and looking up details about health conditions like arthritis and heart disease and how to live with them.
The key areas where a difference can be seen are:
Keeping in touch is easier: communication with family and friends was particularly critical for some of the participants. Some already had an e-mail address that had been set up for them by members of their family, but didn't know how to use it.
People feel a stronger sense of health and well-being: for example, learning how to stream videos and music has enabled some people to set up a Spotify Account and to stream music. Others have discovered YouTube and now like browsing for old videos of Salford, and learn new hobbies online, including line dancing classes.
There is real evidence of reduced social isolation and loneliness: some participants had never met each other despite living in the same sheltered housing scheme, or building. Many lasting new friendships have been made as a result of the Tea and Tech sessions.
We are seeing reduced an anxiety around IT in general: by the end of the sessions some participants had decided to buy their own tablets because they had enjoyed using them so much. Even the most reluctant to participate had got involved in a hands-on way and had learned how to surf online.
Quote from a Tea and Tech participant:
“I now know how to take a selfie – it’s been brilliant!”
Making IT approachable and understandable went a long way to alleviating some of the fears and anxieties - and also scepticism - that some of the participants originally had regarding the use of technology. These fears included the worry that technology costs a lot to use and that it is easy to break and hard to mend. Security was also an issue for concern, given the adverse publicity that is so often in the media about hacking and scamming.
The project was initially intended to run for a year months but owing to its immense success has since been extended through to 2019. Continuing to expanding the IT courses into a variety of settings across Salford, such as sheltered accommodation schemes, care homes and community venues – will keep opening the opportunity to learn the basics of IT and computer usage to a higher number of older people.