S4All is a charity in Stainforth, a deprived mining town in South Yorkshire, where 70.7% of local households suffer from 1-4 dimensions of deprivation. We aim to combat loneliness and isolation in the area by providing a number of free services including the library, internet access and I.T. support, job club, grants and sponsorships for local groups and free educational trips.
Through the BCF project we have been able to tackle the growing issue of older people’s social isolation in our community (16% of the local population are aged 65 or over and PC ownership is severely restricted). We run a digital inclusion project (‘Give IT a Go’) which provides people age 65 or over with basic tablet computer training. Small groups of learners meet in the library for weekly sessions teaching them how to use the Internet, send emails, Skype friends, use Facebook etc, therefore improving social connectivity and reducing isolation. We recruit young unemployed volunteers as ‘Digital Champions’ to work alongside the tutor, bridging the generational gap between the young and old.
Early findings show that people enjoy learning in this way (the course retention rate is currently 97%). Some learners recently said:
“I would highly recommend the course. Enjoyed all the course including meeting others in a similar situation and volunteer experts. Very positive feel about the whole course, sharing confidences and anecdotes. Thank you to all.” (Jane, 69)
“I would recommend the course for getting people together and learning a new skill at the same time. It makes you get out of the house” (Janice, 76)
“I’ve enjoyed everything really. I hate sitting in the house, I just nod off. You’ve got to make an effort to do things” (Marian, 75)
“Very enjoyable course, highly recommend, brilliant presenter and volunteers, enjoyed the company and learning. Loneliness is hard after losing my husband, have to be determined to get out and make an effort” (Evelyn, 72)
Fiona Lawrence, Project Manager, S4All, said:
“We believe this course has been successful so far due to providing learners with the opportunity to form friendships in a relaxed atmosphere where they can talk about their experiences and laugh together. The feedback we’ve received through chatting informally with the groups is that loneliness is something that can happen to anyone. Some of the learners have commented that they have friends and relatives who ‘won’t leave the house’ and when they reach that point it is extremely hard to convince them to try something in the community, or even meet for a coffee at a nearby shop.
“One lady told of how her mother (92) has been housebound since her father passed away. She said that her mother is very lonely but too afraid to do anything about it. This is the message conveyed by fellow learners.
Many have given the opinion that you really need to be active about preventing loneliness and establishing patterns of behaviour before loneliness becomes a way of life, i.e. doing things that ‘make you get out of the house’, being ‘determined to get out’. There is a realisation amongst many of the course attendees that unless they push themselves now (aged 65yrs and over) to stay connected to friends, family and local groups it would become much harder in later life to avoid becoming isolated. Hopefully the work of the Government’s Loneliness Strategy will go some way in helping raise awareness of this.”