Wales-wide local partnership initiative has enabled recent hospital leavers improve their tech skills and connectivity to combat isolation.
Funded by the Welsh Government, the project supported individuals without access to internet or enabled digital devices through a voucher scheme and dedicated helpline to build skills or confidence with digital technology.
Jenny Phillips, Winter Digital Hardship Project co-ordinator, worked closely with regional organisations on the ground to get support to the people most in need:
“We are very glad to have been able to support some of the most at risk of digital exclusion at a time where we all rely on technology to stay connected. This is particularly true for people who have recently left hospital and are perhaps the most affected by a lack of contact with friends and family.
“Organisations could also use the helpline to access the voucher scheme on behalf of individuals in their care while enabling staff and volunteers to develop digital skills or find out more about the project, which ran to the end of March 2022.
“The helpline and subsequent support will work to alleviate this with a person-centred approach from the outset meaning we will be able to fully understand the needs of each person individually.”
The helpline was the first stage assessed the support needs of people who had recently been discharged from hospital and those caring for them, establishing the particular support required and connecting them with support providers in their local area.
Funding through the voucher scheme was made available to third sector organisations, for specific individuals at risk of digital exclusion to get online. Vouchers were issued to incorporated organisations, such as County Voluntary Councils (CVCs), providing support to those receiving care.
The fund was approached by Eryri Co-Operative Cyf on behalf of Malcolm, an unpaid carer in Gwynedd, supporting his wife who is living with dementia. Feeling excluded from the local community, Malcolm wanted to make more use of digital technology.
He was using Eryri’s respite service, “Cefnogi”, twice a week, which provides a sitting service for a loved one. The service found providing a Welsh singing session, accessed through Spotify, made a huge difference to the family.
Eryri Coop applied for an iPad and protective case for Malcolm, helping him and his wife install their E-Chat service and Facebook app on an internet-enabled tablet to keep connected with family and friends.
Gwenda Hughes from Eryri Co-Operative, said:
“Incorporating singing has transformed both their lives…Again, thank you so much the iPad and case has already made a difference and is priceless to them as a family.”
With continued support from Eryri Coop, Malcolm will be able to further develop his digital skills and confidence and with plans to set up on-line shopping allowing him to order weekly groceries – in turn, enabling him to have more time to support his own well-being.
“Having access to my own iPad has already made such a difference in my life. I can now spend time in the evenings searching the internet on things that are important to me and connect with family and friends through Messenger using a bigger screen.
Malcolm plans to set up a free Spotify account so that carer can have access to Welsh music for his wife, and his own playlist of music to enjoy.
“The support of Eryri Co-Operative has provided me with a lifeline through respite break, which includes supporting my wife through music. When I come back from my respite it is very emotional to hear my wife singing Welsh songs on top of her voice. She always loved music and having music introduced in the sitting service has bought so much joy to us both”
Through the project, it was evident that there were often multiple factors, including accessibility, contributing to the digital exclusion and isolation of those most in need – even in more urban areas.
Age Connects Cardiff and Vale also approached the fund on behalf of their client, living in extreme financial hardship. Being housebound due to physical disability and suffering with mental ill-health, they felt cut off from the outside world.
The support worker from Age Connects, said:
“My client is using the device on a daily basis, and she updates that it has proved to be very helpful in her life. She now orders her online groceries with ease and also connects with others of a similar age to herself via Facebook and Instagram.”
With project support, the charity, which helps ensure older people are respected and enabled to meet their aspirations, helped their client with shopping online as they can no longer go out. The tablet also allowed the person to access to social media to interact with people while also being able to email family and friends.
The recipient expressed gratitude for the holistic support offered, a combination of support enabled the breaking down of barriers to dramatically improved social inclusion for their client through provision of tech and training:
“She has also joined some support groups, where she gets to chat to others around the country who are in a similar position as herself. She no longer feels alone. Thank you for funding the tablet, my client and (the team) at Age Connects are extremely grateful.”
With more to come from a local Hardship Fund project currently running in Bridgend, the pilot provides a blueprint for co-operative digital inclusion success and the real difference it can make to lives and livelihoods.
Marc Davies, Digital Programme Lead at Cwmpas, said:
“This Winter Digital Hardship Project is a fantastic example of digital inclusion support offered through Cwmpas and demonstrates our continuing mission to use co-operative approaches in reducing digital exclusion in Wales.”
“Working co-operatively with partners has enabled us to successfully connect those most in need of funding, training and additional support to ensure they are not left out in an increasingly digital world and we’re looking forward to building on this work with future projects”