How supporting digital literacy is reducing social isolation in Orbit’s independent living schemes

According to the last Census three million people across the UK are not online and of these, 32% (approximately one million people) are aged 50-69. The majority (67%) are 70 or over.

Patrick Dogbatse, Independent Living Scheme Officer and Digital Champion for Orbit supports resident Iris to get online

The pandemic highlighted the disadvantages of this digital divide. Whilst many of us turned to the internet to access essential services and stay connected to friends and family, for those without the devices, skills and confidence that they needed to get online, day to day interactions became even more challenging.

And with digital technology continuing to transform our lives from how we work and communicate to how we spend our spare time, it’s becoming increasingly important to break down the barriers that are preventing older people from accessing the world wide web.

That’s why Orbit has introduced 12 Digital Champions to support residents in its independent living schemes which offer retirement housing to buy or rent to people aged over 55.

Digital Champions receive training through Orbit’s partnership with Barclay’s Digital Wings on key topics including how to choose and set up a device, recognise and avoid scams, connect with people on social media and online shopping as well as training on how to deliver this advice in the most effective way to residents.

Patrick Dogbatse, Independent Living Scheme Officer for Orbit is a Digital Champion who supports seven independent living schemes in Bexley. Patrick said: “Minimising isolation is a key component of the work we do in our independent living schemes and we deploy various tools to deliver this service. One of these is the Digital Champion programme. As a trained Digital Champion my role is to support our customer access to online resources.

“I visit the seven independent schemes in the Bexley area to support customers by advising on suitable smart phones or tablets to buy, setting up the devices and showing them how to use them. A few months ago, I supported a couple to virtually watch their grandson’s wedding in the USA on their Facebook portal. It was a breathtaking experience for this couple. They were overwhelmed with emotions. With my support, another customer had the opportunity to connect with her family in Australia via WhatsApp. This was their first contact in decades. She was thrilled. Although in her 90s, she has now mastered the use of her smartphone. She plays word games and connects with friends and family over video calls.

Resident Iris commented: “Being able to use my laptop and access the internet is helping to keep my brain active. If I’ve got a question I can find the answer online and it also keeps me in contact with my friends and family. I email relatives in other parts of the country and also speak to them face to face using WhatsApp which is nice as I don’t see them regularly.”

Francis Burrows, Director of Support and Service Development added: “Although national data tells us that a large percentage of those not currently online are older people, our experience is that with the right support older people can gain the skills and confidence to benefit from technology. That’s why we’ve invested into the Digital Champions programme as part of our wider strategy to explore and implement assistive technology across our independent living schemes to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes for all residents.”