Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London

Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London is a charitable organisation with around 350 members whose aim is to support over 55s in the areas of Woodhouse, Little London and part of the city centre in Leeds.

Caring Together first linked up with 100% Digital Leeds in 2019 when they successfully applied to the Digital Inclusion Fund grant scheme. Caring Together had been working to promote digital inclusion for over 10 years, including writing and running bespoke basic IT courses alongside partner organisations and with support of volunteers to a large cohort of members. They have also hosted sessions on using mobile phones, tablets, and iPads. And, throughout, they have run an ongoing IT drop-in alongside the training at Lovell Park Hub using both the PCs there and members own devices.  They have also been able to link into other initiatives throughout this time such as O2, Barclays Digital Eagles, Text Santa and Leeds Libraries.

Caring Together identified a particular barrier for many members in that everyday things, such as renewal of bus passes, housing applications and benefits applications had all moved online; in some cases there was no alternative to digital and this made it hard for many people to access.  Although they had helped many members get online via training there were still many who had no internet access and Caring Together’s equipment which was not up to date hindered progress in this area.  They had firm proposals to start using more digital technology and received £3,600 from 100% Digital Leeds in order to buy tablets with data packages, equipment and to fund some tech projects

In September 2019 they used the money to purchase four Samsung Galaxy S4 tablets each with pens, keyboards and mobile data, which they got a discount on for spreading the cost between the tablets. Caring Together along with advice from 100% Digital Leeds then started to embed digital more and more into what they were already doing.  They launched the tablets at their AGM last year where members were able to get some hands on experience with the new devices. Photographs and a small video were taken by members.

Having more connectivity allowed them to explore more subjects.  Thanks to the willingness of members to try new things, Lisa was able to use the 100% Digital Leeds-funded equipment to run a digital pixilation animation session. This was a stop motion technique where pictures of members were taken and then sketched repeatedly and then pictures of them taken frame by frame to create an animated film. They also hosted a digital skill sharing session with an existing group where members and volunteers were supported with sharing online holiday snaps and party pictures in small groups. Each group would have someone who was more skilled on the device to share their skills with others – thus a gentle learning opportunity as well as reminiscing and connecting.

They have been able to use the tablets and the mobile data to help members to save time and money and to manage their lives in a better way like processing bus pass renewals and filling in forms online such as attendance allowance and health forms .Some of their members have also been able to come into the office to use the tablets with staff on hand to help if needed.

In November 2019 after having the tablets for just six weeks they were already starting to feel the difference:

Our members are loving being able to access the internet now, some of them have never used it before. We had a session this week with a man who told us his brother had written a book, we managed to find his brother’s book on Amazon to show him and he was amazed!

We had been saying for a while it would be great to have funding to do something like this so the opportunity from 100% Digital Leeds was perfect.  Previously we were having to collect info from members and bring it back to the office to process, often we were missing details and it wasn’t easy to go back or we’d have to ring them.  This has been much better for the members as we can sort out issues together on the spot.” – Valerie, Caring Together

In March2020 the Covid-19 pandemic hit and everything changed, but thanks to the previous few months work with 100% Digital Leeds, Caring Together were more prepared for the changes that were to follow.

For a number of members, We’ve been using the digital tools a bit more indirectly – telephone to members while using online resources to claim benefits, fill out other forms etc.” And we’ve been doing quite a bit of telephone IT support – talking people through how to set up devices – their own or loaned, how to zoom, Skype etc., registering for online GP services, online grocery shopping, among other things”. – Valerie, Caring Together

Caring Together also applied for more emergency equipment from 100% Digital Leeds early in the pandemic and have been loaned seven Amazon Echos which members have been using to keep in touch with family, and three iPads which have also gone to members and have been invaluable in keeping them connected during this time.

“Since lockdown began Lisa has started a weekly online ‘elevenses’ group and that is going well –and building up slowly, not least because for each new member it often involved supporting members to install zoom on their devices, and then hosting ‘trial runs’ talking through it on the phone step by step. And once she could visit, (from a distance), standing outside, whilst the member sat in the hallway getting to grips with the new device from 100% Digital Leeds. This enabled her to get used to using zoom, (passing the tablet back and forth using a trolley, gloves and wipes for safety) so she could join the ‘Elevenses’ and ‘Afternoon Tea Party’, as well as an upcoming trustees meeting. Two of the group who join now each week have benefited from the use of the equipment.”

“Lisa also hosted our first ‘Virtual Tea Part’ event on 24 June. We had planned a summer day trip to Millstones for a meal and entertainment.  This was unfortunately cancelled but this event went some way to making up for it. We had over 20 people join us. Some dressed up for the occasion, and made cakes and snacks. We enjoyed the company and chat. Our local MP, councillor and PCSO attended, with members singing and a prize draw for an afternoon tea basket. Two of the group were able to join us thanks to the equipment from 100% digital and support prior to the event.”

“We have also been able to support two members to get used to using Zoom to join our Trustees meeting and have a lovely picture of  our test run before the meeting where three of us connected face to face together for the first time since the lockdown” – Valerie, Caring Together

When the pandemic started and many services were closing down it was an extremely worrying time for many people, especially those who are vulnerable, older and isolated.  Charities themselves were wondering how they could continue and had to rapidly re-evaluate how they delivered their service to continue supporting their service users. Caring Together adapted to this in various ways to ensure they remained connected, and the equipment and support from 100% digital has been an important part of this.

“We have lots of less technological stuff going on too, practical support like shopping, prescriptions, meals delivered via the local church/foodbank, distributing home-made jam and cakes from some members. And lots and lots of phone calls, advice, emotional support etc  

 “We are posting on our website and Facebook  at least once, and often several times a day, and have managed to encourage lots of members to use this resource – we are putting up lots of advice and information and places to get help and support. Also lots of fun things – links to free online events and entertainment, quizzes and poetry, photos and lots of stories and creative pieces that our members are sending to us to share.

“Of our 350 members, more of them are not online than those who are.  Over the years it has been starting to tip though as more and more of our members increase their confidence and are starting to embrace digital, reaping the benefits it can have to their health and wellbeing.

A lot of people have said to us they feel great that they can now use Zoom and other online applications as we support them using their own devices and 100% Digital Leeds-funded equipment.  In the future we are planning to continue this progress and we are looking at more forms of digital get-togethers even when people can come back to our groups.  This may be especially beneficial for our members over the winter months when it becomes more difficult for them to get out. 

Many who previously had no desire to be online are starting to rethink and it’s great that by working together with 100% Digital Leeds we’ve been able to expand our scope to enable more of our members to be digitally included to live happier and healthier lives.” – Valerie, Caring Together