Partner profile: Belle Isle Senior Action

Belle Isle Senior Action (BISA) is a Neighbourhood Network organisation based in South Leeds, supporting older people living in the Belle Isle area. They provide a range of services and activities aimed at older adults, including luncheon clubs, exercise classes, and social sessions. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic Belle Isle Senior Action found many members were becoming more socially isolated, and this was negatively affecting their mental health. Many members didn’t have a digital device and had never been online before. Through conversations with members they identified a need for members to develop their digital skills and confidence so they could stay in touch with each other and engage in virtual events and other social programming. 

Support from 100% Digital Leeds

In 2020 Belle Isle Senior Action partnered with 100% Digital Leeds to better understand the digital inclusion needs of their members and the potential digital inclusion support that could be put into place to meet those needs. Together we explored ways the organisation could build upon existing assets to provide inclusive and person-centred digital support inclusion support for their members in a way that was as sustainable as possible. 

“Working in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds and the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network has been fantastic. It’s hard to imagine us as an organisation without this digital inclusion support now, as it’s such an integral part of our offer.” 

Sonny Garewal, CEO, Belle Isle Senior Action

Belle Isle Senior Action joined the Older Peoples Digital Inclusion Network to connect with other organisations delivering digital inclusion. This helped them to build their capacity for supporting the digital inclusion of their members and saw them develop a core digital inclusion offer embedded within their service. 

Working with local partners

Whilst Belle Isle Senior Action identified a real need and demand for digital inclusion support across their membership, they also identified organisational capacity as a barrier to them developing and delivering their digital inclusion offer. They overcame this barrier by building upon the organisation’s existing partnerships, to the mutual benefit of all partners involved.

Partnering with Belle Isle Tenant Management Organisation to increase capacity to deliver

Belle Isle Senior Action built upon their existing partnership with Belle Isle Tenant Management Organisation (BITMO), an organisation supporting social housing tenants of all ages in Belle Isle, to explore ways they could work together to improve digital inclusion for the Belle Isle community as a whole. Together they secured external funding which allowed for the recruitment of a digital inclusion worker to work across both organisations, increasing their joint capacity to develop a digital inclusion offer that meets the needs of the whole community, as well as to deliver digital skills support sessions across both sites.

Partnering with Middleton Elderly Aid to improve access to equipment

Many of Belle Isle Elderly Action’s members were identified as not having access to devices or connectivity. BISA partnered with Middleton Elderly Aid, an organisation supporting older people in a neighbouring area of the city, to identify and secure funding to purchase tablets, smartphones, and data which they could lend and gift to members without devices. They completed a single funding application and split the devices received across the two organisations. They pooled their knowledge and capacity to set up the devices for loan and implement a tablet lending scheme. They also acquired sims via Vodaphone’s Charities Connected scheme to gift to those struggling to pay for data. This expanded their offer and enabled so many older people within south Leeds to have access to a digital device and connectivity. 

Developing the digital inclusion offer

The newly recruited digital inclusion worker worked across both organisations to develop and deliver a digital inclusion support offer that met the needs of members of both organisations. By speaking to members they found out not all members were confident to attend skills sessions, so they developed a blended approach with a variety of digital inclusion support, to ensure the offer was accessible and inclusive for all. 

Group digital skills sessions

The digital inclusion worker developed a full weekly programme of digital skills sessions delivered across both sites. These sessions were themed around relevant topics such as help with using a device, exploring apps linked to hobbies and interests, and using digital to keep in touch with family and friends. 

“I really enjoy coming to the group sessions because it gets me out of the house for a while. I like to learn about the different things I can do on my tablet, such as looking at local bus stop times. I also enjoy using Learn My Way to learn more and more!”

Belle Isle Senior Action member

Embedding digital inclusion across the service

Though well attended, the group skills sessions only reached members already motivated to develop their digital skills and confidence, and motivation was identified as a barrier for many BISA members. The organisation expanded their digital support to be embedded into their lunch clubs, social sessions, and other activities happening across the building. This enabled members to develop their skills and confidence without attending a specific digital skills support session, giving them the opportunity to be introduced to the technology in an informal way. The digital inclusion worker started introducing tablets into the existing sessions and members were intrigued, they enjoyed learning more about the different things they could do online. Once motivated to develop their digital skills further, members were signposted to the group skills sessions.

“I like coming to the lunch club, I never thought I’d use a tablet and learn something new at my age! I have been telling everyone how good it is. I really enjoy the snooker app, I used to be so good at snooker, but I can’t play anymore – but I can play on the app now!”

Belle Isle Senior Action member

Supporting people at home

Offering digital inclusion support at the BISA centre meant the service wasn’t accessible to BISA’s less mobile members who struggle to get to community venues to access face-to-face support. As a result BISA explored ways to expand their offer and include digital inclusion support as part of their existing in-home support service. This included activities such as gardening, cleaning, and shopping, as well as befriending to increase social connections. The digital inclusion worker dedicated one day a week to delivering digital support at people’s homes as part of this service.

“Having Lisa visit me and help me use my phone has been a lifeline. I’ve ordered my prescriptions on the app, I play games which I enjoy, and I can video call my family.”

Belle Isle Senior Action member

Becoming a Digital Health Hub

Belle Isle Senior Action joined the Beeston and Middleton Digital Health Hub Network, a place-based approach to digital inclusion for improved health participation in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds and the Beeston and Middleton Local Care Partnership (LCP).

As a Digital Health Hub they have embedded digital health support into their skills sessions and at home support, theming content around issues like making and managing health service appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, using systems like eConsult, and accessing information to support health and wellbeing.  They have partnered with Your Backyard and Active Leeds to allow members to access exercise classes over Zoom, a service which has helped to increased social connections as well as members’ physical fitness. Local GP Practices and health services can signpost local residents to these services.

Next steps

The funding for the digital inclusion worker developing and delivering digital inclusion support across BISA and BITMO comes to an end in April 2023. They are currently working with 100% Digital Leeds to explore funding opportunities to ensure their digital inclusion programme can continue as it’s making such an incredible impact in the community. 

“We are so grateful for the funding we have received. We have supported so many older people with digital, increasing their digital skills and confidence, and lots have taken their first steps online with our support. We are working hard to secure funding to ensure this essential work can continue.”

Sonny Garewal, CEO, Belle Isle Senior Action