Partner profile: Leeds Irish Health and Homes

Leeds Irish Health and Homes (LIHH) have been providing services to the Irish and wider community in Leeds for over 25 years.  Their services range from outreach support to regular luncheon clubs and tea dances, health and wellbeing support, digital inclusion support and more specialist unemployment, bereavement, and mental health support.

“Seeing people’s digital skills increase and broaden their learning is a real sense of empowerment for them and gives LIHH a real sense of pride. People are no longer afraid to ask questions, they have achieved both self-belief and achievement in their learning. It’s great to see the difference it’s making to their lives.”

Sarah McBride, Services Manager at Leeds Irish Health and Homes

Digital inclusion in response to the pandemic

During the pandemic in 2020 LIHH knew that they needed to respond rapidly to needs highlighted during lockdown and enable people to be digitally connected across the city. They were astonished at the demand for digital, especially from many older people in their communities. Through conversations with their members they knew they needed to develop an offer of digital skills support and look at providing many with equipment.

LIHH began working in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds when a successful funding bid from the Emigrant Support Programme meant they were able to recruit a Community Digital Inclusion Officer.  The demand for digital inclusion support was high across the Irish communities in Leeds and LIHH looked at ways the new role could support digital inclusion and build and develop their offer.   

The Community Digital Inclusion Officer, Anne, began delivering online groups, sparking engagement with sessions themed around topics of interest such as culture, Irish radio, online chats and quizzes.

“We have witnessed people emailing each other rather than calling each other which has been wonderful, and carrying out shopping trips online rather than going out to do a grocery shop.”

Sarah McBride, Services Manager at Leeds Irish Health and Homes

She has since then fully developed a face-to-face digital skills offer with a variety of sessions delivered each week.  These are very well attended and are within the LIHH centre, or at community locations around the city such as The Old Fire Station in Gipton. LIHH also have several tablets they use in sessions and lend to members, helping people across the city who don’t have access to a device or wifi.   

Digital access has helped support members’ mental health

The number of people attending the sessions has increased thanks to the fun digital tools and apps during the sessions. Apps like Wordle and Waffle have supported many of their older members to overcome loneliness and isolation and helped them to stimulate the brain. The Memory Lane app has been immensely popular, especially great for members living with Dementia, where they can access lots of resources for reminiscence. Through Anne’s ongoing commitment and hard work, the number of people now accessing digital support through LIHH has increased and demand continues to be high.

Anne also offers one-to-one digital support in the community for those who are not confident in a group setting or who may be unable to leave their property due to challenging physical health issues.

“Having that personal touch always makes a huge difference to our service users and encourages further learning.”

Anne Pearce, Community Digital Inclusion Officer at Leeds Irish Health and Homes.

One member who had struggled with lifelong depression now attends the LIHH Digital session every Friday and it has given him a sense of purpose and something to look forward to each week. Another gentleman who was really struggling with both loneliness and grief was supported by Anne to create a digital book as a legacy for his family. The sessions continue to be life changing for so many, one member in her 80s can now use her tablet to access online mass which means so much to her.

“We have seen people’s confidence grow, friendships develop through Zoom, and online activities delivered. People are feeling less isolated and lonely. People have seen an improvement in their mental health. The eagerness to learn and be digitally connected has been very impressive. We like to be able to offer Zoom and face to face to give people the option and support those that are less mobile.”

Sarah McBride, Services Manager at Leeds Irish Health and Homes

Key partnership projects

Leeds Irish Health and Homes are a key member on the Older Peoples Digital Inclusion Network and regularly share tips and tools in best supporting older people with digital.  This network has created strong working relationships with LIHH and many other organisations across the city supporting older people with digital, which has helped them with resources, sharing ideas and building confidence in delivering digital support sessions. Being a member of the network means they have partnered with 100% Digital Leeds on a number of projects.

Becoming a Digital Health Hub

LIHH are part of the Central North Local Care Partnership and with the support of 100% Digital Leeds are developing as a Digital Health Hub.  There is high demand across their members for support with online prescriptions and self-management apps, and LIHH are really excited to be able to help people manage their health and wellbeing with digital. 

“It’s so empowering to be able to help people manage their own appointments and prescriptions and giving them access to their own care record.  We don’t want anyone to be left behind or excluded.”

Sarah McBride, Services Manager at Leeds Irish Health and Homes

Be Online Stay Safe

LIHH were successful in joining the BOSS project which is a partnership project between 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum focused on supporting members to improve their media literacy skills and feeling confident and safe online. This project will run until January 2024.

The sessions have started, and they’ve received such positive feedback on how much they are needed and how much more confident members feel after receiving support around online safety and how to avoid scams. The fear of being online has previously prevented many members from using digital but these sessions are giving more people the confidence to go online and feel safe in doing so.  

Looking forwards

The current challenge across LIHH is capacity as the demand for more digital inclusion support remains high. They are working with 100% Digital Leeds to look for further funding to recruit a second digital inclusion worker. This would enable them to reach further communities in the city and provide more digital support for those that need it. They would like to expand their Digital Health Hub offer and provide more at home support too.  Recruiting this second worker will be vital to supporting so many more people across the city with digital inclusion, enabling them to do the things they want and need to do online

A case study

W, aged 79 is from the West coast of Ireland and has lived in Leeds for 60 years. He is socially isolated and lives, by choice, alone without a TV. He was also digitally excluded. When Anne visited, he explained that in the past he has not wanted to go out and does not want to get like that again, describing himself as a loner. He enjoys reading and is very proud of his Irish roots. He is also conscious that his spelling is poor and this was a barrier to him learning. Together he and Anne worked on building confidence around this and using a keyboard. They also found that a stylus helped with what W referred to as his “workman hands and large fingers”. 

Anne showed W some YouTube videos on her mobile phone and he loved listening to the music. He has a banjo which he would like to learn to play properly. Anne explained about YouTube tutorials and how he could learn at home and develop his skills. This hooked him and through Barca’s Men’s Health Unlocked project Anne secured him a tablet with a data sim. 

Anne visited W and showed him how to use the tablet to access YouTube and she found an Irish tutor who has free tutorials to play the banjo. W uses the tablet every day and it gives him a purpose. He watches videos to learn where to place his hands then practises. Having a tablet makes a difference to him and he enjoys using it. He uses up the data allowance each month as he spends so much time playing. 

W is very practical, having spent his working life doing manual work. He loved using the tablet to find out how to make items from wood and metal and recycling. He was also studying how to fix a battery and how to pick locks. He uses the internet to find information such as song lyrics, he was looking for Rod Stewart.

Feedback from W is that he is loving the tablet and his learning journey. He has a supportive family but does not want to bother them at work, so the tablet occupies W during the day. He is not interested in an email address yet but is discussing it with his daughter moving forward. He has also been introduced to Zoom.

W has gained a lot of confidence using the tablet and is very engaged as a result. When he speaks to his family on the telephone he has conversation to share and is building up his skills.