Connecting Scotland

Nowadays a device and connectivity are seen by many as an essential utility rather than a useful extra – rather akin to having a basic service such as electricity. This was shown particularly during the Covid-19 lockdowns when the risk of isolation and loneliness was even greater for those without devices like laptops, tablets or smartphones to allow people to stay connected with friends and family. People who had beforehand attended lunch clubs, exercise classes and other activities where they met with others face to face, could no longer do so. However, with a device people were able to meet with others and conduct activities virtually and to stay connected to loved ones. This ability to connect was only possible if a device was available.

Many of the people mPower aimed to help did not have devices or access to the internet either because of the expense, fear of technology or they may have felt that because they had never used a device they didn’t need one. In other words, they were digitally excluded.

mPower beneficiaries without devices in Scotland were fortunate to benefit from a Scottish Government initiative to tackle digital exclusion called Connecting Scotland. One of the mPower partners, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), managed the project on the Government’s behalf, and this leveraged in 767 devices for people aged 65 and over in the Western Isles, Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire and Arran.

Each recipient was given a free device – most preferred ipads, and two years of free unlimited data connectivity using a mobile wifi router. In addition to standard technical support, recipients also received assistance from someone who would commit time to helping them to learn how to use the device. This typically was a weekly one hour call over many weeks and months. Digital Champion is the term used to describe such support; this could be a volunteer, someone who was already in a support role for the older person, a neighbour or a family member. Technical expertise was not what was required, but rather time and patience to show the beneficiary how to use the device and gain some basic digital skills.

To encourage people to explore the technology the Digital Champion would spend time finding out what people were interested in – this could be a particular sport, a hobby such as knitting, accessing audio books or just wanting to see people virtually, the list was endless. This area of interest was used to peak their interest in using the device by enabling them to find out more about it on the internet or showing them how video apps enable virtual face to face contact.

One 80 year old beneficiary from Dumfries and Galloway called his new ipad “the magic machine.” He had never owned a device before but with support from his digital champion, he learnt how to use it and particularly enjoyed using Facetime for conversations with people he hadn’t seen for years.