I’ve been lucky over the last few months to be a member of SCVO’s Digital Champions in Social Housing project. It’s been great to meet other people passionate about supporting our residents and our organisations to get better at digital. I’ve also been lucky enough to receive funding from the Digital Participation Charter Fund for a project to support residents in Glasgow.

Hanover provides housing for older people right across Scotland and, like many of our residents, we’ve sometimes been a bit slow on the digital uptake. This is changing and has been boosted by a commitment to put Wi-Fi into communal areas at developments and a desire to explore how technology can help not just residents but also staff.

The digital skills gap is reducing for older people but the latest statistics still show that 47% of people over 75 have never used the internet. This mirrors my own observations over the last few months. I set out with a group of residents at a Sheltered Housing development to find out what skills they had and what they wanted to use the internet for.

I had fairly low expectations of 4-6 people showing up [otherwise it sounds like you had low expectations of the people themselves] but ended up being met by 15 people all raring to go. We started by using SCVO’s excellent Foundation Digital Skills checklist which showed a mix of abilities. There were devices that had been shoved in drawers that needed dusting off and some people without any device at all. Luckily I was able to lend tablets to those without.

10 weeks later, I left my last session with the group amazed at their progress and really excited about the potential of digital for these people. The residents now run their own weekly group, helping each other out where they can. One man’s progress really caught my attention and I decided to go back to talk to him and find out a bit more about his story.

Bill had never used a tablet, computer or smartphone before,

“I hadn’t a clue what to do, so what was the point in getting something that was completely alien. I was still living in what they call Jurassic Park”.

After 12 weeks he was happily using the internet, he’d ordered his own tablet and had booked to have broadband installed in his flat. This was the transformation I’d hoped for but it was so much more than that.

“I’ve learnt that there’s a lot of things I can do from in here and probably when I get internet in the house I can do it in the house. I can get more entertainment instead of sitting, meditating in the past and things that have happened that caused the problems I had. I’m actually on my way, I’ve been fighting my way well out of it the now and I’m getting there and this is really basically down to coming up here with the tablet I borrowed off you and sitting here and getting into things and watching things like things about animals, especially cats and all these things. It’s really taken my mind away from all the things I should never have been thinking about now, you know?“.

Every time someone asks me why we should invest in digital I now have my answer. As I sat down with my next group of residents recently in Glasgow, I knew that for each of them digital would mean something different but also that it had the potential to change their lives and open a whole world of possibilities.

I’ll let Bill have the last word – I asked him “what is the biggest barrier to people using the internet?”

“Fear. That’s the word. Why look at a thing you fear to even contemplate, it’s getting yourself boosted enough to start. Because you think to yourself that’ll do me no good, I don’t think that’ll be up to much but then when I got into it I realised there was a lot more than what I presupposed.”