Computer Café brings life to older people.

computer cafe.jpg

Near Neighbours funded the Chain Reaction project last year in Sparkbrook, Birmingham. Chain Reaction ran a weekly computer café targeted primarily at older people, to teach them basic IT skills. It involved four volunteers and brought friendly interactions between Christians and Muslims.

From a recent report from CUF on loneliness, it mentioned ‘36% of all those over 65 years old live alone, which is roughly 3.5 million people.’ Many of them have little contact with their family, friends and neighbours. This isolation is common for those over 75, with ‘as many as 13% of over 75 year olds admitting that they are either often or always lonely’.

One of the project leaders of Chain Reaction, Hannah, was aware of the issue of loneliness among older people within her community, highlighting:

“The elderly weren’t seen in conversation with small groups of peers on the street, or at local shopping centres, but often seen alone if at all. Just a brief chat or greeting returned a grateful response. We anticipated the use of information and communication technology would at least allow elderly people to connect and communicate with others, in some way, what we didn’t fully anticipate is that, ironically, those others would actually be their immediate neighbours, family and friends, aside from the electronics.”

People of all ages got involved to support older people to make this project a success. Some grandchildren wanted to support and share their everyday technology with their grandparents. Neighbours were also able to come together, where some got to know each other for the first time.

The participants were able to benefit from the session in different ways. For some, becoming computer literate meant learning to send emails to family and friends or completing forms to report fly tipping or abandoned vehicles for example. For others, who were illiterate and could not speak English, just being able to access a traditional Pakistani folk song was an achievement in their own right. The immediate social connections of the project was remarkable. As Hannah says: “even though small, it inspired hope and resolve to continue with these type of efforts.”

Hannah told me the most inspiring memory of the project was observing how some older people who were isolated and withdrawn regained ‘life’ with, “a glint, a sparkle, a change in their tone of voice and the air with which they carry themselves, giving a feeling of belonging and recognised part of a community. The gadgets, and computers may have had a role to play in that but it was more the role of other people that made the difference.”

When I asked Hannah what message she would give to anyone who wanted to do a project she said: “Be sincere to yourself, address an issue that you personally feel passionate about and are personally working towards in your own individual capacity. This state of mind, or more importantly condition of the heart is what will infuse into others and help them to see the importance of an issue which they may have previously innocently overlooked. Plan carefully and test the plan with those who will help with the project and especially the intended beneficiaries.

StoriesMatt HollidgeBirmingham