Listen to the Tap into IT Podcast: Partnership Benefits
Lesley Scarles, Digital Support Worker at Tap into IT, discusses our successful partnership with Viewpoint Housing Association, with various stakeholders including 3 Viewpoint tenants.
Published February 2022
Mike Ellis – Tap into IT Executive Director
Helen Barclay – Former Director of Property and Housing, Viewpoint Housing Association
Heather Jeffrie – Tenant Participation and Communications Coordinator, Viewpoint Housing Association
Sheona Hall – Tap into IT volunteer and Trustee
Margaret Simpson – Viewpoint Tenant
Jacqueline Loose – Viewpoint Tenant
Paul Sinclair – Viewpoint Tenant
Podcast Transcript: Partnership Benefits
I’m Lesley Scarles Digital Support Worker with Tap into IT, a social enterprise organisation providing ongoing support to enable older people living in Edinburgh to tap into the benefits of being online and learning how to safely use the technology to do so.
For several years, Tap into IT has enjoyed a successful partnership with Viewpoint Housing Association, the largest supported housing association in the area.
Within this partnership many Viewpoint tenants have learned to use technology and access the internet with guidance from Tap into IT volunteers and support workers.
During the summer of 2021, I talked to some of the people involved on both sides of the partnership about its origins and its recent necessary adaptations during the Covid 19 pandemic I also talked to some of the Viewpoint tenants who have greatly benefited from going online.
Firstly, I asked how the partnership came about, what support looked like at the beginning and how it has evolved.
I’m Mike Ellis, the Executive Director of Tap into IT but hold a multitude of roles – I’m also on the front line as on of the digital support workers. I set up Tap into IT as a social enterprise having done a bit of sole trader work part-time before that but prior to that I was 27 years in social care / social work in various guises. Because of my social work background I really wanted to get working with folk in social housing and other people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford it. I knew there were a tremendous amount of people who were offline and it seemed as though the best route to them would be via something like housing associations because a lot of folk lived in social housing / housing association accommodation and I was able to do a pilot project for a club at Gillespie Crescent. I invited people to introductory sessions – talks to discuss what it was going to be about and what they wanted. Yes, it started from there, from a three month pilot at Gillespie Crescent in Tollcross. Prior to Covid hitting, we had the three clubs – as far as the services to housing association residents was concerned – and it was with Viewpoint particularly.
Here’s Helen Barclay previously Viewpoint Director of Housing with many years of involvement in social housing organisations and associated government bodies.
I was the Housing and Property Director at Viewpoint Housing Association in Edinburgh and at that stage Tap into IT had access to an annual budget from Viewpoint and I continued with that as I could see the benefits of that. Viewpoint is the largest sheltered housing provider in Edinburgh and there are lots of little communities within Edinburgh therefore there were groups set up collectively in specific sheltered complexes and that’s how it began. In the sheltered complexes there are a communal lounge so that was what was used as that had access to electric kettles to make them tea and biscuits and it was enough space around it to be able to have a couple of people with a support person to start their IT progression.
This is Jacqueline, a Viewpont tenant and one of the first to join the Tap into IT computer club. Followed by Sheona Hall a Tap into IT volunteer and Trustee.
I’m Jacqueline Loose, and I go to the class, the Tap into IT in Gillespie Crescent.
I used to watch people working on it and nobody would give me a shot. You know, my daughter had one and my granddaughter and these other two friends that I had and I would just sit and watch them and nobody gave me a shot. As soon as a notice came round here – does anyone want to learn the computer – I wasn’t here that long and I never joined in with much – I was down there immediately with my wee form to fill in and I said to them, the Co-ordinator – “ now don’t lose that, it’s important ! ”
I have been from the very first class that Mike had, it must be 9 years anyway so I should have learned it by this time and it was really good, so interesting and it’s definitely worth going to a class to learn about it.
Sheona Hall – I’m a volunteer and a Trustee with Tap into IT. Previously before volunteering with Tap into IT my time was spent teaching. I taught English for many years and then support for learning and did a bit of training of teachers as well. When we started in the beginning we were using Viewpoint Housing accommodation and there were just 3 / 4 people who went along to that first session. I only went along as someone to help Mike out for a day and then I continued to go and have done for probably 10 years. So there were just 3 / 4 people and the first day that I went I was working with a Viewpoint Housing resident and she was – it must have been November or December – and she was working on her iPad looking at the Lifeboat Association website because she was choosing tea towels and fudge and calendars for Christmas gifts. We had a wee session and then after that a cup of coffee of course. Well it has expanded and we didn’t have enough room in this small lounge so we moved into the big common room and from 3 / 4 people it went up to about 20 people some days and equally we had to, the volunteers obviously had to increase as well. Most of it was word of mouth – people began to tell other residents about it and how they’d enjoyed it and brought friends along. Eventually we had people outwith Viewpoint Housing coming along to the club as well.
Paul is another tenant who that attended the first computer club.
It was only through talking to somebody at Viewpoint that I realised / was told there was a computer club at Gillespie (Crescent)
Well, I didn’t realise that this actually happened, and it was only through talking to somebody at Viewpoint that I was told there was a computer Club at Gillespie and therefore I went along.
What has happened, joining the club, all the little niggles, you know, email and downloading stuff, it taught me how to do these kinds of things.
I miss it actually because of the socialisation aspect of it and the fact it was interesting listening to other tenants at Gillespie Crescent because a lot of them have had quite exciting lives.
I’ve made quite a few friends. A couple of chaps, the three of us used to sit together, but we’ve actually, you know, moved around as well. And also, I have to say that some of the helpers that Mike has have been very good, very helpful. Because it wasn’t only the computing; I had a wee problem with a mobile phone, so we talked through that as well and he sorted that out.
From Viewpoint this is Heather Jeffrie.
My name’s Heather Jeffrie, I am the Tenant Participation and Communications Coordinator with Viewpoint Housing Association, and we work in partnership with Tap into IT and have done for a number of years.
I started with Viewpoint Housing Association in October 2019. And part of my role was to get involved with Tap into IT and how we use it to benefit our tenants. So I did make contact with them very quickly, and quickly established a working relationship so we could look at where we were going. And, obviously, Covid changed all of that a few months later.
We have worked with a couple of other social enterprises but we preferred Tap into IT because of the personal service that they seemed to offer for our tenants and that’s why we work in partnership with yourselves.
Initially, when I started with Viewpoint, there were computer clubs. There were three: one at Gillespie, one at Old Farm (Court), and one at St Albans (Court), where the tenants could go free of charge, and also others could attend. And it was a chance for the tenants to meet together socially and also to learn and to share their learning with each other.
Just before lockdown, we had been talking with Tap into IT about how to reach more of our tenants and how to offer that service wider than we were. And then Covid came along before we actually had a chance to implement any of these ideas, and things changed completely. I think Tap into IT changed their services and adapted their services very quickly in a very positive way, that we were still able to offer our tenants that one-to-one support to get online and to do things that they might not have had to do prior to Covid. So that was very, very helpful.
I asked Tap into IT Executive Director Mike Ellis about adapting to the advent of covid 19 restrictions in early 2020.
When Covid came along obviously we had to switch very rapidly – you know all the club locations had to shut down because we didn’t have access to the common rooms anymore. Viewpoint had to shut down those common rooms and so our clubs had to stop overnight more or less and thanks to our tremendous volunteers and others, we managed to get some small online groups going – they tended to be about 3 people per group with a couple or more helpers in each group. This was the opportunity that gave the real shove in that direction for those who were thinking “I’m too old, it’s too difficult, it’s too risky, it’s too expensive” – because we have these free devices with mobile broadband to offer – that got rid of the argument about cost and difficulty. I think it has actually done us quite a favour in that respect of actually making people realise just how essential now being online is for communication, keeping in touch with family and day to day stuff – shopping, entertainment, finding out what is happening about Covid or about things generally and the Covid situation as well has meant that so much more is being done online on a routine basis too. To my mind we need to actually offer access to everyone regardless of abilities or disabilities or whatever and whatever it takes to do that but also involve them as fully as possible.
Viewpoint tenant Margaret on how she and other club members adapted once they were no longer able to meet in person.
Margaret Simpson I live in Gillespie Crescent. I have been a member of the Tap Into IT club since I first came to Gillespie Crescent.
Since the online meetings have started we meet every Tuesday afternoon for an hour and we have a chat. We have a hostess, Sheona, and we chat for the first 20 minutes or so and we then we play games. We also, if we have any problems with our technology we can ask the hostess. We also have two young boys who come along and they’re fantastic. They know everything! It doesn’t matter what goes wrong with your iPad or computer, they know how to sort it. It’s just amazing.
I have recommended our computer club zoom meetings because their is online shopping – it’s a life saver as well.
Volunteer Sheona Hall
It’s probably made them more independent since Covid; they are not relying so much on other people to help them, not relying so much on family and friends but also maybe some of them seeing more of family because they have family who live far away and they are now connecting with them more through technology. When they came to the clubs it wasn’t just technical help they got but there was the social side of things – there was the half hour at the end for a cup of tea which I always thought was equally as important as getting help with the technical side of things . I think definitely it has tackled loneliness and social isolation and I think that the people – as a charity we are trying to reach out to those that are digitally excluded and socially isolated. These are the people we want to reach out to and I think the fact that so many new people have come on shows that we are doing that.
Viewpoint’s Heather Jeffrie again.
I think Tap into IT were very responsive and I don’t think that teaching somebody IT over a phone is easy and I really do admire Tap into IT for how they have managed because there has been a very positive response from our tenants about this.
I think the whole independence thing has been very big for people and it has allowed them to access information as well, as well as do things like shopping. In terms of the small groups that have been set up, I think they are a really good opportunity for the tenants to speak to each other and realise that they are all learning together, and also to share that learning, and I certainly have seen a difference in that.
There are tenants who were very resistant to using Zoom, who, after Tap Into IT had shown them how to use it, came onto a Zoom meeting with myself, and before I knew it they were talking to each other and they were going to join history clubs and all sorts of things. So that was really, really positive; from that that they were able to go off and do other things. So yes, it’s been great.
Next I asked organisers how they envision the future development of similar partnerships between social enterprise organisations and housing associations.
Mike Ellis. The whole approach of partnership with the housing associations is key – it’s not just a case of trying to go to a Housing Association with “we’ve got this service, that service and the next service are you interested?” and all being well (they say) “yes” and so they leave us to get on with it. What is key for this to work for us which has been so brilliant with Viewpoint is having people inside the organisation having a contact person within who really sees the benefit of getting their residents / tenants online and the importance of it and is actively working with us to enable that to happen. I see digital support as an essential part of health and social care support now and it’s trying to make that argument along with the Housing Associations. There is an element of well “why on earth go to all this trouble to get folk in that situation online?”and I really think it about the respect for the person, about really valuing each person and it matters not just for their own gain or benefit but matters to other people around them; it’s that sense of how inter-related we all are: we need each other and if you have got folk who are missing out of the community, then we all miss out.
Sheona Hall. I would have thought trying to get more people online is a necessity because of health, it helps keep them connected which in turn helps health. There are so many things now that can only be done online that people are having to be online or else they’ll become quite excluded, I think. Tap into IT could work with different Housing Associations but not just Housing Associations – we could be working with other things as well.
Heather from Viewpoint
I think that Housing Associations recognise that we’re into a very digital society and things more and more are online and may no longer be elsewhere, so it’s important that our tenants can keep up with that and be involved in that and not end up excluded from society because they’re unable to access that information.
I think as time goes on, obviously, things change as the next generation is more digitally aware, but at the moment the clients that we deal with, a lot of them are not digitally aware, so it’s quite important to get them there.
I think it has increased in priority and I think Covid has increased the priority for housing associations about digital awareness and digital involvement. And I know that we have benefited greatly from our relationship with Tap into IT.
The reality is that if you are working in a job as a Housing Officer, for example, you don’t necessarily have the time to spend with somebody to help them get online and to help them access everything they want. You might be able to show them the basics, but you are not, you don’t really have the time to be able to devote to show them everything else that they can do. And I think Tap into IT offer that service and I think that is very, very important going forward into the digital society, that we are able to work in partnership with organisations like Tap into IT to get that expertise.
The other thing that I think Tap into It offer is that personal service is that they don’t just leave somebody to sort it out for themselves, they will actually guide them and show them and follow up, something that quite often that because we get caught up in rent arrears or repairs or emergencies, that we are not always able to do as timeously as we would like to. Whereas Tap into IT are devoted to that and will follow these up quicker.
I have now left Viewpoint as such but I am still on the IT strategy group. Even as I left Viewpoint there were going to be differences happening in the Health and Wellbeing side for people with access to GP’s through video conferencing and as they were going to start cutting back on face to face appointments therefore this has just really expanded because of the Covid pandemic. I think it’s important that this type of thing is included in all the Health and Well-being strategies. I think in the Tenant Participation strategy, the Communications strategy and any IT strategies that maybe Housing Associations have. Sometimes when people come back from hospital they have to adapt to a different lifestyle where before they were out and about then all of a sudden they can’t – they are not quite as mobile. It’s essential in that sort of situation as it stops them getting so depressed. I think also that Tap into IT focus a lot on people with Dementia and it helps them to remain mentally active. There will be more funding in the future for this because the pandemic has probably highlighted that but I think also all those different strategies should have a focus on IT and if people haven’t got access to IT then I think they should have access to IT.
The final words go to Viewpoint tenants Margaret, Jacqueline and Paul founder Tap into IT members:
Margaret. It’s a huge thing going from not having any knowledge of computers or iPads, to go on to tackling it, and you feel very much at a disadvantage because we – especially here in Gillespie Crescent and other complexes, similar complexes – we were never brought up with computers. There were no computers or iPads or anything, or mobile phones when we were being brought up, and it’s a huge jump to me really when you think of it.
I’ve definitely benefited from being online;you can only tell people what a difference it makes to your life. Especially when you are older and on your own such a lot. I’m on Zoom quite often. I Zoom with my family, up north, three times a week as well. And of course with the computer club, once a week every week. So that’s a definite help. I don’t know how – we often say, with my family, when I’m speaking to my family and my friends – we didn’t know how we’d cope through all this if it hadn’t been for Zoom.
Some of my family were online. We’re four sisters: one sister was not at all online and refuse utterly to have anything to do with technology of any kind, and now she’s come on leaps and bounds. She always swore that she’d never have anything to do with it and now she’s on Zoom every week.
It was the only way she could communicate with us really. She could see what fun that we had online and I know what a difference it made to our lives. Well it made a complete difference; it saved us from feeling isolated. None of us felt isolated as we knew that we were just a Zoom away. That was it. It was great.
Jacqueline. Well, it’s helped me because it’s given me something to do and to look at and find out about. I’ve looked into quite a lot of things, things that may not be important but I just get information, and if I hadn’t had had this, I don’t think I would have been so happy today if I hadn’t had this iPad to work. It has kept me going. And I read a book on it and I’m sometimes sitting at it too long and I think, I should have been getting up now, do some housework. So it has definitely helped me, and I wouldn’t have managed all this time on my own here without it. And I didn’t see my family very much because they are all out of town, so it would have been terrible without getting it. So I really appreciate getting taught how to do this.
Paul. I think at the end of the day it is word of mouth. It’s individuals meeting individuals and I think that’s the best way – you know somebody who did something and you think maybe I could do that and they tell you and you find a bit more about it and it moves on but I think before that you need to have a bit of knowledge about what they are missing. Maybe if they had family abroad you could say to them, if you had a small computer you could communicate with your relatives / family abroad you could stay in touch even although they are even 12 000 miles away. And so I think you have to know what their personal circumstances are before you try to persuade them. Viewpoint has to be congratulated to a certain extent on having this facility available to their tenants.