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Could you support an elderly family member, friend or neighbour to get online?

Become a Digital Companion and help Wales’ most vulnerable re-connect with the communities around themPeople in south Wales and the Valleys are being urged to get more of the community’s older residents online by helping a family member, friend or neighbour around them. The call has been issued after the most recent National Survey for Wales (2019-20) found 41% of people over 75 and 19% of people aged 64-75 are classed as digitally excluded, while half of those aged 70+ say access to groceries, medication and essentials has also been affected by Covid-19. Dewi Smith, of Digital Communities Wales, said: “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of getting people online, yet we know that in Wales about 10% of adults are not, and that this is particularly true of older people. “For a lot of older people who are not online, the best person to help them is a trusted friend or family member who knows them well and can work with them one-to-one to overcome their fears and build their confidence – they need someone to be their Digital Companion.” Carolyn Handley, 73, from Aberdare, is one of those already getting help online from her son. Before the pandemic she had very limited experience online and learning new digital skills has made a huge difference to her mental health and wellbeing, and feeling connected to the outside world. She lives on her own and was only able to see her son twice in the last year, so learning how to FaceTime proved particularly crucial, allowing her to enjoy precious moments with her family. She said: “I hadn’t seen my son since last August but being able to FaceTime him and even play games with him and the family in the evenings has been brilliant. I’d say to anyone thinking about getting online to have a go. I think everyone can manage to do something, especially if you’ve been in my situation and you can’t see your family, then it’s great to be able to see them. “I had very little experience. I did do a course once because I was a childminder and I had to do all my work online so I did do a course on Word so that was really my first introduction to the internet. I’d never done FaceTime before lockdown. “One of the biggest challenges was getting the computer on to start with and accessing any of the things on there! Once my son told me how to do it – and I do muck it up a lot – I can muddle my way through it now.” Carolyn has learned how to shop online and recently had an Amazon delivery of wool for a jacket she is knitting. She also loves to spend time playing games while she’s at home and advises people not to be afraid of making mistakes. “In the beginning of the pandemic, I was talking to my son on the phone a couple of times a week but not being able to see him was upsetting me. I only saw him twice last year because of the lockdowns. It’s been brilliant, it really has. You can do it wrong, but it doesn’t seem to make an awful lot of difference because you can get out of whatever you are in at that point of time and start again. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own, and I had to have somebody there with me talking me through setting it all up. An hour a week could make a massive difference to somebody. Seeing someone on the screen makes it much more personal and you just feel like they are in the room with you.” Launched by Digital Communities Wales in conjunction with Age Cymru and the Welsh Government, the Digital Companions initiative is based on the simple premise of a friend, neighbour, or family member helping someone they know to use the internet. With this help, some of the country’s most vulnerable and isolated residents can improve their digital confidence and re-connect with their loved ones, wider communities, and vital services around them. Dewi added: “Digital Companions have already had a high success rate in helping people who are ‘harder to reach’- for example those unable to attend group activities outside the home and those living alone with no family support. “And so, we are appealing to more people to come forward and help out too – people with a couple of hours spare – whose time and experience can help some of Wales’ most vulnerable and isolated residents at a time when they have never needed to be more in touch with the world. “If you know someone who isn’t making the most of the digital world or is struggling to get online, why not ask if you can help them? You don’t need to be an IT whizz - you just need to be familiar with using the web yourself and be patient, caring and a good listener. Digital Communities Wales has ideas and resources to help you to do your bit and make a difference,” Dewi said. More information on how to become a Digital Companion, or to introduce someone you think could benefit from the scheme, visit http://www.digitalcommunities.gov.wales.