Digital exclusion in multi-generational households – A story of dedication and empowerment

Sofeena works with a group of women from the Pakistani community on our A Better Life project. With the help of donated laptops from Good Things Foundation, Sofeena and the women have successfully moved their group online. This story highlights the need to acknowledge digital exclusion in multi-generational households and the empowering result when such exclusion is tackled.

Sofeena has been working on our A Better Life project, delivered in partnership with SOAR Community, for 3 years. A Better Life is based in Burngreave and works with the community to reduce social and financial isolation. Burngreave has a wonderfully diverse community, including a large Pakistani community, which the participants of the project are from. Sofeena has brought this group of women together to create a safe space in which they socialise, learn about finances and the benefit system, and exercise. When lockdown hit, the women suddenly lacked these weekly groups which had become a central part of their lives. But with a donation of 3 tablets from SOAR Community, 3 laptops from Good Things Foundation, and a drive to be connected again, Sofeena and the women in her group moved their exercise class online!

We spoke to Sofeena about this journey and hear about the difference getting online has made to two of the women in the group.

Hi Sofeena! Please could you tell us about the group before lockdown?

“Hello! Of course, we had an existing group of about 25 ladies who would meet at a local church. The group was called the Gap Shap (which means chitter chatter) and was volunteer led. We’d meet once a week and have snacks and a chat, and I’d bring along various people who could give them advice on finances and benefits. The women started requesting more activities, specifically exercise as this isn’t something they are able to do often. I worked with the volunteers to apply for a local grant to pay for an exercise coach, which was really good because quite a lot of them have health conditions such as chronic back pain and arthritis.

Sounds like a really wonderful group of women who created a space in which they can socialise, learn about financial security and exercise!

“It really is! So, when Covid-19 hit and I was ringing round to see how they were all doing, it didn’t surprise me when they were all expressing how much they missed the group. They were also concerned about their pain getting worse as a result of lockdown. So I referred them to Mariam, our health trainer who specialises in chronic pain. Mariam started calling them up, suggesting exercises and created pain packs for them to help manage this pain at home. Although this was great, I could tell it wasn’t the same. I decide to launch a digital group and asked Mariam to join me in delivering this. So, when I was out distributing the pain packs, I started asking the women how they would feel about getting online. I was prepared to face resistance, but as they had all expressed such desire to meet again, I harnessed this as motivation!

A few of them said that they didn’t have the equipment, and this is when Good Things Foundation saved the day as I could gift them with devices they had donated! Then I asked Mariam how she would feel about delivering her classes online and she was all for it, so we had the added motivation of exercise. I set the devices up with Zoom and went round to their houses, with PPE on, and demonstrated how to use the platform (restrictions were still in place but we weren’t in lockdown at this time).”

What an achievement getting them all on board, I know the prospect of getting online can be very daunting to those who haven’t ever had to rely on it before. Did they all manage to get on Zoom okay once you had left?

“As the women I work with are from the Pakistani community, they all live in multi-generational households, so I asked them all whether they had someone at home who could support them. A lot of the women said that their children or grandchildren would probably be around but that they might be too busy to help. This made me realise that older people could be in a house full of people but can still feel lonely and unsupported. They don’t want to have to rely on their family members who have full time jobs, they want to be independent. One of the women, who is 89, said to me one day, “show me how to turn this laptop on and off because I want to learn”. All the ladies are the same, they are insistent that, “we have to learn ourselves, rather than asking a family member or calling you”. It’s creating a flame in them – they are so driven!

Having their own laptops gave them a sense of ownership and motivation to do this for themselves. Some of them had devices in the house but they were their children’s and borrowing them was a complete no-no! When they did get online and we did our first exercise class it was amazing, one woman said that she hadn’t moved like that in 9 months. They all have such a laugh when they’re in the group, joking about “what has the world come to that we have to meet on a screen!” It helps them explore their anxieties about Covid-19 and not getting out and missing the groups.

It has been hard work and needed a lot of input but the reward has been immense to see the ladies meet each other again, smile and laugh (albeit virtually)!”

These women have really proven the value of digital inclusion, no matter what your age! They must be so grateful for your support and the laptops.

“They really have. One of the women is 62 and lives with her family. She started coming to the weekly groups as she found she was feeling lonely with no female company at home. Her son has a laptop but he uses it for work so she doesn’t have access to it, so was overjoyed when I could give her a laptop donated from Good Things Foundation. She was so happy to see the other ladies and texted me after to say”:

“I enjoyed it so much, thank you for support. It was so nice to see people I’ve not seen for 9 months. I had a lot of fun and hadn’t smiled like that in ages. It made my day – my son said, “you look perky today”.  I am going to tell all my family in Birmingham that you gave me a laptop and got me set up online with zoom – they will be so proud as they have been worried about my mental health”.

Another of the women is 89 and lives with her daughter. She hasn’t been out for 9 months as she is shielding, Whilst she appreciates people calling her, she has missed physically seeing the women from the groups. Her daughter also wasn’t too confident with laptops and getting online, so I could teach her some things as well – so double whammy digital support! The other ladies were delighted to see her online as she always brings a wise spirit to the group.”

Sofeena and this group of women have proved what can be achieved with dedication, self-belief and donated technology. They continue to meet via zoom and still laugh at the strangeness of it all!