Don't Assume, Digitally Include

This story is part of our Resident Guest Blog series, in which we collaborate with our customers, to share their experiences and make their voices heard. 

Tina Cribbin is a writer and poet who lives in Hopton Court in Hulme. She’s previously been involved with On Top of the World, a partnership project with the Royal Exchange Theatre to engage with isolated, elderly residents in our tower blocks. After finding out that some high-rise residents didn't have any digital access, One Manchester provided the equipment they needed to get online. Here, Tina writes about the experiences of Joe, a fellow resident of Hopton Court, as she supports him to get online, and find a different way to combat isolation.

Joe Joe

Don’t assume, digitally include!

On Top of the World Hulme is a community association that promotes social welfare through arts. Tina Cribbin and Anne Finnegan are currently piloting one to one digital inclusion support with older One Manchester tenants.

Joe is 81 and was a “long distancer”: he came from County Clare in the 50s and worked on the motorways. Like most of the men then, he was paid by the “subby” - the middleman for large companies. It meant many worked without the official cards and with no pension. Joe says that “people always says the Irish are a nation of drunks”, but he says:

“I didn’t drink until I came to England, but you only got paid in the pub. We had no bank accounts or anything like that. I mean, I didn’t learn to read or write, I was helping my father with the farm. In fact, my sister was looking for me for 20 years. I had no contact with the family - well you didn’t, we didn’t have phones and I was too embarrassed to ask someone to write me a letter. She finally found me through one of the construction companies I worked for. I’m glad she did.”

Joe has been central to the work we do at On Top of The World Hulme and attends all our drop-in sessions and outings. When Covid 19 happened, Joe’s family got him a smart phone. We both live in Hopton court and it was agreed I would support him getting to use the phone.

Misplaced assumptions 

Joe said he would use the phone to speak with family and he could access the other participants in the group for a chat. And use it to tell me any stories he has for the forthcoming Hulme writers’ group. Initially, I didn’t think Joe would be interested in the internet because of our past conversations about technology, but once we got the phone up and running, I realised all my assumptions about age and digital inclusion were wrong.

I asked Joe if he wanted to see some of the different ways, he could use his phone. He said yes. His dad is a famous fiddle player in Ireland, and we were able to find a video of him playing. Joe was so excited. We were then able to trace his dads All Irish Dancing medals to the central library in County Clare where they have an exhibition. Joe said, "this thing is magic. I am delighted with myself.” 
I downloaded YouTube and Facebook. I also explained that he did not need to type in words he could speak into the microphone. After showing him the symbol in the search engine he was smitten. 

“I cannot believe how the time has flown! This is great altogether!”

Trust, control…and Tina Turner

I knocked on Joe’s door to be told “Come on in, I have Tina Turner in the living room she’s just finishing...!” 

I went in and he did have Tina on YouTube and he was very proud of himself. 

He said he wanted to put more numbers in his contacts which we did. Then he said he wanted to get some special shoes as he had foot problems from all the heavy labour. We were able to find some at a cheaper price than what he would normally pay. 

I talked him through what I was doing but I was inputting it as he said he wasn’t that confident yet. And because of the reading. I knew that I had to go at Joe’s pace and that he needed to see how it worked for him as an individual. Joe being older liked to give me instructions at first. I think he liked the fact he felt in control of the process.

Messing about and everyday analogies

Joe said he had been looking for me yesterday as the phone broke:

“I went looking for youngsters to fix it. But in the end, I messed about and I got it connected again!” 

I think this “messing about” is a really important part of learning for Joe. He knows the phone is his, and the fear and nervousness about using it has disappeared.
He had a number of questions: How do I get rid of stuff? How do I go back? Where to find my music?
I answered them using analogies from everyday life like drawers, newspapers and the library which worked really well. 

Digital inclusion is social inclusion

I asked Joe how he was finding it: 

“You know I couldn’t get out for my walk yesterday I was here all day by myself but this little thing let me go all over whilst I was in my chair. Then I listened to music in the YouTube. It was a lifesaver it got me through the day".

We talked about not going out and how just having a chat with a neighbour helps. After explaining that with WhatsApp you could video call and didn’t need to write, we agreed the next session we will be downloading WhatsApp and creating a WhatsApp group for some of the older residents at Hopton Court. In future we said we would use it to renew his bus pass and look at aids for his bathroom.

Lessons learned

Working with Joe made me realise how much older people miss out on when they are digitally excluded - financially, socially and culturally. One of the biggest issues with old age is isolation and both Joe and I discovered we had the power to change that through technology.

I think it just takes us thinking differently and for it to be tailored to each individual’s interests and needs. Have shorter task orientated sessions e.g. reminiscence work: with Joe we looked at pictures of pubs he used to drink in on the Ex Hulme Facebook page. Be led by them as to how they want to use it rather that sticking to a formal session plan. Make sure the language we use has meaning for them. Use devices that work well for people with poor eyesight e.g. a tablet rather than a phone.

Above all, the relationship between learner and teacher must be one of trust and respect. I think Joe feels confident now that if a course came up, he may be interested.