How our digital connectivity grants are keeping people connected

As countries around the world locked down in response to Covid-19, the need for new ways to connect and interact with older generations has become painfully clear. At Friends of the Elderly we recognise that technology, while no substitute for direct contact, can alleviate feelings of loneliness and help provide a sense of comfort and belonging.

Our charitable low-income grants service helps older people living in poverty every year across England and Wales. As our team reacted to Covid-19 we spent 42% more on our digital connectivity grants in 2020/21 compared to the previous year.

We provided tablets, mobile phones, top-up vouchers and much more to enable older people living on very low-incomes the opportunity to link-up virtually with their friends, family and community.

Elderly man using a laptop to stay in touch

How tech makes a difference

Living alone and unable to afford a laptop, Joseph* turned to us for support:

“I was over the moon about the efficiency and speed of the grant application process. Within 3-4 days, I was told that my application had been successful, then a couple of days later the laptop arrived!”

Our small, busy grants team work in close partnership with local and national referral agents to process applications within weeks.

Across the UK, around 20% of people aged 70+ are offline. While for some that’s a choice, for many of the 2 million older people without internet access, financial constraints and lack of support are a major barrier .

Being digitally included allowed Joseph to stay in touch with those who are important in his life. He said:

“I’ve got a friend in town who I used to meet…but I haven’t seen for a couple of years because he’s not very mobile anymore. Now we send each other emails once a week or fortnight, to see how each other is doing and speak about what’s going on in the world. Having the laptop opens up a new means of communication.”

The laptop has also meant that Joseph can pursue some of his old interests, which has been particularly good for his wellbeing during lockdown. He said:

“I’ve had depression on and off over the years. Keeping active mentally and keeping interested in life is so important, especially during these difficult times…The amount of information on the internet means that if one gets a project on hand then the world’s your oyster! I’ve been researching local history and transport…There are so many uses – I’ve only just scratched the surface. I can’t praise the initiative enough – the laptop has opened up a whole new world.”

Our grants – and how you can help

Every day we receive new applications for our grants from older people with threadbare finances in desperate need for help. We strive to award as many grants as possible and make sure to adapt to meet the new challenges older people face.

Tracey, our Grants Development Manager, added: “My background is in delivering frontline community services to vulnerable people so I know just how much these grants mean to older people who are struggling. There’s a huge demand for these grants which is only growing, so we are very grateful to all the fundraisers who make our work possible.”

Find out more about applying for a digital connection grant, or see how you can help support our ongoing efforts to help more older people stay connected.

*name changed to protect identity

i ONS (2020a) ‘Frequency of internet use, population counts, by age group, Great Britain, 2019’. Available online here. 20% based on 70+ population of around 9 million.