The Minority Ethnic Silver Surfer Project (MESS) at West of Scotland Regional Equality Council (WSREC), has been running successfully since 2014. Each year the project has evolved due to many factors such as the availability of new technology and the rapid changes in our modern lifestyles.
Last year, thanks to an award from the Digital Participation Charter Fund, we were able to focus on supporting individuals who were over the age of 40 and from minority ethnic backgrounds such as South Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Caribbean communities.
We developed activity within the project to support women in these communities, as studies have highlighted that minority ethnic women are more likely to be isolated and socially inactive. We worked on building their capacity through digital skills development in several areas including employment, welfare and overall health & wellbeing. It was important to address the areas of exclusion experienced by these women such as language barriers and lack of access. Staff and volunteers provided support in various languages and utilised some of their tried and tested materials for training, workshops and 1-2-1s.
Most of us take for granted how much we use technology, and how easily we can access vital information, communicate, shop, and even fill out a form online. These types of activities were new to the women we were supporting, so we spent time showing them how to use smart phones and tablets to broaden their horizons.
The MESS project has also worked to reduce isolation and depression within older people, and we were able to set up workshops and coffee mornings to bring people together. It was great to see a wide range of individuals from many different backgrounds having fun learning together, and seeing new friendships being born. We have always found that our 1-2-1 services are busier than class learning activity. This is due to people having varied skill levels and wanting a more personalised experience.
When the pandemic hit, we saw a dramatic swing towards online shopping and social networking – with a particular focus on Zoom – as our key areas of activity. With most of our members having to self-isolate, the project shifted towards creating YouTube tutorials on buying food online and guides on how to use Zoom. These tutorials were added to our newsletter, social media channels and sent as a text to participants.
Face to face workshops and classes were cancelled and replaced by remote 1-2-1 support via WhatsApp, phone calls and Zoom. This approach, which allowed us to maintain regular contact with everyone, used digital skills to help reduce isolation and make people feel less vulnerable. I could see people’s mental health improving week on week and it gave me so much joy to see confidence levels growing and some of that ‘greyness’ lifting away.
One of our members told me: “Learning how to shop online has really helped me through this difficult time (COVID 19 pandemic). I am self-isolating and unable to go out and buy essentials but knowing how to shop online has allowed me to shop from home.”
WSREC and MESS would like to thank SCVO and our volunteers, staff, and board members for their support through these difficult times. Despite all the changes this past year brought, the MESS project was able to reach over 100 minority ethnic older people. Amazingly, the project was also able to distribute remote support materials to over 2,500 individuals across Scotland.
The legacy and long-term vision for the MESS project is to encourage and support our clients and volunteers to become digital champions, supporting their communities to become more digitally included. We have seen successes in digital champion activity already – one of our service users was able to support 26 minority ethnic women to download apps and get involved in on-line meetings.
The mantra of the project – “Never too old to learn. Never too old to train.” – holds strong as we move forward, out of lockdown restrictions.