Community Connect project starts using new app, appeals for unwanted iPads to be donated

Rural Action Yorkshire's Doncaster Community Connect Project has started delivering new tablets loaded with an innovative app to older people in the Doncaster area. The specially designed app is breaking new ground in helping people with no or few digital skills or experience stay in touch with their friends and families, receive reminders and prompts from carers and community agents, and learn new digital skills.

Created by project partners Rural Action Yorkshire (RAY) and the People Focused Group (PFG) as part of the Doncaster Community Agents scheme, the app is funded by Doncaster Council’s Innovation Fund and Santander Foundation with the primary aim of reducing loneliness and isolation amongst vulnerable over-65s. It was created by Yorkshire-based app developers Catalyst and is an early Christmas present for many that may be at risk of these issues over the festive season and beyond.

The app breaks new ground for RAY; and we are increasingly looking at new way of using technology to reach more people and engage them in our services. Apps can be a less intrusive and more effective means of communicating with people who may be more isolated than others and difficult to reach, perhaps due to geography or to physical and mental health issues.

Tap Into is intuitive, easy to use, and based on simple one-tap technology, meaning anyone can use it regardless of computer and digital experience. The idea is it will be used alongside family members, meaning that no matter how far away they may live, families can keep in touch via an easy-to-use platform offering photo, video and messaging functions.

“The beauty of this app is that older people can receive messages, photos and videos all in one place, without the need to open email, photo or video streaming software and thereby keeping in touch with their friends, family and the outside world,” says Wayne Munro-Smith, Project Co-ordinator.

Loneliness becomes an even greater concern for many over the Christmas period and is often in the headlines. Charities such as Age UK and SilverLine note an increase in calls from older people at this time of year, many of whom cite loneliness as their main issue. Tap Into can connect its users on a daily basis to their families as well as their communities, and this is also helped along by the project’s ‘community agents’ who work across Doncaster to identify the most at risk of isolation. At what is an otherwise lonely and depressing time of year for some, Tap Into can bring early Christmas cheer in the form of increased contact with the outside world and family.

Community Agent for Intake, where PFG is based, Jan Milner says, “The iPads are already really popular amongst the men and women I’m working with as they’re keen to learn new things, as a result of the new leases of life they’ve found through being involved in the project so far.

“Tap Into adds a new dimension to the ways in which RAY and PFG are working together to help people. Some of our clients are showing early signs of dementia or have recently been diagnosed, and through this app we can now send reminders for meetings, appointments and events.”

Just ten older people will be given the chance to trial the app as part of an initial pilot, and free iPads are being loaned to them to enable this. There are many more interested and therefore RAY and PFG are making an appeal for any old or unwanted iPads as donations to the project. This would enable a greater number of people to benefit from the scheme, and at Christmas time would make fantastic early presents. If you can help, call RAY on 0845 313 0270.

Former Doncaster policeman Wayne Munro-Smith coordinates the project and has played a key part in the development of the app and its launch. “Christmas can be a lonely and upsetting time of year when you don’t have friends or family nearby. With the app, you don’t need to be a computer wizard to use it, and you can still receive pictures and messages from people over the festive period. Hopefully, working with a small group of older people in Doncaster, we can demonstrate the effectiveness of this new tool in fighting the rising rates of loneliness and social isolation all around us. The possibilities really are endless.”