You’re never too old to learn

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By Ellie Dawson

Technology has played a vital part in tackling loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people who are older or vulnerable have faced long periods of shielding, and have been unable to see their loved ones. For many of us, technology offered our only way of contact.

Samantha Haggart is the Digital Co-ordinator at Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme CIO. Sam started her new role in September 2019 supporting just a few members. But predictably, she has seen a rise in demand for her teaching skills since the first lockdown began.

The classes include basic laptop and tablet skills. Although Sam says she also tries to encourage people to learn more about ordering food shopping, prescriptions and booking appointments online.

Sam and member
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a huge rise in demand for Sam’s IT lessons.

“It’s important they safely manage their health, which will be a big focus when we re-open fully. It’s getting their IT skills up to scratch first, then they can use health apps if and when they need them.”


Back in September 2019 when Sam started, the sessions were face to face. But when the centre closed last year, Sam had to adapt, not just for the existing members, but for the others that came flooding in when digital contact was often the only option.

This meant moving onto video call for the sessions, which required some teaching beforehand, as most members had never been on a video call.

Remarkably, this created new friendships, clubs, and hobbies for the members. Suddenly, members who had never used a laptop or tablet were on every video activity of the week.

Zoom picture
All of the classes at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ Scheme CIO moved to video call.

Ernest Walker, 95, used to attend one of the classes in the centre on a Friday: “We used to have classes of 40 people, and suddenly, we were on our own.”

A few years ago, Ernest received his son’s old laptop. He then found a new interest in his life – family history. After finding out that he had ancestors dating back to the 1600s, Ernest got into contact with family members all over the world: “It became part of my lifestyle, and it keeps me going.

“It’s funny because before whenever someone said technology, I used to say ‘oh no, I don’t want anything to do with that. It used to be just something young people used to me.

“When the centre closed, Sam introduced me to an iPad, and with her patience, and me plodding along, we made progress. Suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.”

New ideas

At the beginning of February, Sam decided to advance resources further and pre-record some video lessons for her members. These involve Sam recording her screen and talking through how to use different sites and apps.

Sam hopes this will give members some extra revision to do: “The one-to-one sessions are time-intensive, and now there’s more demand. One lesson a week for each member means it will take them a few months to progress.

“Ultimately, I hope it means they will gain confidence on their own, too.”

Dot, 82, is another attendee of Sam’s classes. Dot was a secretary all of her working life. But says computers were much more basic then: “I struggled with the computer I had for a while, then along comes lockdown.”

Screenshot of Youtube video
Sam pre-records videos that talk members through different platforms.

Dot had some lessons with Sam in the centre before it closed for lockdown, then switched to online classes. She now regularly uses Sam’s videos, and says they are not just useful because of lockdown, but help with independent learning: “It’s nice to have something to go back over, after lessons.

“I’m nowhere near an expert, but I can now do my shopping online, and order my prescriptions.

“It’s made life so much easier.”

As the centre is gradually reopening now, Sam has been able to resume the face to face sessions again. If you are interested in learning how to better use your phone, tablet, or computer, get in touch with us.

Sam’s videos can be found on our YouTube channel.