Pensioners in Leeds are among the first in the country to test out a groundbreaking social network aimed at combating social isolation and bridging the digital divide.
The city is one of just two places to trial the new Yecco “app” and was chosen because of its reputation for innovation in trying to prevent loneliness.
And with one in five people in the city still digitally-isolated, council leaders are keen to find new ways to help older people connect with the online world, so they can feel part of new communities without having to leave their own homes.
Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme, one of Leeds’s council-funded neighbourhood networks, is helping residents get to grips with the app.
Using iPads funded by Leeds City Council, service users meet each week to learn how to use it, then chat together online from home.
Group member Hazel Watson, 73, said it was “wonderful” and added: “I have family living abroad and it’s hard to always keep in touch but it feels like we’ve got a bit of family here now.”
The app aims to connect older people with others who have had similar experiences, help them engage socially and feel involved in their own wellbeing.
Yecco creator Janet Jadavji said: “I think we underestimated how quickly some of these older people have been able to pick up and embrace this technology and how capable they have become in such a short space of time.”
A recent YEP Voice of Leeds Summit looked at obstacles facing digitally-isolated residents and an event last month explored how digital technology could improve the lives of thousands of older people in the city.
Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for health, wellbeing and adults said: “The group at Cross Gates is wonderful example of how, far from being technophobes, older people can embrace and enjoy new technology and use it to enrich their lives.
“The ability to maintain an active social life plays a crucial role in anyone’s health and wellbeing but that can be very difficult for some, who in turn can become vulnerable to the blight of loneliness and social isolation.
“Digital technology and the internet can be the key to unlocking an incredible range of social opportunities for people, helping them to avoid sitting on the side lines while the world continues to advance so rapidly.”