A Winchester based charity dedicated to supporting older people through wellbeing and social clubs has expanded its services with the help of a grant from Virgin Media O2.
Thanks to the funding, Brendoncare, has extended the array of online social clubs, tech tablets and dedicated 1-1 digital skills sessions it offers, helping older people to get online for the very first time and connect with friends and family.
Prior to the pandemic, the charity only organised in-person sessions at its centres across Hampshire and Dorset – meaning that people needed to live locally or travel to attend sessions.
This changed dramatically in March 2020 when to protect its members, many of who were clinically vulnerable to Covid-19, and ensure that they could continue to offer its vital service during lockdown, Brendoncare moved its entire programme online.
After receiving a grant from Virgin Media O2’s Together Fund, which provided donations of £1,000 or more to 400 charities nationwide, the charity was able to invest in video calling software to run virtual sessions, as well as tablets to lend out to members without access to technology.
This tech boost enabled Brendoncare to run 27 social clubs online a month – including friendship club, singing, cook along, quizzes and nature clubs – with more than 160 monthly attendees joining in, including many new members. This helped members to feel connected and continue socialising at a time when many people were unable to leave their homes.
Using the tablets, the charity has been able to help 13 people get online for the first time. Running more than 60 digital connection sessions, the charity has taught everything from the basics of getting on Zoom, to using a search engine or watching Netflix.
Despite the end of lockdown, the success of the online sessions means the charity will continue to run them alongside its in-person groups and is recruiting for a Digital Support Officer to join their team full time. Older people who struggle to get to in-person meetings because of health reasons will be amongst those benefitting from the continued opportunities for social interaction.
Sara Nicolls, Community Support Service Manager at Brendon Care, said:
“For many older people using tech is challenging, but in the pandemic, it became an essential skill to help keep people connected.
“Thanks to the grant from Virgin Media O2, we’ve been able to run sessions remotely over Zoom, loan tech out to several of our members to get them online and, through our fantastic volunteering programme, run 1:1 digital sessions.
“This has helped hundreds of people including one gentleman, who prior to lockdown had never been online before and at first, struggled with the basics like using upper- and lower-case letters on his tablet.
“We ran several digital sessions over the phone in lockdown to help him build up his confidence with his tablet, enabling him to get online and join in our social clubs. Today, not only does he own his own tablet – but he uses it for everything from checking the news and watching content on YouTube.
Nicola Green, Chief Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at Virgin Media O2 said: “One year on from the launch of our Together Fund, it’s wonderful to see how charities up and down the country – including Brendoncare – have used our grants to drive meaningful, positive change in their communities.
“Whether it’s through supporting community groups, encouraging our people to spend five days a year volunteering or investing in programmes working to eradicate digital poverty, at Virgin Media O2, we’re committed to making our business better for people, communities and the planet.”
In May, Virgin Media O2 launched their first sustainability strategy as a joint business, the Better Connections Plan, outlining its bold commitments to cut carbon, champion circularity, and support communities as it upgrades the UK. The business aims to support 1 million people through its employee volunteering programme, Take Five; help eradicate data poverty by connecting 1 million digitally excluded people across the UK; and equip 2 million people with the skills and tools to feel more connected to digital society by the end of 2025.
As part of an ongoing commitment to tackling data poverty, Virgin Media O2 also pioneered the UK’s first ever National Databank launched in July 2021 which provides mobile connectivity to people in need. Run by Good Things Foundation, with other operators since joining the initiative, O2 has so far distributed 19,800 SIMs to 356 centres nationwide and has committed to donating 46 million gigabytes of free mobile data by the end of 2025.
If you’d like to support Brendoncare, please visit their website here where you can find out more about fundraising, donating and volunteering.