The Switched On project aims to help improve life opportunities and support the transition into education, volunteering and work, through regular, informal digital support in a friendly and sociable weekly club. It is funded by the Maudsley Charity and takes place at Blackfriars Settlement, a charity in Southwark offering support and services for the community in mental health and wellbeing, learning and creative workshops.
It aims to address common issues facing people with mental health conditions, such as low confidence with digital technology, security concerns and limited access to computers. These factors can have a detrimental effect on mental health.
Digital access and skills are vital in successfully navigating day to day online activities and interactions, such as benefits, housing, online security, medical and other appointments, but which can prove overwhelming for those with mental health conditions.
Sophie Elder, a volunteer at Switched On says “It’s a way of finding independence – and therapeutic to be able to learn a new skill.”
The club is led by a facilitator, volunteers and IT tutor, and co-produced with participants. In each session they explore a variety of useful and fun online and digital tools, like browsing the web, setting up emails and social media, on both computers and mobile phones.
Students develop skills through personal interests, such as listening to music on YouTube or creating a Facebook account, as well as navigating the skills needed for professional life online, such as learning to use Microsoft Word, setting up an email address or learning a language.
Martin, who is now retired, attends the class to refresh his memory and skills: “Before it used to be acceptable for older people to not have computer skills. Now it’s no longer socially acceptable. And there’s so many things you need it for – like oyster cards. Getting the bus. Or self-service tills at the supermarket. Inhibition itself is a big blocker – as well as depression”.
The topic for each week is decided based on personal learning goals. One person volunteers to lead the rest of the class in teaching the topic. The group collaborate and share their own experiences and knowledge, which help to break down fears around the digital world and its jargon. One of the volunteer-participants, Mary, said “I like to give back, and help others who don’t know the way”.
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