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Scores of unpaid carers in and around Scarborough defied lockdown loneliness earlier this year by teaching themselves to become digital champions in just a few short weeks, helping them stay in touch with friends and loved ones in the process. This sudden transformation was thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery which resulted in a grant to Carers Trust Network Partner – Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource.

The Scarborough charity runs a peer support group for older carers living in remote rural areas and at risk of isolation. Until the lockdown, the carers’ peer support group would meet every fortnight to enjoy a few hours of well-earned respite from the daily responsibilities of caring.

But with the sudden closure of local cafes and galleries, lockdown threatened to bring the group’s adventures to a stand-still. Carers Resource worked quickly to find a new way of working that continued to tackle loneliness amongst carers, now at even greater risk of isolation. The answer lay in taking the group’s activities online. But how easy would this be when many of the older carers had not been online before, lacked a suitable device, and didn’t even have an internet connection.

Staff at Carers Resource wasted no time in arranging one-to-one calls with each group member to review what access if any, they already had to the internet; and what support and equipment they needed to ensure they stayed connected with the peer support group and its activities. It meant hours on the phone, helping carers learn how to use their online devices. Those without devices were provided with Kindles they could use to get online, and carers without internet access were given dongles so they could connect.

The extra support was made possible thanks to funds raised by People’s Postcode Lottery players.

In just a few short weeks, the results were miraculous. The extra support from Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource meant carers not only managed to get online. They also received special ‘engagement packs’ to ensure each online session was as fun as possible. Before a special VE Day 75th anniversary celebration, packs containing bowler hats, Union Jack flags, cupcakes, and bunting were delivered to the doorstep of every carer. When they logged on to the Zoom call, carers were able to see the homes of all their carer friends decked out in bunting and flags, and the party really got going. And before the Musical Memories session, carers received packs containing blow-up microphones, blow-up guitars, and songsheets so they were ready to start performing as soon as the screens went live on their group Zoom call.

It has all had an incredible long-term impact on the carers’ wellbeing. They are suddenly able to connect with friends from the group as often as they wish without having to wait two whole weeks before the next session. What’s more, carers can now do what they couldn’t before and connect via video calls with their children and grandchildren. Getting connected has opened up a whole new world for them which they can now enjoy as often as they like.

Following the VE Day Party, one carer thanked Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource by saying, “until today I’ve not laughed for a long time".

Reflecting on the success of the project, CEO of Scarborough and Ryedale Carers Resource, Elizabeth McPherson, said: "It has been a joy for us to watch these carers embrace new technologies and change their lives in the process. I'll never forget the laughter and sheer joy on the faces of all those carers when they turned on their screens for that first Zoom call and saw all their friends there as well!"

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