Dishing up know-how

Statistics suggest that one in 10 people who buy a computer never
get beyond unpacking it, so bamboozled are they by the mechanics of
setting it up and using it.

The world of information technology is considered by many to be the
preserve of business or of “computer geeks”. It’s certainly not
usually associated with empowering older people and opening up a
world of information, communication, support and friendship.

That, however, is exactly what IT 2 Eat, the winners of the
inter-agency category and overall winner of the Community Care
Awards, have done.

That, however, is exactly what IT 2 Eat, the winners of the
inter-agency category and overall winner of the Community Care
Awards, have done.

IT 2 Eat, based in Rotherham, south Yorkshire, provides IT
equipment, support and information and advice on diet and health to
local people over 55 with mobility problems. The project is a
partnership between Age Concern Rotherham and the local primary
care trust, social services and library service. “The initial idea
was to look at how IT could be used to enable older people to
enhance their quality of life,” says Kate Adams, chief executive,
Age Concern Rotherham.

Social services had found out about the Invest to Save budget,
administered jointly by the Treasury and the Home Office, which
gives money to innovative projects. Chris Ireland, preventive
services co-ordinator with Rotherham social services, and Zulfiqar
Aslam, health promotion specialist with Rotherham primary care
trust, became involved in developing the bid that became IT 2 Eat.
“We felt from the outset that it would be important to develop
partnership working,” says Ireland.

Rotherham PCT is the lead agency and receives all the funding but,
importantly, the money is handed over to Age Concern Rotherham,
which administers the project. Adams says the complete trust
between the partner agencies is one of the reasons that it has been
so successful.

The library service was also an important part of the equation – it
was already doing a lot of work with excluded people in the
community. “Libraries are so much more than a static collection of
books on shelves, and where people don’t have access to IT in their
own homes the library is the natural place to provide that,” says
Steve Hawkins, director of health promotion at Rotherham PCT.

In February last year, the team learned that its bid for Invest to
Save money had been successful, which enabled Elaine Ross to be
employed as full-time project co-ordinator. She explains: “We
realised that many older people were stuck at home and were reliant
on other people to do their shopping for them. This meant that they
often had little choice about what was bought for them. IT 2 Eat
means that they can explore the option of using online shopping,
which gives them the power to choose their own goods.”

IT 2 Eat works with people in their own homes and in community
settings such as day centres, lunch clubs, and GP surgeries.
Clients self-refer or are identified through one of the partner
agencies – another benefit of the interagency ethos of the project.
After an initial assessment, clients are given either a computer or
a television set-top box. All the equipment is installed for them
and they are given training on how to use it. The project also pays
for an extra telephone line. It can provide adapted equipment and
software for clients with hearing or sight impediments. “Once they
are online, they are able to log on to the website and use the
e-mail account that is created for them and take advantage of
online shopping and advice from the team’s dietician,” says Ross.
The website has been designed using guidelines from the Royal
National Institute of the Blind and Age Concern England, and is
easy to use with set-top boxes.

IT 2 Eat is complemented by Age Concern Rotherham’s computer
centre, which shares the same building. The centre runs computer
courses for beginners through to experts and there are
opportunities to learn about desktop publishing, photography, local
history and genealogy.

The information about healthy eating has particular resonance in
Rotherham. Hawkins says that it has a rapidly ageing population and
coronary heart disease rates that are 25 per cent above the
national average. “There is a tendency, when you look at the health
of any one group, to look at it in pockets. We look at health
holistically, and address all the issues that have an impact on
people’s health,” he says.

On the day I visited I was drawn into a lively discussion on the
finer points of the Sainsbury’s to You internet shopping service
with a group of clients. Everybody I met was full of praise for the
service, which they said had given them a new outlook on life.
Dorothy Wright and Doris Knutton have just been reunited after more
than 70 years. They were friends when they were 11 but lost touch.
They found each other after using IT 2 Eat and e-mailing each
other. Wright has also used new technology to trace the 1,100th
member of her family using software designed to produce family

The project is very keen to find out in which setting the service
works best. An external baseline evaluation has already been
completed, and further evaluations will be done early next year.
“It’s important when we are planning for the future that we know
where it is working most effectively,” says Ross.

They were, they say, “stunned” to win. “We had barely taken in
winning the interagency category when we won the overall award,”
says Aslam. They are still not completely decided about how they
will spend their prize money, but early plans involve extending the
service to more people from ethnic minority groups and rolling the
service out to more community-based settings.

Demand for this service is far outstripping supply and the older
people of Rotherham are dispelling the stereotype that suggests
older people are fearful of new technology. Instead, they are using
it to enrich their lives. 

The interagency category in the Community Care awards was
sponsored by OLM.

BOXTEXT: l “Internet shopping means independence for me even though
my neighbour still drops in to get me anything I might need. You
have much more say when you purchase food on the Internet than when
a neighbour gets it.”

l “It is keeping me sharp. It’s good for your brain cells.”

l “I contact relatives in France, Australia and Italy, and I potter
about on the computer to pass the time. The computer is now one of
my lifelines.”

l “Since going on the IT 2 Eat training programme my outlook on
life has changed. My first thought on using a computer was that I
was too old and not well educated. With the help of the staff, I am
now eager to learn more.”

l “We feel, once again, the world is our oyster. We are in constant
touch by e-mail with our two children, grandchildren and friends in

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