Independent YSA participant Nick di Borgoricco has been telling us about how volunteering during the first lockdown led him to develop a new digital platform to enable volunteers to help the elderly with technology.
I started volunteering in our community during the first lockdown. With a group of neighbours, we distributed leaflets with a few of our mobile numbers and every time a request for help came in, we would post it on our whatsapp group of volunteers, and whoever was free would pick up the job.
Most requests came from the elderly, shielding at home. At first, the majority of the requests were about food shopping, pharmacy prescriptions and post office runs, but eventually lots of requests came in to ask for help with technology; many elderly neighbours were asking for help to change the printer for example, or accessing their friend’s funeral through zoom. I realised that what the elderly were in need of, was technological support. I thought of a way of helping the elderly beyond the lockdown, while simultaneously bringing the generations closer together by also providing a volunteering opportunity to young people. I thought of a virtual platform, called InterGenTech, which would connect young volunteers to the elderly to provide them with free help and support for any tech request: accessing social media, setting up accounts, finding information on the web, retrieve passwords, anything!
The pandemic and the lockdown have shifted most of life into the virtual world, a world that elderly people struggle to access. The generational divide is the largest it’s ever been with the pandemic and could potentially be closed by familiarising the elderly with social media and video-conferencing programs and the like – fairly simple tasks that don’t require any special IT training. Care-home staff are now under immense stress with the vaccines and the platform could remotely help them with their residents’ tech needs (the platform will be like a messaging service tailored to accommodate tech support features and any safeguarding specifics).
Being more connected would help the elderly community to cope with loneliness and mental health issues, and do the same for the young volunteers. The pandemic has caused immense strains on youth mental health and has isolated the elderly further and worsened loneliness. I believe that so many people want to help and volunteer but, especially as a teen, this proves to be very difficult due to safeguarding regulations and the pandemic reducing the number of available opportunities. With InterGen Tech, young people will be able to volunteer from home, remotely, on their own time.
Once the virus has cleared and care-homes can once more have outside guests, myself and other volunteers will set up workshops to provide in-person tech help in care homes and community centres, similar to Apple’s Genius Bar, then end the session with a quick presentation on how they can continue the conversation through InterGen Tech (we would also set it up on the communal desktops).
Ok so this was the idea. I loved it but how was I going to develop it?
I had various steps to consider: the tech side to build a platform where the volunteers and the elderly would ‘meet’; reaching out to potential volunteers (keeping into consideration the safeguarding issues for both parties); reaching out to the elderly.
I first entered the idea in a competition for charitable initiatives and won a £1000+ grant – this way I would have some financial backing – I then pitched my idea and partnered with a small company called “easya” (they created an app which provides a platform for maths mentoring of schoolchildren by schoolchildren). I reached out to multiple care homes, charities and the like to receive feedback and to see if there would be demand and interest for such service. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the idea. I have now a few volunteers lined up and I am currently in the stage of developing the app and website. At first, I built a basic website on my own but then I realised I could use the grant to do that and so I am now talking to many university students to find a skilled coder. Two friends came onboard to help me and we are now almost ready to go “live”! Please watch this space and feel free to connect if you are interested in volunteering!