Connect Online – Volunteer Centre

What was the issue you were addressing or working on?

  • Deliver one-to-one IT tuition to elderly housebound individuals throughout Midlothian
  • Deliver IT tuition sessions to groups of elderly people in various community settings throughout Midlothian
  • Work in partnership with other organisations throughout Midlothian to encourage and assist older people to access computers/the internet
  • Deliver IT tuition in online research and online shopping
  • Encourage and help learners to find and access other local services through the internet
  • Identify particular skills/knowledge of all volunteers through regular one-to-one support and supervision with volunteers and use these skills to full potential
  • Provide initial induction and training for volunteers, plus on-going training where possible.
  • Carry out regular volunteer evaluations to allow volunteers to shape the future of the project.

What you did?

The project began in October 2012 with the employment of a project co-ordinator through the Midlothian Volunteer Centre funded from Change Fund Monies.   Volunteers have been recruited and trained to assist housebound learners develop their IT skills within their own homes.  Computer clubs are now running in various community settings throughout Midlothian.  These clubs are facilitated by the project co-ordinator and volunteers are on hand to offer additional one-to-one support.  There are currently 3 computer clubs running in Midlothian – in Dalkeith, Rosewell and Penicuik, as well as an iPad club in Dalkeith.  The clubs meet weekly and tuition is flexible.  They provide not only IT tuition, but also much-needed social interaction for isolated older people.

For home-visits, learners must be genuinely housebound due to one of the following:-

  • Illness
  • Disability
  • Restricted mobility
  • Carers who cannot leave those they support

Learners referred into computer clubs must be older and/or isolated individuals who have no computer knowledge and who would benefit, not only from IT tuition, but also social interaction.

Learners do not need to have their own IT equipment/internet to attend clubs or receive a home-visit.

What were the outcomes - benefits or otherwise?

119 learners have been involved with the project since it began last October (as at September 2013).  88% learners report being more able to keep in touch with family and friends using tools such as email, Skype & Facebook.  80% learners report that learning the computer/iPad has given them a new hobby or interest and 96% learners reported that they enjoy getting to know the volunteer(s)/other learners if attending a group.

22 volunteers have been recruited and trained to assist with the project so far; 10 to assist with computer clubs and 12 to deliver home-visits.

The Connect Online Volunteers won the “Service to the Community Award” judged by Police Scotland at an annual awards ceremony held during Volunteers’ Week.

Unexpected Outcomes

One of the major unexpected outcomes of the project so far has been that 26% of all learners have reported an improvement in their health following the IT sessions.  Working towards improving health and wellbeing is really an overall aim of the project, but not something we expected to directly achieve.  It was thought that the individual outcomes could contribute to an increase in health & wellbeing; however it seems that using the computer has had a direct effect on some learners’ health.  For example, one lady commented that time which she previously spent sleeping during the day is now spent on the computer – keeping her mind active.  Another lady has begun to type up her life story using her PC. She feels it has improved her health as it has helped to evoke memories of her childhood and early life.  One gentleman reported that using his laptop helps to reduce his symptoms of PTSD unlike any medication has ever done.  If he feels stress or anxiety building he uses his laptop to take his mind off it.


A major challenge over the summer months has been that learners are not keen to learn on the computer whilst the weather outside is nice.  Given the summer we have had, we have had a drop in attendance at computer clubs, plus some home-visit learners have said they would prefer to remain on the waiting list until the Autumn.  This isn’t something we had predicted would happen, but perhaps next year it would be better to take a 6-week break from the clubs over the school summer holidays.  A number of learners also watch their grandchildren over summer, plus volunteers have all had their holidays resulting in home-visit matches being slow over the past 2 months.  We are confident that things will pick up again in the next month as attendance numbers at clubs has greatly increased over the past couple of weeks.


A major development within the project in the last 11 months has been the change from running set computer courses to running computer clubs.  It was found that whilst running courses, learners would work at different levels and speeds and some learners would drop out after missing a session, as they felt they would not be able to catch up.  Therefore, it was decided to begin running computer clubs – a model which has proved very successful for other groups in Edinburgh.  Learners are able to choose what they wish to work on each week and receive one-to-one help from volunteers.  At present we have 3-4 volunteers at each club.  The addition of tea & coffee at the end of the clubs has also made a huge difference.  Learners have commented that they really enjoy the informal atmosphere of the club.  They enjoy getting to know other learners and volunteers over the tea break and they feel much more relaxed coming along.  In future, we would like to make the clubs entirely volunteer-led.  This would mean more clubs could be started across Midlothian and the project would be more sustainable.  Over the next few months we are looking to establish new clubs in sheltered housing complexes in Loanhead, Bonnyrigg and Penicuik.

Contacts - to find out more

Volunteer Centre, Midlothian, Natalie Christison, Volunteering Development Officer,  0131 660 1216