Connecting Merton digitally is a success

Merton Library and Heritage Service have launched a project that aims to reduce digital exclusion by loaning vulnerable and isolated residents laptops, tablets and voice recognition technology, such as Amazon Echo Shows from the borough’s libraries, as well as providing internet access. 

The Connecting Merton project started in February 2021 to help residents receive support and training and gain valuable digital skills, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the lead up to Christmas this year, the council is encouraging vulnerable people who need it, to apply for a laptop or tablet.

All of the IT support and training started remotely and is now in person by library staff, volunteers and other adult learning providers including Merton College. Merton Library and Heritage Service are working in partnership with Wimbledon Guild and Merton Adult Learning, to ensure that residents receive the support and training they require.

The scheme has offered people who were isolated during the start of the pandemic much needed practical support. This includes learning new computer skills, using social media and ordering shopping online. It has also improved wellbeing by connecting isolated residents with their loved ones by using Skype and Zoom.

Councillor Brenda Fraser, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills at Merton Council, met with the some of the residents who are Connecting Merton volunteers for the project, along with a few volunteers at Morden library on Monday 22 November, to thank them for their hard work.

Councillor Brenda Fraser said: “I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers who have worked with us to make this initiative a success. They have made such a difference in peoples’ lives during a hugely challenging time, and they are continuing to do so. As everyone knows, the pandemic has isolated everyone – not to mention many vulnerable people. Some people already had a computer but didn’t know how to use it, others were shielding and isolated. Connecting Merton has helped them gain access to social media, to their friends and families and they can now use their computers properly.

“Merton is unique in London to have established a scheme so quickly and to have loaned out so many tablets and laptops to vulnerable residents. We will continue to help people who need this support throughout the holiday season- as that’s a time when people can feel isolated again. Currently, this project has 35 volunteers, 106 participants and over 170 laptops and tablets. Anyone who would like to apply for help, can contact us directly.”

Connecting Merton volunteers and customers at Morden Library, with Councillor Brenda Fraser, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Skills at Merton Council (Centre), John Morgan Interim Director of Community & Housing and Anthony Hopkins, Head of Library, Heritage & Adult Education Service at Merton

So far, the latest figures for the project show that:

  • 106 residents have been supported since February 2021
  • 87% have learnt new computer skills
  • 90% are more confident using computers
  • 70% feel more confident using the Internet
  • 73% report that using a device improved their wellbeing

Resident Gloria Stringer, who received a laptop said: “I was classed as being in the vulnerable category during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful for this project and the opportunity to learn and practice new computer skills. It’s enabled me to feel more confident, find information that I need and connect with friends and family.”

To qualify for a laptop or tablet, vulnerable and digitally excluded residents have to be over 18-years-old and be a Merton resident. If you are eligible and would like to apply for one, you can email Merton.Libraries@merton.gov.uk or call or visit one of Merton’s seven libraries.