Connecting online for the first time

Yarraville’s United Housing Co-operative online social club

Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

Some members of Yarraville’s United Housing Co-operative accessed the internet at home for the first time, thanks to the Let’s Stay Connected Fund.

When physical distancing measures were introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19, many Victorians shifted large parts of their lives online.

But an evaluation of members at Yarraville’s United Housing Co-operative found 30 per cent needed assistance when it came to using the internet.

Fiona Chan“We wanted to build capacity for many of the elderly members who did not have access to the internet or a device, to access it easily,” says Fiona Chan, Member Services Officer at United Housing Co-operative.

“Other residents may not necessarily have the resources to also access the internet.”

To help address the problem and encourage social engagement in lockdown, United Housing Co-operative started an online social club. A $12,000 grant from the Victorian Government’s Let’s Stay Connected Fund enabled the co-operative to supply 26 tablets and eight wi-fi modems to members.

In January 2021, the social club held its first Zoom workshop – a sustainable gardening demonstration. Residents connected online to learn about how to set up a small herb garden. Afterwards, they received their own herb garden in a pot, along with instructions and tips.

The social club ran 11 events in all through the year, on topics ranging from embroidery to candle-making, yoga, meditation and trivia. When physical distancing restrictions eased, the group also held an in-person reunion session.

“That was really good. Participants really enjoyed the social aspect of it, the benefit of being able to get out to see and speak to other people,” Fiona says.

Managing the logistics of online events and restrictions was “full on,” she admits, but the program’s success made the effort worthwhile.

“It was difficult to achieve but it was a really great experience, and it's good to now be able to see the benefits.”

The United Housing Social Club is one of several projects supported by the Let’s Stay Connected Fund, a $1.3M community grants initiative that was designed to address issues of isolation and loneliness in the community due to the impacts of the pandemic.

While the social club might now have finished its run, its impact will last well beyond the lockdown. Fiona notes that many participants have gone on to be more engaged with their community.

“These days, probably about 50 per cent of the participants have increased their participation levels. They’ve started to engage and connect more with other members and attend committee meetings that they have never attended before. They have access to this tablet and can join Zoom meetings, where they previously were not able to.”

For more information, visit the Let’s Stay Connect Fund website.

The Office for Suburban Development engages with local stakeholders and communities to identify their needs and aspirations, and deliver projects to improve local community involvement, infrastructure and services.