Discussing the Future for Digital Inclusion in Leeds

Apparently according to BT there are figures which show some people are still not online. I was invited to attend a workshop at Hillside in Beeston on Tuesday 14 October 2014 to discuss a community development approach to digital inclusion.

Digital inclusion discussionThe event was organised by Emily Harper, head of research for BT ‘Get IT Together’ and Vic Berry, volunteer co-ordinator for Citizens Online. This has been a three year project funded by BT which is managed by Citizens Online and works in partnership with Leeds City Council. It is designed to encourage more people to get on online and learn new IT skills within the city.

As the project is coming the end of it’s funding, the workshop was to celebrate the successful work delivered in the cities communities. It was also to highlight the different areas of needs this exercise has brought up. It was important to discuss our position in the ever changing global digital community in how we live and work. This is also a topical subject, stemming from the government’s ‘Digital Inclusion Strategy’ calling for creating a more ‘systemic approach to training and tackling inclusion’.

imageThe project has relied on volunteers helping to deliver the IT workshops over the city. This networking event however, brought the partners and services who have been connected with the project together to discuss more of a sustainable provision in Leeds. Representatives from social housing teams: Unity Housing, Housing Leeds and Connect Housing met with the government services including Job Centre Plus and GMB. Leeds Federated were also there who represent the governments’ HUGO project. There was a shared passion that made the discussions dynamic and reflected each localities needs.

I was there representing myself as a volunteer for citizens online, South Leeds Life, and also for Holbeck Elderly Aid. Last year I approached Holbeck Elderly Aid and promoted the computer course by joining my skills as facilitator with their small cluster of PC’s. This has helped involve people over 60 in building confidence skills in IT simultaneously bringing two charities together. Holbeck Elderly Aid were keen for me to go along and see how like themselves we have helped open computer access to hard to reach areas and widening participation.

Emily presented some number crunching facts, to help illustrate the good work;

“The project has helped 18,000 people get on online

  • 75% are still online after 2 years
  • An independent social return on investment analysis shows the value of the program is £3.70 for every £1 invested.

In Leeds the project has:

  • Helped to train over 1,300 people
  • Provided 83 volunteers and involved 20 local organisations”

There were also figures that helped us get a perspective on the wider picture. Emily told us that there was a national trend of ‘lacking in the use of the internet’ and showed statistics that the uptake of using the internet is low. Therefore there were three questions put forward to us;

1. What is needed to tackle digital inclusion in Leeds? Is there a need for better coordination or a technology forum?

2. How can organisations work together to improve results and impact?

3. How can we get resources to develop digital inclusion in the city?

We then divided into three groups to brain storm ideas and answer the questions. We presented different ideas which followed a similar philosophy.

–  There needs to be a particular strategy between partners and more forums like these which help network and share successes.

–  Communication between services, helping to utilising resources within the community creating better access to support.

–  Bringing together more skilled set of volunteers will respond to the diverse range of skill based learners, attracting more learners in.

imageFrom my experience as a volunteer it does not matter if you’re not technical because digital inclusion means something different to different people. The workshops mean more than that. From my running the workshops, it has been meeting the people and sharing knowledge I have even learnt new skills myself from the people I’m teaching. It’s all about empowerment and helping to build self esteem. Everyone wants to get something different out of using the internet, and understanding this will help tailor more effective service.

Towards the end Douglas Villegas who is a volunteer for citizens online now representing Get Technology Together, helped explain their mission statement: GTT is a learning organisation ‘exploring and experimenting with practical application of emergent technologies’. Overall, the project has helped illustrate the need for more IT classes in the community with a rolling program run by volunteers supported by services to continue this good work.

Vic announced that he is leaving citizens online to work at St. Vincent’s as volunteer coordinator there. We all wished Vic well and appalled his great work already been done. In the meantime Steve Thompson will be taking over in the capacity of citizens online to continue this work and hopefully get more people online.