Stories from the network: Digital Voice

We heard from one of our Digital Inclusion Hubs, Digital Voice, about how they are fixing the North East digital divide.

The National Digital Inclusion Network is at the heart of everything we do here at Good Things Foundation. Without these incredible community organisations delivering our services, we wouldn’t be able to reach the digitally excluded people most in need. There are now thousands of organisations that have joined the digital inclusion movement, including Digital Voice, a not-for-profit social enterprise that has delivered projects nationally and internationally for more than a decade.

Digital Voice delivers the National Databank and the National Device Bank to their community members, ensuring they can access the benefits of the online world. They told us why digital inclusion is so important to their community and how being members of the National Digital Inclusion Network has helped them. 

In the North East, the percentage of people considered digitally excluded is the highest in the UK and this is not split equally across the population. Older people, those who are financially vulnerable and those who live with a condition that impairs their use of communication services are more likely to be digitally excluded.  

Behind these statistics and percentages are real people with real struggles and, whilst we can’t solve everything, Digital Voice’s work is having an impact.

Digital Voice is an award-winning CiC based in Gateshead, delivering digital inclusion projects both regionally and nationally. Our in Touch digital skills courses cater for absolute beginners and those who are very resistant or anxious about any sort of digital technology. 

Our InterGen programme is a great example of work that is happening in the region to foster digital equity in a really engaging and creative way. The programme, which teaches digital skills, recently brought together children from a local primary school with a group of older people. The children, who are of course digital natives, help the older people to use an iPad in a fun way, for example taking a photo together and then showing how you can crop, edit or enhance the photograph or exploring where Google Earth can take you from the comfort of your armchair. 

The feedback from the older people has been so positive: 

“I get energised, I feel a lot healthier, I feel a bit more confident and I feel happier in myself. My mental health is improving.”

“The photos and what you can do to them is brilliant … I’ve enjoyed the whole thing.”

The benefits are clear to see, however without longer term support these benefits can be short-lived. Digital Voice has recognised the need for a longer-term strategy, one that requires investment and access to hardware.

“We can run any number of short courses but if people aren’t able to access a digital device regularly, then the learning won’t stick; the next stage for Digital Voice is to support people long-term and our new pilot project with the NHS aims to do just that.

“Being part of the National Digital Inclusion Network is really important to Digital Voice as it gives us access to like-minded organisations who can offer advice, share best practice and provide the support we need to tackle digital exclusion here in the North East. 

– Julie Nicholson, Managing Director, Digital Voice

What’s next for Digital Voice?

Next year we’ll run a three-phase pilot project designed to benefit two groups of older adults who have limited confidence and digital skills supported by the NHS in Gateshead. We’ll start by making the learning process enjoyable and informal in the first phase to build their confidence. Then, we’ll provide them with loaned devices, enabling them to continue learning independently between sessions. Additionally, we’ll offer drop-in and one-on-one sessions to help them set up their devices for various digital tasks that are relevant to their needs.

“I first set up this organisation to bridge the digital divide, and sixteen years on, that’s still my mission but just as the technology itself evolves, so must we.”

Julie Nicholson

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