Edlington Hilltop - A centre that does it all

07 Jun 2016 |Written by Matthew Moxon

I started working for Good Things Foundation back at the start of April. So the last couple of months has been mostly me riding a learning curve and getting to know all about Good Things Foundation, and even more about the network of UK online centres that do the actual closing of the ‘digital divide’.

My manager encouraged me as soon as possible to find out about the work done on the ground, and to get out and start actually visiting the centres. So one of the first centres I visited was The Edlington Hilltop Centre.

The visit helped me understand the extent of the challenge faced by Edlington, the UK online centres network and Good Things Foundation itself. Edlington is one of the country’s most deprived wards, and seeing their work up close and personal was eye opening. They deal with families who experience generations of unemployment, very low literacy levels and multiple health issues - and all the while grappling with changing benefits, debt, and rising living costs. Life isn’t easy there, and it can be very hard to see a way out. That’s where the Edlington Hilltop Centre - and all UK online centres - come in.

When we arrived we were greeted by Leigh Calledine, a tutor or digital inclusion and community health coordinator. She gave us a full tour of the centre - which is in the town's old Juniors school - and a run down on its history.

Edlington Hilltop has been part of the network since back in 2009, working in the ex-mining town just outside of Doncaster. They started off offering IT support to local referrals from the Job Centre, but have since sprouted arms and legs and now provide all manner of support to the local community. From providing outreach to the isolated and elderly, vocational courses for young learners, classes for disabled people and their carers, to a shirt and an iron for the first job interview - the centre seems to do it all. What’s more, they’re really, really busy. They’ve registered a minimum of 40 learners a month, every month, on Learn My Way since September 2014.

What was most impressive about the centre was how each of these services fed into the other. A learner could come in to the centre looking to get help to find work, and have a chat to a member of staff about what that might involve. If there’s any digital skills gaps identified, they go on to work out a Learn My Way journey. They then might get help typing up their CV, return to have a practice interview with Rob, and get an interview outfit from the onsite charity shop. Additional to this, the centre provides vocational courses and some work experience for students such as bricklaying, engineering, grounds keeping and woodwork.

The centre was one of our flagships for the Widening Digital Participation in Health project, and has a great relationship with the local medical centre - which includes two GP surgeries and a dentist. They’ve got a ‘social prescribing’ model in place, where practice staff will identify anyone with digital skills gaps or a requirement for wider information and support that could be accessed digitally. They pass those patients onto Leigh and her team, who again work out how best to help each individual meet their personal challenges. It’s surprising how often digital is part of this work, as the team help people search for information and services, fill in online forms, and contact key organisations.

The centre has an ambitious extension project in the pipeline which would modernise the look of the building and dramatically increase their capacity. It would also help to compartmentalise the multiple services that are provided on site as at the moment they are strapped for space. The centre is also looking to start teaching ESOL learners with English My Way.

Rob, Rob and Leigh make an impressive team with plenty of experience of running a clearly effective and successful centre. They gave us plenty of helpful tips to pass on to the other centres we speak to in the network, such as giving volunteers official job titles and a job description to put on their CVs as a way of helping them into employment, and said they’d be happy to provide advice or even have centres referred to them to talk about best practice.

Meeting the team and seeing some of the work that happens on the ground made me extremely proud to be part of an organisation that really does make good things happen for people through digital technology - I can’t wait to get out and about and see more.

If you’d like to be put in touch with the Edlington Hilltop team for a chat about their centre and recommendations for best practice, get in contact with me at matt@goodthingsfoundation.org