What DevicesDotNow has taught us during Covid-19
06 Aug 2020 |Written by Joseph Chambers
As lockdown measures begin to lift, for some it means they are finally able to connect with people they have not seen for months, there remain portions of society who still face restrictions. If these people are without the tools or data to access the internet and speak with others, lockdown and COVID-19 continue to present a significant challenge. In attempting to tackle this issue, DevicesDotNow has helped over 1,400 people receive free devices, allowing them to access the online world, a world which many of us have become evermore familiar with during COVID-19.
Through surveys, interviews and network insights and by working closely with community partners, multiple areas of impact have been identified from the DevicesDotNow project.
Maintaining Employment Momentum
Prior to lockdown, people attended the physical community spaces that make up the Online Centres Network for numerous reasons, including to get help and support finding employment, gain qualifications, get career advice and to plan their future work.
When lockdown first hit, most people’s primary concern was, understandably, not employment. Instead, people wanted to make sure they had food to eat, their children were safe, their family were protected and their immediate needs were met. If people did not have a device however, these immediate needs were not always easy to address.
Then, when lockdown began to ease and people started to focus on employment again, many found they had lost the momentum previously gained around this by engaging with their local Online Centre. This drop off in momentum was a concern for staff and volunteers at centres, who noted that when people didn’t have a device, they began to drop off their radar.
Receiving a device through DevicesDotNow meant beneficiaries were able to maintain some of the employment practices learnt at centres and preserve the momentum associated with this. Although community partners were aware the chances of people immediately finding work were low during lockdown, they still wanted to see their beneficiaries continuing to use the employment skills they had learnt prior to COVID-19.
Over one quarter of all device beneficiaries noted they had used the device to search and apply for jobs. People were actively searching for work on job sites, sending applications, having interviews and in some cases, gaining employment.
“Mark has been able to look for jobs during the lockdown period and found a job online through Facebook that has led to a work trial.” - Online Centre tutor/volunteer.
Devices allowed beneficiaries to continue their learning around employment and to plan their next steps associated with this. As one centre noted about a beneficiary:
“They have been able to scope out their own learning plan, search for online courses to meet their objectives around improving their employability and to get a paid job they can do as soon as possible”.
Another beneficiary, a single parent, was able to use the device to carry out an interview for University, whilst also using it to support their children’s learning.
Building personal resilience
Beneficiaries of devices have also been identified as seeing a furthering of their personal resilience. Prior to lockdown, many people turned to their local centre for help when suffering from low confidence, anxiety and depression. When COVID-19 saw these spaces close, there was concern that issues could spiral out of control for people who are alone, vulnerable or isolated. In addition, for those without devices, centres feared the challenges they face could be compounded and multiplied.
Whilst people who received devices through DevicesDotNow were not suddenly able to solve every issue or challenge they faced, centres did note that these tools became vital in helping build their personal resilience. A device with data meant that people could speak with others, access information, find help and support and continue with their learning.
“Kirstie has serious mental health problems and has been very isolated with no access to the internet and unable to access our online support group. By receiving a device, she has now been able to rejoin our 'Friends in need' depression peer support and connect with her friends and support network.” - Online Centre tutor.
“Kijani had been totally cut off from his support network as he could not connect with family and friends unless he called them on his phone. The tablet has allowed Mahari to connect with services, friends and family and has made a huge difference.” - Online Centre tutor.
At staff at centres suggested, a device gave people independence and in some cases, increased their overall confidence and self-belief. For one woman, a single mother with limited english and a longstanding medical condition, receiving a device not only allowed her to support her children, but also carry out research about her health and find translated COVID-19 information.
COVID-19 has reinforced what we at Good Things Foundation, our community partners and other organisations already know; people without the right skills, tools or set-up to be digitally connected not only miss out on its immediate benefits but are also made increasingly vulnerable. DevicesDotNow has shown however, that when given devices with data, people can do more than just ‘be connected’. Connection allows people to build confidence, resilience and self-efficacy, whilst also helping maintain the valuable skills and lessons provided by our community partners.