Powering up success

Grants Manager Sue Hennessey blogs about the 15 grantee partners who began their journey in November 2019 and how they have developed their projects.

The Power Up initiative originally aimed to connect organisations and help those providing social support interventions to integrate digital throughout their support, so that digital skills were accessible and available for those who needed them most. Fifteen grantee partners began that journey in November 2019 and started to develop projects focussed on powering up people, provision and place.

In the early stages of Power Up, we observed a holistic approach to delivery in meeting local needs and that digital skills could be developed at various points in interventions. While there was a reluctance from many people to engage in learning digital skills, personalised ‘hooks’ were important to help understand the value of digital in their lives. We learnt the value of volunteers in supporting projects, and that staff funded through Power Up were essential in supporting those volunteers, as well as helping internal teams to develop their own digital capabilities.

From the beginning, the Power Up initiative encouraged collaboration, like that between Community Renewal Trust and People Know How, who shared volunteers and experience to ensure provision wasn’t duplicated, increasing opportunities for cross-referral and streamlining pathways for people receiving support. Ansbury Guidance developed a consortium model – Bourne Digital, enhancing the Roots to Inclusion Digital Champions programme.

As the Power Up initiative progressed the profile of ‘digital’ began to increase within the grantee partners’ own organisations. Peter Bedford Housing Association included digital considerations within their organisation strategy, committing to progress within their 5 year plan. Partnerships developed to address wider digital poverty issues and advocate for change. Power Up grantees began to be more joined up and strategic in their approach to leading area change. Edinburgh projects joined together to establish an Edinburgh Collective, advocating for a citywide digital strategy. Poplar HARCA began working with other agencies, improving and coordinating work with Digital Champions, and engaging with Everyone Connected to start a ‘laptop revolution’, resulting in them advocating for local broadband connectivity in housing provision.

And then the pandemic hit….. and the recognition of the importance of digital came even more sharply into focus. Organisations had to work remotely, delivery models had to be adapted and life moved online, for work, health and keeping connected with family and friends. Everyone shifted into crisis mode and in most cases the planned projects’ delivery required rethinking.

However, Power up grantee partners did not just stop, they rose to the challenge, pivoting their delivery, continuing to support their people and developing innovative solutions. They learnt quickly about the additional barriers facing communities, they sourced devices and connectivity and patiently supported people to learn new skills that would keep them going during the crisis.

There have been some fantastic stories of resilience and adaptability from individuals and organisations. Grantee partners have mobilised effectively and reached new people, finding new ways of working:

Prospect Community Housing responded by joining a broader base of partners to form the Wester Hailes Together network, and supported smaller local community groups to get online. This enabled them to participate in local area planning, join the emergency response efforts and coordinate approaches to address isolation in the community caused by Covid-19.

The Salvation Army East of Scotland reframed its Power Up perspective, developing strong relationships with local job centres and engaging in the Kickstart programme to provide pre-employment training to those furthest from the labour market in response to the changing employment landscape, laying the foundations for recovery.

Grantee partner Castlemilk Law and Advice Centre, initially struggled with the concept of embedding digital into their existing Universal Credit support programme, however with capacity building support from the Power Up team at Good Things Foundation, and in response to increasing need during the pandemic they developed a new model for delivery, working more closely with sheltered housing, food banks and referral agencies. “Engagement in the initiative has encouraged us to embed digital in a way we haven’t done before. A joined up approach has been taken by way of an internal referral system, embedding means to us offering digital training to clients as a matter of course, something which we never did before receipt of Power up funding”

Grantees are also beginning to leverage their experience and capabilities as a result of participating in Power Up;

Spire View Housing Association has been awarded £72k from Scottish Government’s Communities Recovery Fund. Fiona Murphy of Spire View stated “I absolutely do believe that Power Up has contributed to our funding success. It has certainly given us more confidence with regards to the range and type of projects we can deliver successfully. It has opened up new relationships and partnership opportunities too. More and more often I am seeing our projects linking in together and cross referrals happening”

Generation were able to attract significant match funding from European Social Fund via the Greater London Authority, enabling deeper investments in delivery and support for students in these challenging times.

People Know How leveraged their capabilities to take on the management Scottish Government Connecting Families helpline, understanding the benefit of aligning their Power Up project with wider regional programmes.

The Power up initiative has enabled organisations to weather the storm of the current crisis and to be more resilient, creating the potential of a sustainable legacy for the future. Power Up has provided the impetus and capacity to embed digital into service delivery, which in turn allowed grantee partners to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges of the crisis. Power Up has also provided the opportunity to accelerate digital transformation within their organisations, enabling them to connect with the hardest to reach and engage those not previously engagIng with digital. Power Up projects are therefore not only providing a springboard for recovery, but also taking steps to fix the digital divide.