Visiting the network: our Get Online Week highlights
During Get Online Week 2023, the Good Things team visited lots of hubs, connecting with staff and speaking to people with lived experience of digital exclusion. Take a look at our highlights.
With hundreds of digital skills events taking place across the UK, Get Online Week is the perfect opportunity for the Good Things team to get out and about and visit the National Digital Inclusion Network. We love going along and getting involved, meeting people with lived experience of digital exclusion and seeing first hand the value of digital inclusion support.
Get Online Week 2023 was no exception, with more than 850 registered events, lots of Good Things staff took time away from their desks to visit Digital Inclusion Hubs local to them. We had a brilliant time connecting with the network and the people they support – here’s some highlights!
Digital inclusion hub Knowsley Disability Concern
I’m Angela Ellis, Associate Director of Digital Inclusion Delivery. I visited Knowsley Disability Concern in Merseyside. They’re part of the National Digital Inclusion Network and offer a range of services and support to people with many challenges, including people with learning disabilities and people with English as a second language. By using people’s own devices plus some of the organisations own tablets, they embed digital skills training wherever possible.
This was certainly the case on the damp, autumnal Thursday morning when I met Jo and Ruth, the project coordinators, in a local park to set up a QR treasure hunt. Within 30 minutes we’d secured 18 clues to trees, benches and other park paraphernalia before welcoming a group of 12 learners, and staff from Al’s Arc day centre.
In our wellies and coats, the small group I joined used their phones and the tablets to scan the clues, solving the riddles and supporting each other to read these out. Most people had never scanned a QR code before and some didn’t have the data to enable them to use their phones when out and about. Despite this (and I may be biased!) our group was definitely the quickest, charging through the clues and getting back to the park’s meeting room with plenty of time to spare.
Despite recent cuts to funding, Knowsley Disability Concern offers many more services and support to local people. I heard about some of the challenges and hardships faced by the people they work with, and I explained how the Databank and the free data it provides could benefit these individuals.
Salford City Council’s ‘Digital Everyone’ event
I’m Amy Town, Partnerships Manager, I attended Salford City Council’s Digital Everyone event – ‘Empowering people through digital inclusion’. Their Digital Inclusion team brought together representatives from organisations large and small, from all sectors, who are committed to fixing the digital divide.
We first heard from Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, on how Salford is leading the way on its cross-sectoral initiative to bridge the digital divide through true collaboration. We’ve been working alongside Salford City Council for many years now to support communities with digital skills, connectivity and data, so it was great to hear how embedded digital inclusion has become in the City Council’s strategy and vision for its future.
Salford business leaders including Mo Isap, Chief Executive at In4 Group, Angela Davies from AJ Bell and Phil East from Salford Foundation joined a panel to discuss what digital inclusion means to them, and to highlight how their businesses were working hard to promote digital skills. My take away was the importance of using the right language around digital inclusion, to reduce the fear and anxiety that some people and communities have around being online.
My highlight was hearing a panel of local community organisations who have seen first-hand how their digital inclusion programmes have improved the lives of the people they support. Including Pat Mackela, Community Engagement Lead at Warm Hut UK who spoke about the multiple barriers faced by people who have English as an additional language. Pat introduced learner Elizabeth who has been part of the Warm Hut’s digital skills training sessions for a few years. Elizabeth had the room captivated by how her world was transformed by being able to get online, and how valuable it’s been to be able to stay in contact with relatives in Nigeria through Zoom.
The event ended with attendees pledging to take action to fix the digital divide in Salford. It was great to be able to reinforce Good Thing Foundation’s pledge to continue to support Salford residents through our National Inclusion Network, National Databank and National Device Bank.
Digital inclusion hub SNJ Charitable Trust
I’m Phoebe Scholefield, Communications Officer, I visited SNJ Charitable Trust in Wolverhampton for their ‘Lunch and Learn’ Get Online Week event. We were welcomed with open arms by staff, volunteers and beneficiaries. It was a super busy session with a brilliant atmosphere, people filled the room chatting, having tea and practising their digital skills. The focus of the session was finding recipes online, but people were learning a range of new skills, from poster design to job searching.
What struck me most about visiting SNJ was the strong sense of community. It was about more than just digital skills support, it was about connection and socialising too. It really hit home how important this local support is for people, having somewhere safe, friendly and welcoming to go for help meant so much.
I was in awe of the staff and volunteers at SNJ, they were so friendly and approachable and gave each learner their undivided attention. By spending even just a short time with them, their passion for digital inclusion and helping people shone through. I was really impressed by their organisation and was grateful to get to spend some time there.
Digital inclusion hub Stocksbridge and Upper Don Tenants and Residents Association (SUD TARA)
I’m Mary Booth, Product and Service Delivery Manager. I want to say a big thank you to SUD TARA for such a warm welcome to the coffee morning held as part of Get Online Week 2023. It was a lively session with 4 committee members on hand to support residents and tenants to socialise, learn more about digital and have a cup of tea. Councillor Julie Grocutt also popped in to meet everyone and hear more about the work of this hub.
It was interesting to hear how they are navigating challenges such as an audience spread over a wide geographical area and a lack of suitable community spaces in the area. It was also great to see the power of the National Digital Inclusion Network in the peer-to-peer support they have been receiving from another Sheffield based digital inclusion hub, Learn for Life.
I loved meeting Sarah* who was quite rightly very proud and pleased with her recent achievement with digital, told in her own words here:
“The podiatrist wanted me to go to the hospital. I needed to send the hospital a picture [for my appointment], and I wasn’t sure how to do it at all. So I did try and I took a photograph with my phone. I tried my best but I couldn’t do it. But it is an old phone, so I went on my computer and I was really proud because I sent this photograph from my phone to my computer and then I saved the photograph into my images and attached it and sent it. I was so proud!”
Well done Sarah! And well done SUD TARA!
Digital inclusion hub Direct Help and Action
I’m Michael Skeldon, Learning Design and User Experience Officer. I visited Direct Help & Advice in Ilkeston for their digital skills drop in session. One of the people who attended was Alice* who’d recently been made redundant from Wilko after 30 years and wanted help applying for jobs online. Alice had tried applying using her smartphone but encountered some difficulties. Caroline, the Partnership & Development Manager, put Alice at ease and supported her with the Indeed website using one of the hub’s laptops.
As part of the application process Caroline also helped Alice use the keyboard and mouse, reset her Indeed account password, and check her emails. Having completed her application, Alice was keen to learn more! Caroline introduced Alice to Learn My Way. She found being able to complete some topics without needing to register a great way to try the website and understand how it worked. She also liked the text to speech feature. To add value and help Alice continue her learning after leaving the hub Caroline printed some of Age UK’s digital instruction guides for her. Alice left feeling happy that she’d completed her application and more confident in what she’d learnt.
Digital inclusion hub Swansea MAD
I’m Emma Stone, Associate Director of Evidence and Engagement. I was really excited to be in Wales celebrating Get Online Week – Wythnos Ewch Ar-lein.
I spent an afternoon visiting Swansea MAD. The moment you walk through the door, you feel the warmth and welcome. I was there for a digital drop-in, and had a chance to hear from people building their skills as well as people helping them learn. Swansea MAD started with youth work – music, arts, and dance. Now, digital inclusion has become embedded in what they do and how they do it. They now support adults of all ages who missed out on opportunities, including referrals from Jobcentre Plus. One gentleman told me that it matters a lot that Swansea MAD doesn’t look or feel like school, and how what he most wants is to learn how to use his tablet for everyday things such as booking train tickets. He drew a great comparison between learning algebra versus learning to use maths to manage your money.
I also loved the chance to explore big issues with the team. Can generative AI can help to level the playing field in learning or work? What is good youth work and safeguarding practice in a virtual, immersive environment? What could the options be for community organisations to rent underused, accessible spaces, now that more businesses are going hybrid? How can we bust the myth that all young people are ‘digital natives’, when many need help with digital life skills? But the unexpected highlight was listening to one of the young people supported by Swansea MAD play his guitar and sing songs he’d written. It was this mix of music, art, IT, beanbags, and friendly people that sums up Swansea MAD.
2023 was another brilliant Get Online Week and we loved the opportunity to connect with the network. We can’t wait to get out and about again next year!
Read more Good Things
Research commissioned by Virgin Media O2 highlights highlights the digital skills challenges faced by the UK population and the reality of digital exclusion.