Community Transformers

On Tuesday I visited London Community College, a new community partner in Tinder Foundation’s UK online centres network. I was there with representatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Baroness Williams, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Visiting London Community College July 2015









We met people learning English at the centre and found out about how the English My Way programme is helping them to feel more connected to their community. Our English My Way project, funded by DCLG, is now in its second year and is a classroom based learning programme aimed at people who have very, very little English language.

It was also good to see how the curriculum – led by the British Council – was working alongside the Tinder Foundation hyperlocal partner network. The BBC are also a national partner, developing great resources and running learning circles.

Meeting learners at London Community College












London Community College is a wonderful place and it was a pleasure to be visiting for the first time. I loved seeing their English My Way lesson plan (printed off from the national site) and how it’s been embedded into their wider learning programme. It was great chatting to Centre Manager Avinash Panchoory who said he thinks Learn My Way is the best progression route from English My Way, which was music to my ears!

Witnessing English My Way in action at London Community College

   Images courtesy of London Community College

He also said: “We have a very diverse group of learners who represent the local community and who require our support to help them integrate through English My Way. London Community College is proud to promote integration within the community and eliminate barriers to communication through English My Way.”

Places like London Community College are encouraging their learners to share their knowledge with their own communities. Imagine the difference it would make to a mother, for example, who has learnt about English My Way and now has the confidence to go to her son’s parents evening and speak to the teacher. Or a woman I met at a previous event who has the confidence now to say hello to her neighbour as they have share a common language.

I always feel privileged to visit organisations like London Community College that are really embedded in the heart of the most deprived communities. It’s places like this my entire team work so hard to support on a daily basis, and it’s places like this where people lives are getting transformed.

English My Way is a free website packed full of resources, lesson plans, and a learning platform:

Why I believe libraries can thrive in a digital world

I was delighted to recently be asked to write a guest blog for the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), which leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland because I adore libraries.

Libraries are a regular topic on my blog, and anyone that knows me will know I could happily talk for hours about them! I’m passionate about what they stand for and their potential to play an even more prominent role in their communities.

I’ve spoken a lot about this in the past, and I’m particularly keen to see libraries evolve and excel in the 21st century, which is why I’m so pleased to be working with SCL to strengthen the Universal Offers of public library services. And it’s with great excitement that Tinder Foundation will be making an exciting announcement next week about a new project that aims to support libraries, and their digital offering in particular, over the next few years.

To continue reading my thoughts on why libraries are essential to our society visit the SCL blog

Is Facebook the gateway to the internet?


I’m always talking to my team about finding new ways to reach people, whether that’s people that aren’t online and don’t have digital skills, or the people that do have some sort of access but still don’t know how to use it, or simply aren’t motivated to use it.

One thing we know is that to reach new people we have to go where they are and not expect them to come to us. Here’s a fact for you: 70% of our community partners do outreach work, physically going out and finding the people that need their help the most. At Tinder Foundation, it’s just as important for us to be looking for these people in the online world too, which is where Learn My Way’s new Facebook course comes in.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook

Designed to help people that have already signed up for a Facebook account but either don’t know how to use it or lack the confidence to use it (the digitally excluded come in all shapes and sizes), Doing More With Facebook shows people how to make the most of social media, do more with Facebook, and gives them a taste of Learn My Way in the hope that they’ll want to continue learning. It will even post to your wall so you can encourage friends to use the course app too.

Learn My Way - Doing More with Facebook









The team behind Learn My Way work closely with stakeholders to develop new learning content and they started to think about creating something for social media after a lot of community partners found the young people they were working with in particular had access to Facebook on their phones, but weren’t using the internet for other things like applying for jobs, looking for housing, or even emailing their granddad.

This also ties in with Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015, which found 40% of internet users only visit between 5-10 websites a week, with 50% of newer internet users visiting between 1-4 websites on average a week. I think we can assume Facebook features somewhere in that list.

So, the idea is we’re breaking down barriers by reaching people in a place where they’re comfortable and introducing them to Learn My Way and tonnes of free learning in the process. 

ND15: The deadline for a digital nation

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of giving the closing keynote for the National Digital Conference below. Here’s what I said.

Every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end, so this is where my digital journey started.

This is a photo of me in 1985 – 30 years ago. When I first started working in the internet sector (helping children to communicate online) the world wide web hadn’t even been invented yet.

Helen, 1985







We’ve seen such our society be transformed immensely: the way we work and collaborate, and start and build businesses; and, the way we live, 24/7 shopping, banking, social contact, pay our taxes.

Matthew Hancock’s speech earlier today was so positive, I believe that he wants to make services better – as well as cheaper – through digital.

Many things have been transformed to such an extent that we no longer recognise it. The only person who ever writes me a letter for example is my Mum.

In 1985 a futurologist, Ray Hammond, said “Now that day has arrived … the humble school micro provides a gateway to a world of knowledge so vast that it is breathtaking at its first acquaintance” So there’s a part of me that thinks if we knew of the power of the internet, why in 2015 do we live in such a divided society?

We live in a digital society and we live in a divided society, and an unequal digital society.

In 2015 if you’re born poor you will die poor. We have over 1m people who need to eat from food banks. People are having the benefits stopped because they don’t know how to search for jobs online using Universal Job Match.

We live in a divided nation – and digital exacerbates that.

It isn’t right that 10m people’s lives are poorer and harder because they can’t or don’t use the internet. I’ve been impressed and pleased with the support that the new Government is showing to digital inclusion. Matthew Hancock understands technology and wants to make lives better – it’s a good start.

Today we heard Ed Vaizey say that the Government was refreshed, energetic and keen to do more with digital and digital inclusion.

It’s likely that in this age of austerity the driver for digital inclusion – however it’s presented – is to reduce the costs of people transacting with Government. The people who are excluded, are high volume users of Government services, so if they remain excluded they will continue to cost the Government a lot of money. The digital transformation of Government can’t succeed with 10m people lacking basic digital skills.

So why in 2015 do we have such a digitally divided society?

We have a great sector, we have a lot of great people and organisations doing great work. Looking across the room today it’s fabulous to have collaborative cross sector drive and leadership from public, private, and the voluntary and community sector here sharing ideas and passions.

But we need a better plan. A more ambitious plan.

I have two sons and the older one is football mad. From the age of about two he kicked balls around, so we started that weekend delight of watching small boys play football badly – usually on very cold days – from when he was about six years old. If you’ve ever watch small children play football you’ll know what I mean – no space, no tactics, no strategy, just ‘look there’s the ball’ and run after it. Sometimes I think the digital inclusion sector is a bit like those six year olds playing football.

We’ve heard many good speeches today, fascinating stats, and great ideas.

Rachel Neaman started well this morning suggesting that we should eradicate digital exclusion, the gender imbalance in the tech sector, and poor digital skills in businesses by 2025. By the time of the 20th National Digital Conference.

I’d like to be more ambitious and take one of those – digital exclusion – and set ourselves a deadline – 2020. By 2020 let’s not live in a digitally divided nation.

Here are four things that worry me that we need to sort:


1. There’s no silver bullet

We know what works – community based support and help, personalised – supported with leadership and guidance from organisations like Tinder Foundation and others – who help with ideas, products and support.

Simply more investment in what works results in more people gaining digital skills and changing their lives. Martha said earlier that it’s foolish to not spend money as the money saved is far greater than the money we need to spend.

2. Why don’t Employers do more for their own staff?

It’s great to work with Lloyds Banking Group, Vodafone, TalkTalk and BT on projects and digital champions. Thank you for your support, it’s really valuable.

But what about employers working to upskill their own staff? How about: A Digital Basics Employer Accreditation or Investors in Digital People. Just like an employer can get accreditation for being a Living Wage employer how about a “Digital Basics” Employer. Why not a transparent accreditation or badge for an employer who knows that all their staff have basic digital skills. And it must include contract staff such as cleaners, security, and catering staff.

And let’s start with the Public Service. Government just must know that all their staff and all their contract staff have basic digital skills. They must do it.

3. What about the really poor people who just can’t afford devices and broadband?

Today on the radio I heard a woman from a charity working in Calais giving support to migrants and asylum seekers sleeping rough. She said they provided them with “food, clothes, and phone chargers”.

As the digital divide narrows it deepens. A year ago 21% of people said that they didn’t use the internet because of the cost of devices and broadband. This year it’s 32%. We must acknowledge that there are people who just can’t afford it.

Whose responsibility is it to tackle this issue?

Will we look back and think this is a basic utility just like electricity and gas?

Instinctively this feels too risky – from a ‘Daily Mail’ point of view for the Gov to get involved – so that leaves the private and the volcom sector.

Without a solution to this issue we will always leave people behind.

4. Better understanding of the relationship between improved social outcomes and the digital inclusion contribution to that impact

Last year we commissioned “A Leading Digital Nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivery online skills for all” with Economist, Catherine McDonald. It’s a great read that proves that the investment is low compared to the reward.

However, what Catherine’s report did say is that by 2020 6.3m people will still lack basic digital skills if we just keep doing what we’re doing now (at today’s investment).

Those 6.3m people will be the poorest, the disabled, young and old people lacking a range of skills, and who will have a range of complex needs.

We know that digital inclusion drives social inclusion, I’ve met people who tell me that they are alive because a local community organisation helped them to learn how to use the internet. It saved their lives. This is the sort of transformation we want more of.

We know this, but we need more evidence and we need to know what more we can do to drive better social outcomes through digital inclusion. Focusing first on the social impact, seeing digital as the tool to get there.

Today it’s announced that Tinder Foundation, working with Family Fund, Mind, Homeless Link, and a number of local community organisations will rebuild the lives of people through the Rebook UK project. personalised digital skills training and community-based support which will enable them to be more in charge of their own lives. So by Christmas we’ll have a few more answers.

We need to be more ambitious. But are we just too polite and too patient.


We should get angry and get organised.


We need a deadline.


Let’s pledge to 100% of people in the UK using the internet by 2020.

In 2020, let us all be here celebrating a digital nation, that inclusive and equal for everyone.

Working in tech: the gender balance

Working in tech: the gender balance When BCS Women asked me to be part of their #WomeninIT campaign I immediately said yes. It’s a great and inspiring campaign.

The best businesses have both men and women in them, and the tech sector is exactly the same. I believe women should consider a career in IT because the work this sector does is important, it will be a big part of the future, and because we need female and male voices in the development of this sector.


Everything we do, particularly in the UK, is now delivered through technology, and if women don’t have a say in how those industries are run, then we’re going to have an unbalanced society that doesn’t function for everyone.

I hope some of the women that Tinder Foundation and our network are helping to use the internet for the first time can come and be women working in the tech sector.

I’m really happy to be joined by Jessica Scott, Tinder Foundation’s Junior Web Developer in the Women in IT campaign. Thirty years into my career, it’s really interesting to hear from someone who is just starting out, and her passion and enthusiasm for making good things happen in tech is infectious.Women in IT campaign






I hope you enjoy reading about both of our experiences in tech, and please do share them with anyone, of any gender, you think would be interested.

Tinder Foundation’s Annual Review

Tinder Foundation launched its Annual Review earlier this week, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished!


As you browse through it I hope you get a very real sense of the many ways we are making an impact. Here are some of the highlights.

Annual Review Employment Stat 1
















And how we are reaching people all around the UK to improve their lives by using the internet.








All of which wouldn’t be possible without the UK online centres network – our 5,000 community partners that enable us to deliver digital skills training at scale.








We also reveal some exciting things we have coming up, including new partnerships and projects to reach even more people.

Looking ahead









As ever, I’d love to know what you think of our review. Tweet me @helenmilner or email

I’m delighted and determined

I’m thrilled, shocked, overwhelmed…the list goes on…as today it was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List that I have been awarded an OBE.

But most importantly I’m proud. I’m proud of the thousands of people this award also belongs to, who have all contributed to eradicating the digital inequalities in our country so that millions of people can live a better life.

I wish I could name every single person: the 5,000 hyperlocal partners in the UK online centres network, whose dedication often humbles me; the hard-working and happy 46-strong team at Tinder Foundation; the amazing Jim Knight (Tinder Foundation’s Chair) and all our committed Board who have provided so much friendship, guidance and support; and of course my family and friends.

This award really does belong to everyone who has worked tirelessly to reduce the inequalities in our country by helping others to benefit as part of our digital society. We’ve all done something to make a difference, and I know we’ll keep on going because it matters more than ever.

Now that it’s sinking in, this award has given me a push to do even more because 9.5 million (the number of adults in the UK who don’t or can’t use the internet) isn’t a figure I’m happy – or proud about – at all. In fact I hate it, and I want to keep reducing that figure until I can write on here one day that we have achieved a truly digital nation.

I’m going to take the weekend off to keep feeling happy and feeling proud of my part in this story. But on Monday I will be back, with ever more determination to work with anyone who wants to help to end digital inequality once and forever.