The Digital Health Lab

What does it mean to stay happy and healthy? Some people would say it’s eating well and exercising, others would say it’s being able to stay ‘in the know’ and in control of existing health conditions. What these tasks have in common is that the internet can be used to make them easier. And that’s where our Widening Digital Participation project with NHS Digital comes in.

This week we’re shining a spotlight on this project, not least because the project has been shortlisted at the Digital Leaders 100 Awards for Cross-sector Digital Collaboration of the Year, but also because we’ve engaged 104,300 people through this second phase of the programme so far since April last year.

Building and developing

In the first phase (September 2013 to March 2016) we supported a total of 221,941 people to learn digital health skills. In the third year, through our research, we discovered that the behaviour change of people moving more of their health transactions online would mean potential annual savings of £3.7m in saved GP visits and £2.3m in saved A&E visits. That’s savings of £6 million in just 12 months. These savings alone represent a return on investment of £6.40 for every £1 invested in the programme.

At a time when the NHS is increasingly strapped for cash, we’re happy to help them save a bit of money and alleviate pressure on services by teaching people to use the internet to manage their health. Just to be clear, we’re promoting the use of digital as one channel to help with how people manage their health, and this channel sits alongside the other telephone and face-to-face support people can and should continue to have access to, such as NHS 101, Pharmacists, GPs, Health Clinics and A&E.

Our second phase (that started last April) has identified ‘pathfinder’ partners, that’s CCGs, GPs, Online Centres, third sector organisations, Councils and more with a specific idea to test if (a) it works and (b) if the idea can be replicated and scaled.

What are our pathfinders doing?

There are 13 live pathfinders currently and they’re piloting different ways to embed digital inclusion into healthcare. Here’s a little taster of what they’ve been up to:

  • Digital Health on the High Street, Nailsea: Nailsea Town Council purchased the old butcher shop on the High Street, turning it into a community space that can help Nailsea residents improve their lives through engaging with digital technology and their health. They’ve engaged 870 people, supported 120 people in-depth and recruited 21 Digital Champions.
  • Young Carers, MYMUP, Bradford: We’re working in partnership with MYMUP, local third sector organisations and education establishments in order to support young carers. MYMUP is an online platform that is helping support young carers with their resilience and mental health. We’re working with them to discover the ways that digital support can improve the lives of young carers and also increase access to health information for the people that they care for.

There is so much more to read about what our pathfinders have been up to on our ‘micro-site’, so please do have a look.

It’s not just about digital skills

Good Things Foundation is social change charity. We believe in helping people to improve their social outcomes powered by digital, so through programmes like Widening Digital Participation the health benefits aren’t limited to reading NHS Choices or booking a GP appointment through an online booking system or ordering a repeat prescription for delivery to your home. It’s other things like reducing social isolation – learners who normally live alone and spend most of their time alone can get some company when they go along to their local centre to learn about digital – or improving their mental wellbeing and confidence by interacting with other people.

The benefits to individuals, their communities, and to the NHS of the Widening Digital Participation programme are potentially huge. We’re looking forward to finding out the new and exciting ways that our next 7 pathfinders will help the most vulnerable in our society to become happy and healthy.

And here’s just one story to bring it all to life…

#LocalDigitalSkills – making digital inclusion happen, together

The unique selling point of the Online Centres Network is the localised approach for digital skills learning that only they can provide. Being the CEO of Good Things Foundation for the past six and a half years, I know this area well, so I was delighted to be asked to chair the local arm of DCMS’ Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) as part of my role on the DSP Board, along with MB Christie from Tech Nation. I hope you caught up with my and MB’s blog when we announced this in February – it’s worth a look if you’ve not read it.

Just before Easter we hosted a ‘Creative Summit’ in Sheffield, bringing together people from tech companies, Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the Online Centres Network, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Education (DfE), and others, to talk about localised approaches to digital skills learning. This is a bigger agenda than ‘just’ digital inclusion as it includes all levels of digital skills for everyone at all ages, including businesses and charities, and recruiting talent. Because digital skills are essential for economic strength and social inclusion.

And we have a big ambition – we want there to be Local Digital Skills Partnerships all over the country. It’s a very big tent as everyone has different experience and a different area of expertise to contribute. When we all have a shared goal it makes sense for us to join forces, rather than work against each other.

At our Creative Summit we kicked off the co-production of a Local Digital Skills ‘Playbook’ – part guide/framework and part inspirational examples. Or it will be! The Playbook is currently in draft form and will be launched, in draft, on our Local Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP) Medium publication very soon. And we’ll be asking everyone who’s interested to take part in refining and adding to the final version. Adopting this joined up approach to creating an important product like this is exactly what we need to make sure it’s relevant, effective, and can become a real tool for success. Watch this blog as I’ll let you know as soon as the public draft is launched.

I was pleased that we had representatives from Local Enterprise Partnerships at the event. LEPs are a collective of local authorities and businesses from an area. In England there are 38 LEPs and the impact and influence they have means they can make a real difference on the subjects that really matter.

For this project they can play an important part, representing the views in their respective regions and, following the publication of the first ‘Playbook’, bringing it forward and using it as a tool to make digital skills happen for people and businesses in their areas.

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Me and MB at the Creative Summit

The Creative Summit was a great session and I’d like to once again thank everyone who attended. The next one will be held in the Summer and I’m sure by then that the Playbook will have evolved and developed into a truly useful and exciting tool. If you’d like to be on the invite list do let me know.

I can’t wait to see where this takes us.

New government proposals put English language at heart of community integration

Yesterday, the long-awaited Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper was launched by Secretary of State Sajid Javid. While not yet a firm set of policy proposals – the Government has launched the Strategy as a consultation – the direction of travel is encouraging.

At a time when political parties are divided on a large number of issues, it seems that one area they agree on is that funding English language learning for speakers of other languages – or ESOL, as it’s commonly known – is an important part of creating stronger local communities.

How much funding, at what level, and which department is responsible have been less easy to agree. While higher-level ESOL is funded by the Department for Education, very basic levels of English language learning for certain groups and in certain areas have, for the last four years, been funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) under a community integration umbrella.

The new Integration Strategy aims to provide greater cross-government clarity and direction by proposing a new national strategy for English language, which will include coordination of:

  • A new community-based English language programme, building on the existing one and delivered through an easily accessible network of ‘community hubs’
  • Support for improved English language in five Integration Areas: Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest
  • Funding for Councils outside these five areas who want to improve levels of English language as a means to better integration
  • A new network of ‘conversation clubs’, largely run by volunteers.

This is welcome news to Good Things Foundation, as we’ve been funded under the current MHCLG English language programme to deliver the highly successful English My Way. The programme has had powerful impacts; over 20,000 non-English speakers have improved their English language skills, reducing isolation and connecting with their communities. With an eye on the programme’s future, we have been eagerly awaiting the publication of the Government’s Integration Strategy since the Casey Review was published in 2016.

Last week, we held a celebration of our English My Way programme, with 80 local Online Centres holding community events to recognise and reward their learners’ success and to inspire other local people to benefit from the programme. I visited Zest for Work in Sheffield, a real community hub, and over 50 women came together to celebrate the success of the English My Way programme. The people I met there – who were mainly migrant women – have often felt lonely and isolated until coming to the centre.

Visit to Zest

Government policy can often seem intangible, but stories from the learners we’ve supported through English My Way show why ESOL for community integration is so important.

Nageswary, 60, moved to Rugby from Sri Lanka, and was lonely and financially struggling after the death of her husband. Her son works full-time in a warehouse, supporting them both, but they just weren’t making enough money to pay the bills.

With help from her local Online Centre, Benn Partnership, she was encouraged to start on the English My Way programme. She didn’t speak any English at all, so the centre made sure the learning had the right focus for her, and that she could get help for her particular needs.

“We learnt about jobs,” says Nageswary. “We learnt about speaking to other people. We learnt about asking questions in the library and other places. I liked learning about jobs because that’s what I was there to learn.”

Both the atmosphere and course content were ideal for Nageswary: “I like going to the centre. It’s very friendly. I find English My Way very good. It’s easy for me to use.” Thanks to the English language skills she’s gained, she now feels more connected to her community and has found work as a school cleaner, which has both increased her income and helped her make new friends.

Whatever political and ideological viewpoint you come from – and funding to support migrants is a polemical issue – it is hard to argue that low-cost support which takes people off statutory funding, into work, and into contact with others in their community is a bad thing.

How much funding will be ring-fenced to support better English language provision is not yet clear, but we are fully supportive of the plans proposed, particularly around informal learning which we know works so well in local communities, bringing added benefits of reducing social isolation and loneliness. If properly funded, the plans will ensure that people like Nageswary can play a full and active role in achieving their full potential, benefiting not just themselves but their whole communities.

We encourage Online Centres involved in delivering ESOL, including through English My Way, to get involved in the consultation and to ensure your voices, and those of your learners, are heard.

Building communities and changing lives

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and the halfway point of our English My Way celebration campaign – Say Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. I visited Zest for Work, an Online Centre and English My Way delivery partner based in Sheffield, with my colleague Sarah, and I was blown away by all of the amazing women there and all of their achievements.

Zest for Work is a wonderful community hub in the Upperthorpe area. Not only do they teach English to speakers of other languages, they also have a gym and swimming pool, a library, a pay-as-you-feel cafe, and they teach employability skills. They have a truly holistic approach to supporting the people in their area and I loved seeing their work firsthand.

The party was organised by the tutors and volunteers, including Sharen Mathers, someone who was once unemployed following health issues. She did an ‘into work’ course at Zest, went on to volunteer at the English My Way classes and is now working at Zest, teaching English, leading on projects and inspiring the learners there. A real example of how Online Centres change people’s lives.

 

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Me with a small number from the group. Sharen is fourth from the right. 

 

The party was brilliant with more than 50 women there. There were balloons, decorations, and foods from all over the world – and the learners were from all over the world too! I was delighted to see so many people from different backgrounds and cultures coming together to celebrate their achievements. All of the women that were there were from three different cohorts at the centre. It really demonstrated the community cohesion and progression angles of the programme because some of the learners from the first cohort are now volunteers.

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Me with one of the English My Way tutors. We wrote down some of the different countries that the women from the English My Way party are from.

I met a lady who first came to the classes and wasn’t able to speak any English. She’s improved her skills so much that she’s now at college and studying to further her education and get a job. She should be so proud of all the amazing progress she’s made.

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Me with one of the many inspiring learners.

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The learners progressed to an art class and made a tapestry.

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Me and Zest for Work centre manager Lynsey and one of the volunteers enjoying the party.

I’ve talked a lot about progression and friendship here but seeing people come to classes, feeling nervous and uncertain, then blossoming and really coming into their own is what English My Way is all about. They make friends, they become less isolated, they improve their lives and they learn a very important new skill along the way.

English My Way isn’t just about teaching people English. It’s about building communities and changing lives.

An Australian Big Club With a Shared Vision

As I write this blog I’m literally halfway between Australia and the UK as I travel back following three weeks helping the Good Things Australian team in Sydney. I’m feeling inspired as I reflect on Good Things’ new normal as a Group with a subsidiary on the other side of the world, as well as reflecting on how much we’ve achieved in such a short period of time in Australia.

 

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Me with Good Things’ Data Design Manager Tom and National Director Jess at Parliament House in Canberra

 

Something to shout about

Two really big milestones for our Australian team happened in my last week in Sydney.

We reached 900 Network Partners in our Be Connected Network in just six months – that’s from all over Australia, every State and Territory, and in metro, regional and remote areas. This is a huge achievement and I hope it means that what we have on offer is really attractive. Talking to some of our Network Partners they are also really enjoying being part of something bigger – a big club with a shared vision – and we’re looking forward to providing ongoing advocacy and support for digital inclusion at a hyperlocal level.

We also held our first and only physical face-to-face partner meeting for organisations who are working with us to capacity build the Be Connected network. We’re working with around 10 organisations who come from different geographies and from different types of organisation. Including:

  • In New South Wales, we’re working with Leep – an organisation who are experts in recruiting and motivating volunteers and who are now embedding that expertise in digital mentors.
  • In Western Australia (WA) we’re working with the Australian Seniors Computer Club Association (ASCCA) and two project coordinators from the very North of WA and the very South of WA – both remote areas – and they will be working with organisations wanting to join the Be Connected Network and supporting them mainly via video calls.
  • In Victoria, we’re working with two very different organisations. Lively is a new non-profit start-up linking young unemployed people (18-25) with older people who want help with their internet skills. ECCV (Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria) is a much older organisation who works with social clubs and seniors clubs in Melbourne and Victoria who are from specific ethnic groups.

It was wonderful to meet all of the Capacity Builder projects. We will continue to have webinar meetings face-to-face but we won’t geographically be in the same room again – nor, even in the same time zone (in the Australian Winter there are five time zones across the country).

My reflections on leading and working in a Group really feels like I’m working for two organisations who have the same vision, the same goals and ambition but with different governance, different funders and in an opposite timezone. Working with teams on opposite sides of the world is challenging but also rewarding.

A big thank you

I really need to give huge thanks to Jess Wilson our National Director in Australia who is doing a great job keeping all of the plates spinning from the practical recruitment of network partners to engaging a range of stakeholders and bigger partners. Our plan is to keep the team small in Sydney and for UK staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to help us set up all our digital tools and systems and processes.

A huge thanks also goes to Fran Coleman who is leading the teams in Sheffield (our UK base) to support our Australian counterparts. Both Jess and Fran inevitably spend a lot of time out of the 9-5 just to make sure they can talk to each other.

Ooroo aka goodbye for now

When I’m in Australia there’s all the thrills and excitement of working for a start-up, except this one has a three-year contract with the Federal Government and colleagues in the UK with years of experience. Those thrills come with the knowledge that there’s so much to do, there’s so much opportunity and if you work 24 hours a day you’ll never do what you need to do.

Back in the UK, I have to hit the ground running reporting to the Digital Skills Partnership Board on Tuesday. It’s always great being in the Sheffield office and with our Sheffield team, they’re so positive and so focused and so productive.

My final thoughts as I jet back to the snowy UK is that I really am proud to lead such an effective organisation on both sides of the globe and I couldn’t do it without the support of so many amazing people.

Until next time Sydney…

Did we need a Minister for Loneliness?

I was delighted to hear the news that Tracey Crouch has been appointed as Minister for Loneliness.

We know that loneliness kills – it’s potentially more harmful than smoking or obesity.

I meet hundreds of people each year who would describe themselves as lonely. As one woman told me on a visit to a local community partner in Sheffield: “I was so depressed sitting at home with no-one except daytime TV. I just had to get out of the house.”

It’s great to know that the lonely people I’m meeting are now getting the essential social interaction that they need – through the Online Centres Network.

Volunteers and workers in our communities deal with lonely people every day. Good Things Foundation works with community venues across the UK – the Online Centres Network – and people come to get support to use the internet either for the first time or to get to grips with the basics, and so many of them say it is also important that it’s a chance to get out of the house and meet other people.

Bob Dunkerley, one of our 2 Millionth Learners from last year’s award ceremony, said: “Going along to Starting Point (his local Online Centre), for me, it’s a bit of a community that provides a necessary service for people who are on their own, especially older people. I need something in my life to give me an incentive to do things. The laptop training and companionship at Starting Point can do that.“

It isn’t just our digital skills learners that overcome loneliness by going along to centres. We’re a social change charity as much as we are a digital inclusion one, and projects like English My Way are vital in helping to tackle the loneliness issue. A video we released last year really demonstrates the camaraderie amongst one group of women at Online Centre Neighbours in Poplar:

Models that both empower people in a digital world and which provide face-to-face, community-based support are a powerful way to overcome loneliness.

Centres within the Online Centres Network provide an informal approach to help people overcome the issues they’re facing. That’s what an informal approach is all about, it’s focused on the person – what they need to do, and in the way and the pace that suits them.

Congratulations to you Tracey on taking up this vital role. It’s great to see the government making a commitment to such a pressing issue and I welcome the cross-sector and co-ordinated approach that will be taken.

I hope the community sector will play a significant role in cross-Government work around loneliness.

Tracey, you’re very welcome to come and visit an Online Centre and see this important work for yourself. Meeting the people who are taking such transformative journeys into the digital society and into happiness.