Today sees the announcement of the Digital Deal finalists – 12 brand-spanking-new landlord projects which will provide internet services and training to social housing tenants. (See the official announcement PR here).
Obviously every man and their dog in the digital world will be ‘welcoming’ this news and ‘looking forward’ to seeing the projects develop, and while I don’t ever like to be obvious (and would never dare speak on behalf of my Weimaraner) I’m afraid I can only echo both sentiments!
I was actually one of a group of people – including Housing CEOs and National Housing Federation reps – who attended the birth of the Digital Deal. A good while ago we were all at a round table meeting hosted by Grant Shapps MP (then Housing Minister) and Martha Lane Fox (as Digital Champion), discussing ways in which people who live in social housing could be encouraged, supported or even wired-up to be able to become digital citizens.
The focus was on those people who don’t have the basic digital skills most of us take for granted but were lucky enough to have a landlord with a social conscience looking out for them. We talked about the need to kick-start action, about galvanising innovation, and about the merits of match funding. And lo, the Digital Deal came to life – a Challenge Fund designed to stimulate Social Housing Providers to think deeply about how to help their tenants to get online, encouraging the development of digital practice through bidding for funding and planning for action.
We at Tinder Foundation (our new name) were asked to run the assessment process and project oversight. We’ve been astounded at the response from social landlords, the appetite for change, the creativity, and the enthusiasm for meeting the challenge laid out before them.
Since that first Digital Deal meeting, digital exclusion has become even more important to both social housing providers and tenants, moving up To Do lists as Welfare Reform changes come into effect. Universal Credit – as a ‘digital first’ service – will have a huge impact on social housing providers, radically reshaping the way in which they get paid their social rents. Digital awareness, digital systems and digital skills for tenants are no longer nice-to-haves. Social housing providers are getting ready, and the Digital Deal Challenge Fund is one thing on the crest of that tidal wave of action.
Out of the 130+ housing providers who applied for grant money from the Digital Deal Challenge Fund, there are 12 whose ideas will now get that extra momentum that some pump-priming money will inevitably bring. Of course we all wish it could be more, and I can safely say that the judging process was a long and difficult one. What we’ve ended up with, however, are 12 very diverse projects. They include plans to use community volunteer support and expert mentors, tap into residents groups and embed digital in everyday contact, plus technological solutions ranging from mobile internet wi-fi clouds to converting TVs into internet devices, buses, and recycling IT equipment.
The plan is to take the ideas and lessons from their development and share them instantly with other social landlords via the Digital Housing Hub #digihousing – so that others can use the Digital Deal projects as catalysts for their own work.
At such a critical time for social housing tenants and providers, one thing’s for sure – any help and hints on how to inspire, support and link up tenants in our digital world will be very much in the spotlight.
I hope that those bids which weren’t successful are not consigned to the bin, or even to the bottom of housing provider agendas. It would be great to see bidders push on to deliver their proposed plans with their proposed internal budgets – if on a smaller scale – and show us what’s working for them. It would be a shame to lose the thinking and the work which has gone into each proposal – because each one is part of the Digital Deal legacy, and can contribute not just to the success of the individual business but to the knowledge and sustainability of the entire sector.
In the end, that will also contribute to the well-being of tenants, some of the most vulnerable people in Britain. And that, my friends, is the real Deal.