Reimagining a Library for the 21st Century

Anyone who knows me or who reads my blogs regularly will know that I have a particular passion for libraries. I love everything they stand for, they have something for everyone, no matter what your age, gender, ethnicity or social class. However, I also think that there are a lot of libraries who need to be brought into the 21st century. I spoke at an event last year on this very subject, please do read the transcript here. So yesterday I was particularly excited to see the launch of the Independent Library Report by William Sieghart which suggests that every library in England should be equipped with free Wifi enabling people to get access to the internet whenever their local library is open. The internet is fulfilling, rewarding, and challenging. The internet is free and universal. It should be open to everyone.

At the end of the report you can read how some libraries – who are also UK online centres – demonstrate just how having access to the internet can revolutionise the running of a library service. Outreach classes for the hardest to reach, one to one support sessions and flexible convenient computer classes are just a few of the examples our partners have told us about. A shining example of how libraries in the 21st century can make a difference.

Libraries need to be reimagined not rebranded, I hate to say it but there are still some libraries which are not good at all, not offering the kinds of services which we see in Cambridgeshire or Barrow-in-Furness. I’m not saying that free wifi will transform all libraries but it will go some way towards changing the image of libraries, they can become the ‘go to’ place in local communities and allow people access to the gateway of information and engagement that the internet holds!

I love libraries but what I love more is when I see libraries (and other community-run UK online centres too) operating as the community hub pulling young and old alike into a world of information, learning, fulfilment and enlightenment.

I hope the Government finds the cash to pay for the upgrades in technology, and upgrades in ambition, that William Sieghart’s report calls for.

Health for All in a Digital Age

Last week, I had a healthy breakfast. I quite often have a healthy breakfast without the need to blog about it – but this one was particularly memorable. We met at the House of Lords with a group of partners and stakeholders to discuss the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme supported by NHS England.

Guests included some of our key programme partners, like Tim Kelsey – National Director for Patients and Information at NHS England, Alan Taylor from the Post Office, Andy Simpson from the Family Fund and Paul Scott from the BBC.

The results of the programme – now in it’s second year – are compelling:

  • 199,375 people have had their awareness of digital health raised
  • 113,427 people have been trained to improve their digital health skills
  • 38% of participants feel they have saved time by doing something health-related online
  • 72% reported saving money – for instance through avoided travel costs
  • 30% who had not previously done so have since used the internet to look up health information
  • 78% have started eating more healthily or taking more exercise
  • 51% report having explored ways to improve their mental health.

However, it’s also not just the impact of this work we were interested in, but it’s wider implications for the future – not just of the programme itself but of the NHS, and of wider social, digital and health equality in the UK.

The NHS is an important global brand – it makes UK stand out as a nation that believes not only in high quality health care, but in health care for everyone – no matter their age, status or income.  We are also a nation that leads the way in digital. Tim Kelsey noted yesterday that digital is a leveller and is more important that it has ever been.


We are still not an entirely equal nation – socially, economically, digitally, or medically.  The more articulate you are, the more connected you are, the more educated you are, the better able you are to get the most out of life under each of those headings.  And that simply won’t do.  Because the NHS is there to support the most vulnerable – and we’re proving that digital can help that happen.
What’s more, we’re also proving that it’s well worth the effort.  For instance, of our learners who would have previously gone to their GP or A&E for non-urgent medical advice, more than a third would now visit NHS Choices (22%) or a pharmacy (13%).  If each person did this once in the next year, this would present an overall saving to the NHS of over £470,000 within a year.

Digital health, I believe, will pay for itself, while creating the equality in the UK of which the NHS is both an integral part and a leading symbol.

The numbers and stats are all great, but I have to remind myself – and I like to remind others – that each one is a person whose life, and health, have been improved due to this programme.  You can hear from some of them in this video, which I think demonstrates the personal impact of our work far better than I could in my own words.

There were two key themes discussed at the breakfast. The first was how do we make sure that we leave no-one, like Betty or Pat from the video, above.  And the second was how we could achieve even more by working in partnership.

Of course we work with the fantastic UK online centres network – some of whom were in the room to talk about their individual health projects. Dave Edeson from Inspire Communities in Hull gave some particularly stark accounts of how digital health is transforming the lives of homeless people in his area.  We at Tinder Foundation provide them with great resources – like the Learn My Way health courses – and support, and (as I’m sure the UK online centres would want me to stress) grant funding to help them deliver.

Through their hard work, we are also forming relationships with local health partners.  25% of centres, for instance, are now receiving referrals from their local GP, and 61% have formed at least one new partnership to help them deliver digital health training.  We are also beginning to form relationships with CCGs, and with national health charities – like Macmillan cancer support, who were also part of the healthy breakfast.

But it’s foolish to try and divorce health from it’s wider social context, and the other partners – both local and national – who support wellbeing, reduce isolation, and work with vulnerable groups.  The Post Office, for instance, were also on hand this morning, as staff with low basic online skills have been training with local UK online centres, and then acting as digital champions within branches – signposting customers back to us if they too need digital skills support.  The BBC was also in attendance, one of our key partners in delivering our English My Way language programme for people who are excluded from their communities – and often health care – through a lack of English speaking skills.

The fact is, that if you know how to use the internet you can take greater control of your life in all sorts of ways. That includes employment and family and saving money. And clearly it includes your health too. That’s where partnership is essential.  And that’s how I’d like to see the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme grow in the coming months – in partnership.

We would love to know about your ideas that will help us to ensure we leave no-one behind as the nation becomes more and more online.  Because that’s what a ‘healthy’ nation will look like.

And whoever you are, we would love to work with you to make it happen faster, deeper, and better.  Get in touch.

Tinder Foundation is Three

On Friday, we held our third Annual General Meeting, and the 40-strong team (together with our Board) took a collective deep breath and blew out the three candles on our Tinder Foundation cake – which had our own faces printed on it!

Turning three felt good and was a bit of a pinch-me moment – at three, maybe I can think that this is real and no-one is going to wake me up and tell me it was all a dream. At the AGM we had a good look back on where we’ve come from, and a look ahead to the exciting times still to come.

Today we launch a new Tinder Foundation microsite. As a team, we spent some time on Friday taking a bit of trip down memory lane to look back at where we’ve come from – and it was great to relive some of these achievements, which I’m so proud of. They include us winning our first non-Government grant as an independent organisation from Nominet Trust, to develop the Community How To website, which is still going strong. We’ve since won contracts from DCLG to develop the English My Way programme, delivered the Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England, won contracts to deliver activity with both Vodafone and TalkTalk and much more. And just a couple of months ago we won a contract with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to deliver the Future Digital Inclusion programme.  So it’s been a pretty busy few years! Do take a look at our timeline of achievements on the microsite at the bottom of the About Us section.

While it’s great to take some time to look back on where we’ve come from, we’re keen to look to the future, and what will be coming next.

Digital inclusion will always remain close to our hearts, and we’ll continue to work hard to close the digital divide. When I talk to our hyperlocal partners and the people who have often overcome so much hardship, I’m aware that we can and should continue to work hard to do more. We’ve done a lot of listening to develop our strategy, listening to people separated from families, people struggling with worklessness, family tragedies, ill health, and people who have travelled thousands of miles to escape wars and poverty, as well as people living on the streets. These people are now using digital to help them in their lives, and they tell me how thankful they are for the help and support the local community staff and volunteers have given them. The staff and volunteers have told us how we at Tinder Foundation in turn provide them with essential tools and inspiration to help them, and we asked them what more would they want and need. And that’s our strategy.

People have told us that they want more online learning in other things they struggle with such as reading and writing. We will explore ways in which technology can support learning – just as we’re doing with the the Innovate UK programme, and supporting the UK online centres network to deliver learning to their communities

And we’ll look at finding digital solutions to social challenges, including continuing on our work with NHS England to support people to improve their health outcomes, and developing sub-groups within our network (for disabled people for example), and piloting approaches to tackle a number of social challenges through digital technology.

But why not take a look at the microsite yourself. Everything we’ll achieve will be in partnership – with grassroots organisations, companies big and small, government departments and everyone in between. So if you’d like to chat more about it, do get in touch.

A big thank you to all the team at Tinder Foundation, the Board, and of course the truly inspirational local people we work with in the UK online centres network every day. The past three years have been pretty great, but I think the next five could be even better.

Disrupting adult community learning? I hope so!

I’m pretty excited today that I can officially announce that we’ve been successful in our bid to Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board)  to run a pilot that will explore and (hopefully) begin to remove the barriers that have held back the adoption of digital technology in the adult or community learning in the UK. As a great believer in the importance of lifelong learning – particularly for hard-to-reach communities – and of course a passionate advocate for the power of digital tools, you can guess I’m pretty excited about this!

Despite the huge advances in technology we’ve seen in recent years, and its widespread adoption by huge numbers of people, and the positive impact it has on the wider education and learning sector, the Adult and Community sector has lagged behind. Learning is traditionally delivered face-to-face, with use of digital tools to support learning few and far-between.

The R&D project will examining the broad range of factors (technological, institutional and pedagogical) that contribute to success in digital learning. We’ll then go on to develop an alpha version of a platform with and for people in the sector – tutors, volunteers, and learners – to create, share and manage interactive learning content online. With loads of conversations and work with users, and loads of testing and iterating.

My real aim for the pilot is that once that hard research work is done, this is something we can scale up nationally, to have a huge impact on the way that community learning is delivered in the UK.

I’m pretty convinced that technology can lower the barriers people face when accessing adult and community learning, as well as attracting more non-traditional learners – for example people from more deprived communities or people who haven’t had a good experience of education or learning in the past. Using digital tools, and thinking more innovatively about the way community learning is delivered will help people stay connected to their learning whatever might happen in their life – which could be incredibly powerful. Now it’s the job of the pilot to prove it.

It’s just the start of this journey, and I’m really hoping we can shake up the informal learning world, reach many more people, and make learning more relevant to more people. Will we disrupt adult and community learning? I hope so.

You can read our full press release on the Tinder Foundation website here, and the full list of winning project details from Innovate UK here.