Taking Be Connected on the road

One of the things I’ve been personally most proud of in the past year is establishing Good Things Foundation in Australia. In the UK, the Online Centres Network is essential to the way we operate. Together we’re a big club with a shared vision – a shared vision of improving lives using digital as an enabler, and a vision of a better society and a better world as a result. I know this is what we do in the UK because of our research and our evaluation as well as by talking to our Network members and to the people they’re helping. In Australia we’re starting to do this too with a new ‘big club’ – the Be Connected Network.

At the end of April I hosted six Be Connected Network Partner events in Australia – in Perth, Melbourne, and Geelong. It was great to take Be Connected on the road and lovely for me to meet organisations who are, or would like to be, part of the Be Connected Network.

It’s so nice to meet people face-to-face. In this digital world it’s great that I can co-work with people on opposite sides of the world virtually (in Sydney and Sheffield) but it’s also nice to meet people face-to-face sometimes too.

In Perth I loved it when one woman, who was thinking of joining the Be Connected Network said to me “I came along today to find out what the catch is; but there’s no catch!” Indeed there isn’t!

In Melbourne it was great to hear new collaborations starting there in the room with Network Partners talking about sharing resources as well as forming new ideas for how they could achieve more together.

And in Geelong a new cooperation was born between three Network Partners talking about how they could share volunteers and signpost between each other as they all helped people learn basic digital skills in Ballarat.

I was amazed and thankful by people travelling long distances to get to the events.

We talked a lot about all of the grant programmes that Network Partners can apply for – including the $50,000 Network Capacity Building Grants. I’m a bit jealous as we don’t have these grants in the UK, and they’re really going to help us to both innovate and scale across Australia with digital inclusion.

Not everything is perfect – a couple of Network Partners said they had older people they were supporting who didn’t want to set up an email address and therefore they couldn’t register on Be Connected. So we responded and we’ve written this guidance note which is now on our Resources page. All the Network Partners love the free online learning courses on the Be Connected website but wanted to know what new content is coming – so we responded with this overview leaflet. I’m glad the Good Things team in Sydney have been able to respond to these issues and are keeping the conversations going.

The thing that I loved the most is how similar so much of our work is in the UK and Australia. One Australian Network Partner said she had been working for 10 years and didn’t know other organisations helped older people to learn how to use the internet – I’ve heard the exact same thing in England. In Australia and the UK I love hearing the stories about people living in our countries having come from all over the world and now being in touch with relatives back home via the internet. Partners in both countries have told me about the 80 something year old or the 90 something year old who is now buying their pet’s food online or video calling a distant grandchild for the first time.

But most of all I loved hearing the passion from the staff and volunteers about spreading the message that the internet can help people to make their lives a little bit better. And then they just get on with it – be it in Geelong (AU) or Gravesend (UK), or in Perth (AU) or Plymouth (UK).

I’m really glad that Good Things is doing our bit to support community organisations and libraries in Australia, the UK, and in Kenya, to help people thrive in today’s digital world.

Thank you to our Good Things team in Sydney for making me feel so welcome.

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Good Things Aus – hello world!

NOTE: If you’re in or near Townsville, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Sydney or Tamworth, you’re very welcome to come along to one of our upcoming Be Connected events. (Sadly I won’t be there but others from the Good Things Sydney team will be.)

Digital and social exclusion are intertwined – let’s tackle them head on

Yesterday, I attended the launch of Lloyds Bank’s UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, where I sat on a panel Q&A session, as did the Chair of Good Things Foundation’s Board, Liz Williams. This Index is an eagerly anticipated piece of research which has been released annually for the past three years – the largest measure of financial and digital capability of people in the UK.

Helen

The headline stats

One of the key findings from this year’s Index is that there are now 4.3 million people (8%) in the UK with zero Basic Digital Skills – this is 470,000 fewer people than in 2017. Though the proportion of UK citizens with the full five basic digital skills has barely changed with 11.3 million people (21%) having limited abilities online.

There are three key tasks that the UK population are unable to do:

  • Create something new from existing online images, music or video – 23.2 million people (43%) can’t do this;
  • Verify the sources of information found online – 13 million can’t do this (24%);
  • And fill out an online application form – 8.6 million people can’t do this (16%).

A stand-out stat is that there are 3.2 million people on the cusp of the full five skills. If they were to gain the missing digital skill, there would be 8.1 million people without basic digital skills.

Making it happen

The big question surrounding this final headline stat is how can we make this a reality? How can we help these 3.2 million people to gain that one missing skill?

It’s Good Things Foundation’s aim to make social change happen through digital. Our UK-wide network of Online Centres support the hardest to reach in society, not just through teaching them about computers and the internet, they are real pillars of support and trust that people can rely on.

A lot of the people who visit Online Centres face some form of social exclusion which can contribute to them being digitally excluded. This year the Index contained key stats on inclusivity as well as digital skills. 3.5 million people with a registered disability are offline – that’s 25% – and 28% of those over 60 are not online, with an amazing 84% of this group saying that nothing at all could motivate them to get online.

The benefits are clear:

  • 10% of the workforce do not have basic digital skills, but if they did, they could be £13,000 a year better off.
  • 4 in 10 people say that being online helps them feel less alone; 21.2m people are less lonely due to digital.
  • 5 in 10 people say that the internet has helped them find a job.

As more and more people get online, the ones who are still left behind become harder and harder to reach. That’s why we need Online Centres. It’s the level of trust and honesty that they offer that these people need and in their own local communities – on their street. They won’t open up to just anyone.

As the digital and social exclusion crevice narrows, it deepens, but thankfully, more and more people are coming together across the sectors, abseiling gear in hand, to make sure we can reach and support those in need to live life to their fullest potential with digital.

Voicebox Cafes: Giving women a voice

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that we’d been successfully awarded one of eight large grants to deliver our Voicebox Cafes project, as part of the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, alongside seven other inspirational projects. This is a project that I’m really excited for as it’s about using digital to support some of the hardest to reach people in society and helping them to overcome some of the challenges they face.

Voicebox Cafes will engage excluded women and support them to understand and participate in democracy and public life. We know that there are certain groups of women who are less likely to engage with democracy, in particular women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, young women, and women with low levels of educational attainment.  

As part of my role on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy back in 2015, I spoke to a number of women in sessions in communities up and down the country. These women felt that they didn’t have a role to play in democracy or local campaigning. They didn’t feel that they could make any difference or that politicians would listen to them. And they didn’t have any interest in how laws were made or in what happens in the Houses of Parliament, which for many people I met was hundreds of miles away from where they lived.

 

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Me with the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy in 2015. Image courtesy of http://www.parliament.uk.

 

This project has grown from that insight – and from hearing how powerless the women I spoke to often felt to change issues in their own lives, whether that was unaffordable childcare, poor housing, or a lack of part-time employment opportunities.

Many women nowadays are using both social and traditional media to campaign for these issues – but the women who often have the most to gain are the ones that are missing out on these opportunities.

We’re hoping this project – which will work with 35 local organisations in the Online Centres Network – will find ways to make democracy relevant and to engage women and show them how they can make a difference. This might be through hearing from influential female politicians or changemakers, showing women how to develop their own local campaigns or teaching them about the importance of their vote. We’ll be making democracy, politics and campaigning relevant – and I hope in a world where what goes on in Westminster often feels very far away, this will make a real difference to the women who get involved.

I don’t think what we’re planning is easy – as I found on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy many people felt that politics, democracy and politicians were irrelevant to them. I don’t think it will be easy to engage these women, and I don’t think everything we do will be a success. I promise that we’ll share some of the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m sure, however, that Voicebox Cafes will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges.

If you think you can help or would like to get involved, do get in touch. I’ll be sharing stories from the project as it develops, so don’t worry as I’m sure this is one project I’ll keep coming back too.

I can’t wait to get started.

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.