Digital skills in Sheffield: Just Google it!

We work with lots of partners across sectors to make good things happen with digital and to reach those 11.5m people without basic digital skills. One of those partners is Google and today I was delighted to speak at the launch of their Digital Garage, right on Good Things Foundation’s doorstep here in Sheffield.


With our new ways of working, we’re doing a lot more internationally – we’re setting up offices in Australia, we’ve done work in the Philippines and we’re doing a pilot project in Kenya. But Sheffield is my home and I’m so pleased that Google has chosen to open a Digital Garage here.  

Our project with Google is based around their Digital Garage training and it’s aim is to help learners improve their digital skills and grow their confidence or business online. It’s great for both small business owners and individuals looking to boost their CV.

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the launch, along side Sheffield Heeley MP and Shadow Digital Minister Louise Haigh and Vice President of Marketing for Google UK Torsten Schuppe.

Learners who attend the one-to-one mentoring, masterclasses and workshops here will be able to boost their digital skills, very much like Alison from Cheshire.

A mixing bowl of skills

Alison owns her own business called Alison’s Bespoke Cakes and Balloons, but being dyslexic she lacked the confidence needed to use computers and the internet. After a little convincing from her friend Sue, Community Librarian at Eccles Library in Salford, she decided to pop along to their Digital Garage classes to get the help she needed to boost her business.

Alison is still taking part in the classes but her knowledge and perspective on computers and the internet has come a long way. She now has a Facebook page and is working on a website and logo with a professional designer.

Alison is great example of how the Digital Garage is helping people to not only boost their skills but also their confidence in using computers and the internet to make their business a success.

How you can get involved?

If you think you can benefit from the free training at the Digital Garage, they’ll be in Sheffield for six months, so there’s plenty of time to pop in and see what it’s all about.

For those who need to get to grips with the basics, the Google staff will be on hand to get them started on Learn My Way, while those who are a bit further in their learning journey or are specifically looking to use digital to further their business will be using the Digital Garage resources.

Any Online Centres Network members who are based in Sheffield – Learn for Life, Southey Forum and Foxhill Forum, to name a few – feel free to drop in and see what’s happening.

You can find out more about the classes and book on to some of their sessions here.

An exciting future for Good Things Foundation

If you follow me or any of the team on Twitter, you’ll have noticed we’ve been advertising some exciting new jobs. These new jobs are part of a new way of working at Good Things Foundation that will see us grow as an organisation, develop new cohesive programmes that drive social change, and test and pilot the best approaches to helping people to improve their lives.

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Our mission is a world where everyone can benefit from digital. Everything we do is to help us achieve this mission. All our work is now focused in two new programmes: digital inclusion and social inclusion. We have projects and partnerships within these to ensure we’re having the biggest impact possible.

Our Digital Inclusion programme is led by Adam Micklethwaite. We want to close the digital divide once and for all, and ensure everyone has the skills, self efficacy and confidence to thrive in a digital world. The Digital Inclusion programme will include our large-scale DfE-funded Future Digital Inclusion programme, which has already helped hundreds of thousands of people to improve their basic digital skills, and it will include other important projects including training Digital Champions, developing new content, supporting rural hubs, and helping small businesses funded by partners including Lloyds Banking Group, Google, Prince’s Countryside Fund, and TalkTalk. The programme will also include place-based approaches, working with councils like Leeds and Sunderland. We’re also going global to share our digital inclusion expertise and ideas with projects in Australia.

Our Social Inclusion programme is headed up by Charlotte Murray. We want socially excluded people to have better lives and we achieve this by using digital to drive positive social outcomes and tackle some of our most pressing social challenges. Our Social Inclusion programme has at its heart tackling inequalities such as lack of English language skills, loneliness and isolation, and financial exclusion. The programme includes our work with the Money Advice Service, the Department for Communities and Local Government, Comic Relief, NHS, HMRC and the Big Lottery Fund. As with digital inclusion, we’re also going global with social inclusion with a pilot in Kenya to assess the social impact of digital literacy alongside the Sustainable Development Goals. Charlotte and her team will ensure what we’re doing in this space has deep impact on the most excluded in society today.

A third new Directorate will drive a new way of designing and innovating interventions that make a difference in digital and social inclusion. This new Design and Innovation Directorate is led by Bea Karol Burks. Our aim is to pilot and test new approaches to tackling both digital and social exclusion interventions and projects that can then be scaled. I’m really excited about this new approach that we’ll be taking, and piloting and design won’t just be a new team, but a new approach we’ll be taking to ensure our work is having an impact.

Thanks to everyone who has supported Good Things Foundation – from staff past and present, to our partners across the country who have made what we do possible. I’m really excited about the future, and I know we’ll continue to have a huge impact – through our network, our digital platforms, and our partnerships. If you think you can play a role, and you’re passionate about the things that we are, then do get in touch.

The biggest news of the week…

…to me anyway. Today, I gave the keynote for the launch of Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2017, where I talked about the importance of improving digital skills for the people who are most excluded in our society and how we can all be part of that solution by working together across sectors. One big piece of news to come out of the launch was that in the past year, 1.1 million more people in the UK now have the five basic digital skills they need to thrive in our digital society. This means that the 12.6 million that I’m always talking about has gone down to 11.5 million.

Of course this is still a considerable amount of people but it’s great news as it certainly means we’re moving in the right direction.


1.1 million

Image courtesy of Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2017



This is the second Consumer Digital Index that has been compiled by Lloyds Banking Group and it is a valuable resource for the tech industry, providing a unique view of, not only the digital capability, but the financial capability of the UK population.

This year’s Index has the addition of a ‘Basic Digital Skills measure’ which paints a clear picture of the state of our digital nation. The measure is designed by digital skills charity Doteveryone and looks at the five skills which help people make the most of the internet: managing information, transacting online, communicating, problem solving and creating.

Of course, the main focus on the Index is on money and financial capability, so it also contains the new addition of quantitative research from the financial inclusion charity Toynbee Hall, in order to paint a clearer picture of those who don’t have a bank account and their financial and digital needs. FYI, the number of UK adults who do not have a bank account is 1.71m.

Key findings

One of the main findings is that the 63% of people who do not have a bank account but who do have a smartphone cope fairly, or sometimes, well with money, however there are still 16.2m people who need more support with financial education.

Financial resilience is a big problem for a lot of people in the UK. The Index has found that without their regular income, 30% of people wouldn’t be able to manage financially for more than a month – this rises to 48% for low income households.


Financial capability

Image courtesy of Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2017


In terms of savings, digital can help. The Index has found that digitally capable people are saving more than twice as much as those who are not and the average amount that people can save per year by using discount and cashback websites is £444 – a massive saving. It also found that 67% of people have used online banking to help avoid paying overdraft fees.

Digital Capability

Image courtesy of Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2017


Digital Motivation

Despite the fact that there are now 1.1 million more people in the UK with digital skills, there are still challenges in motivating the people who have never used the internet (the “offline”). Motivation is very important, because without it, people simply won’t do it.

68% of the offline population actually said that nothing could motivate them to get online but 45% of people said they turn to friends and family to learn how to use the internet.


Image courtesy of Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2017


In Online Centres across the UK, staff and volunteers are motivating people to get online. Whether that’s by tailoring devices to their needs, piquing their interest by showing them videos of their favourite music artists on YouTube or showing someone whose family lives abroad that they can speak with them via Skype. It’s all about engagement and once they’ve found that spark, more often than not, it’s followed by a roaring fire.

Powerful recommendations

One of the recommendations in the Index states that ‘the best way to increase the pace of change in the level of financial and digital skills’ is with direct dialogue, either through face-to-face support or peer-to-peer guidance. I am very much on board with this. Good Things Foundation works with over 5,000 local centres across the UK – the Online Centres Network. We’re a big club with a shared vision; a social movement and every day the volunteers and tutors in these centres help people, like Daniel Blake (from the film “I, Daniel Blake”). They are genuine trusted faces in very local places, reaching those most in need.

Another recommendation is to widen the conversation – according to the Index 43% of people don’t know where to go for help to learn digital skills. To reach this 43%, it’s more important than ever for us all to work together. For example, Lloyds Banking Group staff can point their customers towards their local Online Centre to gain help.

Panel session

On the panel with Leigh Smyth and Sarah Porretta from Lloyds Banking Group, Sian Williams from Toynbee Hall and Karen Price from the Tech Partnerhship


I was delighted that we were a partner in reviewing and advising on the Index, and I was also delighted to be given the opportunity to speak at the launch. Lloyds Banking Group is a great partner of ours and they really do get it. They get that helping people to be digitally included helps people to have a better life, and it’s better for society, and for the bank too. They are exemplar partners, embedding digital inclusion right across their banking divisions.

Final musings

Everybody can help – Government, big companies, small organisations, individuals – but we need to do this quicker. We can all do more, everyone including Lloyds and Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network. If we all work harder as well as better together, we can make sure everyone everywhere is on the same page and we’ll be able to achieve so much more – even if it’s simply pointing digitally challenged friends or family towards their local Online Centre.

At next year’s Digital Index launch, we don’t want to be celebrating another 1 million people helped – we want to be celebrating 2 million, 3 million, 4 million more.

As Nick Williams from Lloyds Banking Group said: “We shouldn’t give up, we can’t give up, we won’t give up.”

The Digital Capital of Europe

I can’t stress enough the huge benefits of learning digital skills. We help so many people through the Online Centres Network to realise the importance of learning and developing this skill set but there are still some people who just don’t think it’s relevant. In fact, according to our Digital Nation infographic 2016, one of the most commonly perceived barriers to 50% of people getting online is that they think they don’t need digital. But the Tech Nation 2017 report, released last week, has a lot of stats in it demonstrating how vital tech is, not just to individuals but to the economy, and this really backs up my argument.

This is the third annual report of its type released by Tech City and it analyses how technology companies are performing across the country in individual areas. To produce the report they analysed data points, collected survey responses and incorporated insights from over 220 community partners across the UK, in order to get the clearest picture from those who know best – those working on the ground.

Some very interesting stats

The type of people discussed in the report have a lot more experience in the world of digital than the socially and digitally excluded people that we aim to reach within the Online Centres Network but I found the stats interesting as they show just how beneficial technology and the tech industry can be to individuals and to the economy as a whole, and there’s no reason why the people supported through the network can’t become a ‘techie’ themselves.

With 12.6 million digitally excluded people in the UK, I’d never thought of it as the digital capital of Europe but according to this report and these stats, that’s what we are. In the UK, digital tech investment stood at £6.8bn in 2016 (£28bn in the past 5 years), compared with other EU countries like France (£2.4bn in 2016) and Germany (£1.4bn in 2016).

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Image courtesy of Tech Nation 2017


Thinking about this kind of investment, surely that means the tech industry is giving back to the economy? It is. The annual contribution to the UK economy for tech workers is £103,000 per year – their gross added value is more than double that of the £50,000 contribution from those not working in technology.

With such huge benefits to the economy, individuals working in the tech industry are greatly rewarded. The average tech salary in the UK is £50,663 compared with non-tech jobs which stands at £35,155. This is 44% higher than the national average.

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Image courtesy of Tech Nation 2017


There’s more jobs in this area too. Between 2011 and 2015 the growth rate of digital jobs was more than double that of non-digital jobs and the report found that the UK has 1.64 million digital tech jobs in total; the digital economy is growing 50% faster than the wider economy.

But we have to make sure that we’re helping the tech industry to be all it possibly can be and that means tackling the problems they face head on. One problem which didn’t surprise me was highlighted in the report, stating that poor digital infrastructure is a business challenge for many (28% – over a quarter of survey respondents). This isn’t just in rural areas – the highest proportions were in large cities such as Glasgow, Dundee and Brighton.

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Image courtesy of Tech Nation 2017


Why start a career in tech?

I suppose many people would ask this question. If these stats aren’t enough to convince you, I really don’t know what is. The benefit of digital skills, not just to the economy, but to individuals as well are endless and working in the technology industry can be very rewarding, especially when you’re developing apps and systems which will benefit those who are most in need, everything from helping those with hearing loss to fighting deforestation.

I think a career in tech can be beneficial and rewarding in more ways than one. But don’t take my word for it – get out there, adopt your inner ‘techie’ and see what the world has to offer.

Read the full Tech Nation 2017 report here.

Creating a happy, healthy online population

Our Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England (2013 – 2016) was a monumental endeavour for Good Things Foundation, which, at the end of three years, produced some impressive outcomes. We beat our targets to reach 387,470 people with messages on digital health literacy and we trained 221,941 people to improve their digital health skills; through dedicated research we discovered so much about how the internet can benefit individuals in terms of managing their health and wellbeing; and we had the opportunity to develop innovative approaches through our pathfinder centres.

Since the project ended, we’ve been itching to do more in this field and that’s why I’m so happy that we’ve been awarded funding from NHS Digital for a second phase.

So will it be more of the same? The answer is no. This time we’ll be taking a different approach. We’re still looking to help socially disadvantaged people to improve their digital health skills, but this time it will be more focussed – we’ll be recruiting 20 ‘pathfinder’ centres over three years. These pathfinders will gather insight and design services, resources and communications that can be used across England to support the NHS’s drive for a digitally activated population, looking at the needs of people with different circumstances and healthcare requirements have, and tailor approaches to digital inclusion to suit them

I see it as embedding digital health literacy in the health sector, rather than embedding health into the digital inclusion sector.

In the first phase of the programme this pathfinder approach was something that really stood out and helped us to reach those who are most excluded – the hard-to-reach fruit from the top of the tree. Successful approaches were developed, adapted and tested – such as Age UK South Tyneside’s work with those suffering from dementia – to engage people from these target audiences.

This time around we will be looking to engage with specific groups – people who fall within one of the six clinical priority areas identified in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View and those people who fall into ‘furthest first’ groups, based on Good Things’ own research and data about the most digitally excluded groups. We will be asking pathfinders to identify an audience at which to target their intervention – this could be people with dementia, diabetes, poor mental health; they could be from different ethnic groups, it could be older people or it could be the unemployed, to name a few.

Of the people helped in the first phase of the programme 82% fall into at least one category of social exclusion, 60% are in receipt of means-tested benefits, 44% are disabled; 34% are unemployed; 19% are aged 60 or over and 16% are from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. When we look at our latest Digital Nation infographic, of the 12.6 million people who make up the offline population, 57% are aged 65 or over, 31% earn less than £9.5K per annum, 28% are unemployed and 26% are based in a rural location. These stats paint a very bleak but honest picture of the state of digital and social exclusion and the correlation with digital health skills in the UK. It’s so important for us to reach these people.

There were so many success stories from Phase One and I’m hoping we can gather even more in Phase Two, because this is about the people, after all. From Ken Brown, who used the internet to research his wife Val’s eating habits after she was diagnosed with dementia and lost her appetite, to 2 Millionth Learner Award winner Bertram Henry who got his life back on track by learning about computers and the internet after suffering a breakdown.


Bertram Henry receiving his Learning for Health award at the 2 Million Learner Awards in February

One of the Widening Digital Participation programme’s aims is to relieve pressure on NHS services and save the NHS money by encouraging people to do more independently – book Doctor’s appointments, order repeat prescriptions, look up symptoms to learn more about their conditions – but the great thing about it is that it helps people to become more confident and improve their lives. In phase one of the project, so many outcomes demonstrated these benefits to individuals. Here are a few key stats:

  • 52% of project beneficiaries strongly agreed or agreed that they feel less isolated or lonely as a result of learning digital skills.
  • 72% agreed that learning digital skills had improved their general self-confidence.
  • 51% said they used the internet to explore ways to improve mental health and wellbeing (eg. strategies for managing stress).

In Phase Two, we will make a significant impact to the number of people who are excluded from using digital as part of their healthcare. Our aim is to use the materials and insights developed by the pathfinders to engage 280,000 people in digital health literacy – each pathfinder will work with a small group of 50 to carry out in-depth user-research, user-testing and co-design to make sure the activities they are piloting meet the specified outcomes.

Organisationally, Good Things Foundation is really looking forward to working closely with NHS Digital on the project. We pride ourselves on being an open, flexible and collaborative organisation in all of our work and we firmly believe that this second phase of the project will not only change the lives of the thousands of people supported through it, but will change the landscape of digital inclusion in healthcare for many years to come.

The Digital Garage – not just for mechanics

Self employment is on the rise in the UK. According to recent research released by the Resolution Foundation, there are nearly 5 million self-employed workers in the UK today, with this rise in numbers contributing to almost half of the country’s growth in employment. Looking at this research, it’s clear there are many problems facing people who work for themselves, everything from employment rights and protection to lack of pension pots. I’m not saying there is a digital solution to these problems, far from it. But when I was reading about this new research it did get me thinking about the importance of digital for the UK’s 5 million self-employed people and how our The Digital Garage project with Google is helping us to reach them.

It was a pleasure for me to meet Dawn Shotton earlier in February when we hosted the 2 Millionth Learner Awards where Dawn was the winner of the Learning for my Business category. After 25 years working for the NHS, Dawn was determined to establish her own business as a freelance dietician. But Dawn only had very basic digital skills and struggled to establish the online presence her new business would need.

Thanks to the training she received at Online Centre Destinations@Saltburn – using Learn My Way at first then moving on to use The Digital Garage business resources – Dawn’s website is now stylish and professional, she has active social media channels, she’s taken on staff and volunteers and she has clients from across the globe – and she hasn’t looked back since.

Last year, we partnered with Google to bring the Digital Garage programme to the Online Centres Network and the people in their communities. From July 2016 to July 2017, we have committed to helping 10,000 people to improve their digital skills and their digital business skills.

We’re delivering this through 100 community organisations within the Online Centres Network, focussing particularly on small businesses, sole traders and people setting up businesses, supporting them to make the most of The Digital Garage resources.

The stats bit

Here comes the stats bit (you knew it was coming). According to Lloyds Banking Group’s UK Business Digital Index 2016, 62% of small businesses have all five Basic Digital Skills. Good news? Not totally. It means that there are 1.44m (38%) small businesses who don’t have the digital skills they need to succeed.

The Index also shows that there is a strong link between digital skills and organisational success. Nearly three in five small businesses (58%) report increased sales as one of the key advantages to using digital. This rises to 68% for start-ups.

The more digital the small business is, the more the stats paint a picture – the most digital small businesses are more than twice as likely to report increased success than the least digital (64%), with three in five of the most digital seeing a profit increase of more than 20%.

There is definitely a clear correlation here.

Whether the people we are supporting are doing something as simple as creating a business Facebook page or something more intricate like designing their own website, The Digital Garage is an essential resource, and I’m so happy that we’re running this project with them.

You can see updates here as the project continues and read our case studies too.

Go digital and go global

Yesterday, I attended a roundtable event, hosted by The New Statesman in association with Lloyds Banking Group, called SME Insights: Go Digital, Go Global. The purpose of the discussion was to explore how British businesses – SMEs in particular – can capitalise on overseas trading opportunities, especially with the looming prospect of Brexit.

I was very keen to attend because I think through Good Things Foundation projects involving SMEs and digital skills, such as our Digital Garage project with Google and our rural project with Prince’s Countryside Fund, we have a lot of insight to offer.

There were two discussion points that I was keen to capitalise on:

  • How critical is digital literacy to UK’s overall global competitive edge?
  • How do we motivate businesses to change their digital capability?

When we talk about digital innovation for SMEs, we need to recognise that there is a broad continuum. (Of course) not all SMEs are the same. Almost half don’t have a website so are very immature digitally, and others are digital first companies or what Nick Williams at Lloyds calls “born digital” small businesses.

This SME digital skills continuum looks a bit like this:

DIGITALLY IMMATURE (don’t have skills, confidence or awareness)

  • According to the Lloyds Digital Index, 1.4 million SMEs (38%) lack one or more of the basic digital skills
  • 49% of small businesses don’t have a website (Lloyds Digital Index)
  • 78% of sole traders invest no money in digital skills (Lloyds Digital Index).
DIGITALLY AWARE (have a website, have some skills)

  • Over half of small businesses (55%) accept payments online (Lloyds Digital Index).
DIGITALLY MATURE (have a website, use social media, staff are confident using digital technology)

  • 50% of sole traders have all five basic digital skills (Lloyds)
  • The most digital SMEs are more than twice as likely to report an increase in turnover that the least digital (64%) (Lloyds)
  • There is a growing emergence of social media as a key platform for small businesses to reach potential customers.
    • It’s an easier cheaper way to keep in touch with their customers with 38% reporting using social media to communicate with customers in 2016. This is up by 11% on the previous year.
DIGITALLY INNOVATIVE (either “born digital” or who have evolved to develop digital products or services for their customers)

Digital maturity and digital innovation can be demonstrated in a number of ways:

  • 58% of small businesses say increased sales is one of the advantages to using digital.
  • There was a lot of love in the room for The Cambridge Satchel Company and their global growth story.
  • 65% state that they use technology to cut their costs and increase efficiency.
  • And there’s the digital sector companies selling games online globally, or disrupting through digital.

There are two key points here:

  • You are much more likely to be digitally innovative if you have a team that understands and uses digital technology.
  • Digital innovation doesn’t always have to be complex or new – it’s really about doing things better. We also talked about charities, so one example of this digital innovation is where really simple tools connect people better. Take Streetlink, a very simple online referral service that enables people to report rough sleepers so that Streetlink can then alert local referral services and provide you with an update on progress.

Motivating Businesses to change their digital capability

The risks of not innovating are much greater. I told the roundtable that many customers expect to engage digitally and by not engaging them and not embedding digital within all aspects of service delivery, it’s much harder to reach them.

Innovation and frontline delivery have become two sides of the same coin; the challenge for small businesses is to continually consider how they can improve service delivery and embed digital technology in their strategies, and the challenge for us and other organisations like Lloyds Banking Group, is to make sure we’re finding ways to help them do that.

Going Global

Lloyds has got a great portal to take the pain out of exploring overseas market – their international trade portal.

Good Things ourselves is an SME and we’re now in the foothills of going global. We know first hand some of those barriers, but also we know that without digital we wouldn’t be doing it – making contacts via Twitter and email, and developing contacts via Skype, is clearly a very low risk and low investment way of starting out. There are still 4bn people who have never used the internet, many of whom are also extremely socially excluded, so there’s a big world out there. I’m hoping we’ll be able to support a small proportion of them to thrive in the digital world we all enjoy.