Get Online Week – when anything can happen

Get Online Week is unpredictable. I saw endless amounts digital inclusion activity, both in person and online, and met a lot of inspiring and wonderful people. Some things I expected – meeting socially excluded learners, meeting the great volunteers who work so hard, and seeing the different things our community partners have to offer – but some things were unexpected and pleasant surprises – such as the popularity of our City and Guilds Online Basics qualification and the success of Exeter Library’s Fab Lab. All in all, it was a wonderfully successful week for me, my team and our vast network of community partners.

The Tinder Foundation team visited almost every corner of the UK. I visited an event in Sheffield at Longley 4G, and went down to Exeter to visit two centres, St Loyes and St Sidwell’s, as well as Exeter Library. I had a very different experience in all of them and it really opened my eyes to the reality of digital and social exclusion and the need for digital equality.

Team work

In an ideal world I’d have been able to visit all the Get Online Week events but unfortunately that’s not possible for one woman to do in seven days, so the Tinder Foundation team were my little helpers for the week and went out in their masses to visit all kinds of centres in different parts of the country.

I can’t stop shouting about the work we’re doing with libraries at the moment – it’s a subject that’s really close to my heart – and lots of my colleagues managed to pay visits to different libraries. Our Finance Director, Margaret, went to Oxford Library to say hello and see what they’re up to; our Head of Digital, James, popped along to Goldthorpe Library to help people try out different devices for getting online; and one of our newest additions to the team, our Research Intern, Sharon (who’s working very hard on our Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund project) visited Chesterfield Library to interview one of their learners for the project. This is just to name a few…

Margaret GOLW visit

Margaret really enjoyed her visit to Oxford Library

Some of us visited familiar haunts – our Senior Learning and Development Coordinator, Alison, went to Destinations@Saltburn for their employment-focussed event – and some of us went to completely new locations – Wider Network Manager, Caroline, visited our new partners, Remploy, in Sunderland to see how they’re getting on.

Some of us went further afield. Our Director of Business and Innovation, Adam, went all the way down to Somerset Media Solutions in Chard for their brilliantly named ‘TechNOphobia’ event, while our Content Marketing Officer, Sam, went to Prestonpans just outside of Edinburgh for their library’s employment drop-in session – and our Head of Marketing, Communications and Bids, Anna, went to Barrow Libraries to see their Digital Surgery with local MP, John Woodcock, in action. She was very impressed with the event, which around 40 people attended.

Learners

Some of the wonderful people Adam met at Somerset Media Solutions

Even the Ministers were getting involved

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the fun. I was thrilled to see Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, out and about, visiting Erith Park in Bexley, part of housing association, Orbit Group. I think it’s important for the government to acknowledge digital inclusion, after all, they are the ones who can make the big things happen, and the fact that Ed took the time to get involved with our campaign was wonderful.

He showed his support by taking part in their innovative Walk the Talk tour which helps build community engagement through the use of a ‘digital suitcase’. Residents can get involved by passing the suitcase from person to person and using an old-fashioned telephone inside to record stories.

Orbit Group are also doing other wonderful things. The residents said that they love where they live but find it difficult to get to know their neighbours, so interactive screens have been set up in stairwells for neighbours to take selfies, leave messages and introduce themselves to kick-start interactions with their future friends.

They’re doing some really great and innovative work in the field of digital and this was recognised by the Minister: “The work being done in Erith Park is brilliant and it’s great to see Bexley taking part in the nationwide Get Online Week initiative. Getting online and embracing new technology is becoming more and more important in this digital age, and I congratulate all involved in this innovative scheme aimed at using technology to build community engagement.”

12-10-2015 Picture shows : Ed Vaizey MP tours new development Erith Park in Kent. Carl Fox 07966 349 562 www.carlfoxphoto.com

Ed Vaizey MP tours new development Erith Park in Kent. Image courtesy of Carl Fox (www.carlfoxphoto.com) via Digital By Default News

Dare devils

To top off the week, in a big end of campaign twist, our Director of Business and Innovation, Adam, along with TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding and Go ON UK’s Rachel Neaman, abseiled 120ft down TalkTalk’s Shepherd’s Bush office – all in the name of digital inclusion.

I applaud their bravery and the fact that the promise of the Get Online Week abseil encouraged hundreds of TalkTalk employees to share their digital skills as volunteers at local UK online centres. A big pat on the back to all!

Adam gets ready for the abseil

Adam gets ready for the abseil

I think this has been one of our most successful and eventful Get Online Weeks to date. The #GOLW15 hashtag was used almost 2400 times over the week and our social media campaign, #EasierOnline, almost 1200 times. On top of that #getonlineweek was used almost 900 times. I really enjoyed seeing all your pictures and posts. Here are a few of my favourites below:

Thank you to everyone who posted on Twitter and Facebook

Thank you to everyone who posted on Twitter and Facebook

Next year’s campaign will be our ten-year anniversary, so we’ll be aiming to make that our biggest and best Get Online Week yet, but if this year is anything to go by it’s going to be a hard one to beat. Maybe I should encourage the Tinder Foundation team to do a Get Online Week skydive…

Another great (and informative) Get Online Week day

Wednesday’s theme was all about affordable access for people who just don’t have the money to spend on equipment and broadband at home. Plus the value of qualifications, and the huge contribution of volunteers. A great Get Online Week day.

I was in sunny Exeter and made three visits to three of our partners, who I think represent three aspects of the diverse network we’re working with.

St Loyes

My first stop was St Loyes, a well established charity with a real focus on hard-to-reach people – be that unemployed, people with disabilities, people who are housebound. I was impressed at their breadth of delivery and, in particular, how they support housebound people and are planning more distance learning support for people living in rural areas around Devon using Learn My Way. St Loyes also talked to me about the importance of the Online Basics City & Guilds Qualification from Tinder Foundation as the first qualification for many people, and the importance of having a qualification on your CV when looking for jobs.

St Sidwell’s

Next, I visited St Sidwell’s Centre, a great community centre with a buzzing cafe, and a room full to bursting with people learning English as a second language, all in the middle of conversational practice.

St Sidwells

Lots of co-location, the English class was run by a partner organisation; the job club this afternoon is supported by the YMCA, and the Recovery College was there with a Recovery Library and craft activities for mental wellbeing. The place was clearly a safe space for anyone who needs it, and volunteering as a pathway to developing skills and social interaction was key.

I met Pauline a volunteer who had so many different volunteering jobs I couldn’t keep track; although she’s a volunteer she is leading the Learn My Way delivery. We had a great conversation about how to use basic digital skills as a platform for resilience for life: be it employability, coping with money, improving health, or combatting isolation. As part of that springboard for more resilience, Pauline thinks the Online Basics City & Guilds Qualification is important to show future employers the validity of what always starts as very informal and personalised learning. Pauline is going to charge learners who can afford it to take the qualification, and will provide bursaries for those who can’t – she says this will show everyone that this qualification has a value.

A vicious cycle

Both of these centres said that they had lots of users who just didn’t have the money to buy a laptop/tablet or broadband. There was the dreadful and now common story of people coming to them having been sanctioned for not using the internet and the Universal Jobmatch service. It feels like a vicious cycle. If people don’t have the money to buy access to the internet then they don’t practice the basic digital skills they gain from Learn My Way and other tools. If they don’t practice the skills then they don’t become digitally literate and confident. And in some cases this leads to them not being online enough to apply for enough jobs, and then they’re sanctioned so they don’t have any money. Or they can’t apply for the right job at the right moment and don’t have work so they don’t have any money. We need to do something about this.

Exeter Library

My afternoon was quite different

I visited the lovely Exeter Library on the day they were put onto the Monopoly Board for Exeter – launched yesterday by Mr Monopoly. It’s a lovely, bright and welcoming space (that makes four so far this week), and there were lots of people doing lots of different things. The outside is a austere 50s design but inside the recent refurbishment entices people into the library – the business zone, the wonderful children’s zone, the teen zone complete with PS4 (banned for use by people aged 20+), and the Fab Lab.

I met Jim in the Fab Lab – a man in his 60s who a month ago had never touched a computer, and during that month he’s been motivated to learn 3D drawing to print something on the 3D printer. He showed me his prototype – a badge with his name on it. To be honest I’d never seen a ‘fab lab’ so busy and I doubted its wider appeal to people with no or low digital skills, but Jim showed me that with the right leadership and the right promotion a ‘fab lab’ definitely has a place in the wider digital offer, even for people just starting out on computers. I wanted to take Jim’s photo but he didn’t want me to, unfortunately.

We need equality in this digital world

Of course we need places – such as libraries – that can afford machines like 3D printers and laser cutters. But the sad reality that there are so many people who cannot afford a cheap tablet or refurbished laptop, nor a broadband connection, is something we need to do something about if we’re really going to get equality in this digital world.

It was a volunteer who was helping Jim one-to-one to learn how to use a computer and 3D drawing. It was a volunteer who showed me around the Fab Lab, and explained all the machines to me. It was a volunteer – Pauline – who explained how St Sitwell’s uses the internet to help people to build their resilience.

I’m so pleased that Get Online Week has made me go out and meet so many committed and interesting people. One more visit today (Thursday) after talking to people in the housing sector about the importance of digital inclusion.

#EasierOnline

There has been even more brilliant additions. Who’d have thought creating props and practicing face painting could be made easier online? Keep them coming – I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

GOLW15 Wednesday

A touching trip to Longley 4G

This morning I went to my first Get Online Week event of 2015 at Longley 4G Community Centre in Sheffield. It was a truly touching and enlightening experience.

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There were a lot of people there who regularly attend the centre. People of different ages, from different backgrounds but for many of them the story was the same: they were unemployed and struggling to find work.

It was heartbreaking to hear some of their stories. The gentleman with me in the picture below is called Phillip. He is in his early 60s and suffers some health issues. He worked the same job for 25 years, a job which he enjoyed, and unfortunately was made redundant from. Since coming to Longley 4G he’s been applying for several jobs each week, sometimes as many as 20, but he never hears anything back.

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Stories like this are the reason why we do what we do. Get Online Week is about having fun, a chat and a cup of tea, but it’s really about informal events that are welcoming to everyone – including those with very real challenges, such as unemployment. Campaigns like Get Online Week highlight these issues and, more importantly, encourage people to start their journey to a more positive future – to really grab hold of what they want.

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To the learners and team at Longley 4G, thank you so much for having me today and for telling me your stories. Not only did I enjoy meeting you all and spending time in your company, but it also made me more determined than ever to make sure everyone has access to equal opportunities in life.

#EasierOnline

Your pictures have been flooding in. You’re all so creative, and I didn’t know there were so many things that can be made much simpler by using the internet. Here are some of my favourites from the past 24 hours:

GOLW15 Tuesday

I’m looking forward to seeing even more of your #EasierOnline pictures posted on social media. Don’t forget to post pictures of your events too using the #GOLW15 hashtag. I’m visiting two centres tomorrow – St Loyes and St Sitwell Centre – and Exeter Library to meet everyone there, including Ciara Eastell, whom I mentioned in my blog yesterday. I cannot wait!

Get Online Week begins…

I woke up this morning feeling really upbeat about the week ahead, because today is the start of our ninth annual Get Online Week and there’s lots of exciting things happening all across the country.

I cannot believe our big digital inclusion campaign is in it’s ninth year already – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? And speaking of fun, I have a busy calendar of events lined up, that I can’t wait to get started on. This is what I have planned so far:

Helen's calendar1

I love visiting our network of community partners and the best thing about Get Online Week is that it gives me the perfect excuse to spend an entire week out of the office meeting centre staff, volunteers, and learners.

One event that I’m particularly looking forward to is Wednesday’s trip to Exeter Library. I am a big fan of libraries (my colleagues here at Tinder Foundation can vouch for that) and I firmly believe that they play a very important role in communities across the UK. In order to support libraries to deliver digital inclusion activity, we recently launched a new project called the Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund, where we awarded funding to sixteen libraries to deliver innovative activities with the aim of reducing digital exclusion in their communities.

The project is giving us a great opportunity to work with libraries and I believe it will do a fantastic job raising awareness of the great work that they do. For me and my team, Get Online Week is the perfect excuse to go out and visit a library. I am certainly looking forward to mine, as I’ll be meeting up with Ciara Eastell the President of the Society of Chief Librarians and the Head of Libraries, Culture & Heritage for Devon County Council. You can be rest assured that I will be discussing all the great work being done in libraries, across the UK online centres network and beyond.

As usual one of the biggest parts of our campaign is social media. Anything you do this week that’s even slightly Get Online Week-related, I want to see it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whichever channel it is that you use. Post it with the hashtag #GOLW15 and we’re guaranteed to see it.

Last week I posted my #EasierOnline photo too. I’m sure you managed to see it, but if not I’ve posted it here below, along with a couple of others from my team.

GOLW15

As part of the campaign we’re asking everyone to get involved and post a picture on social media of something that’s much easier online. Whether that’s booking your cinema ticket, buying pet food, catching up on TV shows or chatting with family abroad; if it’s easier online, post it with the hashtag for the whole world to see.

I’ll be blogging about my visits to fill you in on my experiences. I’ll let you know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, and my thoughts on the campaign so far. I’m off to Longley 4G here in Sheffield tomorrow, and I cannot wait.

Until then…Happy Get Online Week!