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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.