Unity Housing & 100% Digital Leeds

Unity Homes & Enterprise (Unity Housing Association) are a housing association supporting BME communities in Leeds while building sustainable neighbourhoods through provision of quality housing and social and employment opportunities. The fundamental goal of Unity Homes & Enterprise is to provide choice, while improving life opportunities and addressing inequalities. This provided an opportunity to work together, with the nature of 100% Digital Leeds being to address inequalities throughout Leeds in terms of digital inclusion, especially with minority groups and in economically-deprived areas of the city.

Our Digital Inclusion Coordinators first met with Unity back in September 2018 and crossed paths several times on a shared mission to bring basic digital skills to people in Leeds, since then the relationship has flourished.

In October 2018, with the help of our team, Unity joined the Online Centres Network and made a commitment to join the 100% Digital Leeds movement.  This was a real boost for their aspirations of providing digital support to their tenants as it gave them access to funding opportunities, training and further support. 

Unity now had increased knowhow and support, but they were lacking the equipment to be able to bring the benefits of getting online to their clients, so in November 2018 they joined our nationally-recognised tablet-lending scheme, borrowing five iPads to pilot with their members.  In order to give the rollout the best chance of succeeding, four of their staff completed Digital Champion training to gain knowledge and insight into how to overcome the various barriers to digital inclusion that their tenants may have.  

Overcoming Barriers

The first phase of our work together was now complete and Unity were ready to start delivering benefits to their members having put a plan in place to address each of the three main barriers to digital inclusion.

Skills/knowledge – Many people don’t have digital skills, they may have never used a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone and don’t know where to start.  Joining the Online Centres Network gave Unity tutors access to Learn My Way – an online learning platform which is easy to set-up on and gives beginners a thorough way of getting used to being online and practicing on a safe, secure and user-friendly site. 

Motivation – The digital champion training that Unity staff received talks about how to motivate people who say they have no interest in getting online.  There is so much you can do on the internet that often it’s a case of finding a hook that the individual can relate to, whether it’s keeping in touch with family, researching their hobbies or playing some games and having fun there is something for everyone online.  The Unity staff came away from the training enthused to help their members and 100% said it would be helpful in their work. 

Access – Unity were now equipped with five iPads that they could use with their customers.  Each of the iPads comes complete with 4G data that can be used anywhere so there’s no need to be connected to Wi-Fi.  Unity have the freedom to keep them at their HQ, let their outreach team look after them, or loan them out to customers who need more consistent practice. 

So everything was in place for the pilot, now for the real challenge of getting people engaged. 

Impact

Unity have been trialling different approaches to embedding digital into their current activities, mainly they have been using them in their Job Clubs, ESOL classes, and they have also been loaning the iPads to some members for longer periods if they don’t have enough time on site.  13 people so far have benefitted from being able to take one home, ranging from one-week to eight-weeks.  In total they have helped improve the basic digital skills of 41 people to date. 

Outreach Support Worker Kelly Jennings said:

“Having the iPads and help from 100% Digital Leeds has been great for Unity and our tenants.  Previously we’ve only had a few computers and some people can’t use them – the tablets have been very handy for people that can’t use computers, especially our older tenants.  They’ve been really useful to take out for initial assessments where we can book them on to our employment and skills sessions, or if they’d like to do Learn My Way we can agree a timescale and they can keep it for a few weeks.”

Kelly has been speaking to some of the users that have completed their tablet loans and was provided with excellent feedback on how getting online had helped them improve their lives:

“I borrowed one of the iPads for three weeks, I needed help with sending and receiving emails. At my initial appointment, I was shown how to use the iPad and how to log in to my email. After the first week, I could successfully send emails and even know how to send an attachment. I don’t learn well in groups and found that being at home and playing around I learnt more than I could have imagined.”Client A

“I have used the iPad to help my child with his homework. Since going to high school, more of his work is online and I do not have a computer at home. My son has shown me how to use the iPad and now I have purchased one for myself.  I love that I was able to borrow the iPad for a short period of time whilst I could save up and buy my own.”Client B

Going Forward

Unity have more plans in the pipeline to make the best of their new digital capabilities, starting a new ESOL course in September that runs for six months as well as diversifying classes to include new subjects such as customer services, giving their members more opportunities to gain qualifications to help secure employment. 

Unity are also hoping to provide support with the Home Office’s We Are Digital programme, assisting migrants who lack basic digital skills with completing online forms and uploading immigration documents.

“Working with 100% Digital Leeds has been a real boost for our organisation and we’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds.  We are now able to provide even more services and options for our tenants and to help them improve their health and wellbeing through getting online.  This approach has already seen excellent results in terms of improved confidence, enjoyment, reduced isolation and job opportunities, and we look forward to empowering more of our customers to take their first steps into digital.” Kelly Jennings, Outreach Support Worker

If you would like your organisation to get involved with the 100% Digital Leeds movement to provide basic digital skills to residents, please get in touch