Be Online Stay Safe (BOSS)

The Be Online and Stay Safe (BOSS) project was a partnership between Leeds Older People’s Forum and 100% Digital Leeds, delivered between March and December 2023. BOSS was developed to address the challenges faced by older people in diverse communities to staying safe online, aligning with the goals outlined in the DCMS Online Media Literacy Strategy. The project was funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Fund (DSIT) formerly known as DCMS Media Literacy Programme Fund. The project supported 112 older people across five community organisations, exceeding the initial target of 100. All resources produced are available at BOSS Resources and Assessments.

“I am building confidence and doing things I never thought I would do… I knew hardly anything before these sessions and was scared of putting things on my phone. Now I can order medicine, make appointments, send photos as an attachment, I am practising emails, I can use an app to see when the buses are coming. I was worried about ordering online before, but I have started to do this with ones I can trust and got the apps. I am going to do the Tesco one next.”

Shiva, BOSS participant.

Working in partnership

The project was led by Leeds Older People’s Forum, a network of third sector organisations working with and for older people. Leeds Older People’s Forum co-facilitate the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds.

Leeds Older People’s Forum recruited a Digital Inclusion Coordinator to drive and deliver BOSS. This involved:

  • Delivering face-to-face digital skills support sessions, tailored to the needs of each partner’s service users.
  • Exploring the use of digital tools such as Google Translate to overcome additional barriers faced by diverse communities.
  • Developing tools and resources to support others to deliver skills sessions.
  • Adopting a ‘train the trainer’ approach with delivery partners, to support staff and volunteers to feel more confident running sessions themselves.

Leeds Older People’s Forum partnered with five community organisations working with diverse communities within the 10% most deprived areas of the city:

100% Digital Leeds supported the delivery partners to develop their digital inclusion support offers alongside BOSS. This included:

  • Delivering digital inclusion awareness workshops with staff, to better understand the digital inclusion needs of the communities and the right support to put in place.
  • Supporting organisations to access additional resource to support digital inclusion, such as joining the National Databank to access SIMs with free 4G data to gift to members struggling with data poverty.
  •  Supporting organisations to embed digital skills support into their existing services going forward.

Project objectives

BOSS focussed on supporting older people more likely to face additional barriers to digital inclusion and media literacy, including cultural, language, and literacy barriers. The project worked to empower older people more susceptible to online scams to feel more comfortable and confident navigating the online world. The project supported older people who are currently not online due to lack of confidence and skills as well as those who are already online but who may not be aware of online safety measures.

The key objectives were:

  • To increase older people’s confidence and digital skills in using digital technology.
  • To enhance older people’s knowledge and skills in key media literacy areas.
  • To strengthen the capacity of organisations to provide media literacy support.
  • To support older people to develop an understanding of the risks and benefits of engaging with others online.

Leeds Older People’s Forum worked with the delivery partners to co-design skills sessions to work towards achieving these objectives, taking a holistic approach to further understand the needs across each organisation. 

Developing the approach

Leeds Older People’s Forum adopted a person-centred approach, introducing older people to BOSS through existing activities, building the sessions into their existing services.

Trusted people and spaces

The chosen delivery partners had existing trusted relationships with their members so were well prepared to understand and meet their needs. They had an existing understanding of additional barriers people may face. People were more willing to engage in the sessions if they were held in familiar community settings, so ensuring the learning environment was a safe, recognisable, comfortable space was a priority. The sessions were promoted to members by workers with whom they had an existing relationship. Feedback from participant’s highlighted the importance of feeling at ease, that they were comfortable to ask questions, and that they enjoyed the sessions in a comfortable setting. The Digital Inclusion Coordinator at Leeds Older People’s Forum received positive feedback on her kind, patient, and approachable demeanour, which meant people kept returning to the sessions each week.

Social elements

Leeds Older People’s Forum built a social aspect into the sessions. This attracted older people who appreciated the informal, interactive learning environment over a traditional classroom setting, helping with reducing further barriers and increasing confidence. Interactive and offline activities were included and discussion encouraged, embracing a blended approach. Incorporating refreshments and time for discussion into the sessions gave them a social feel.

Digital skills assessments

Leeds Older People’s Forum developed a skills assessment to identify the needs. This enabled a deeper understanding of the support needed by individuals and their different digital skill levels, supporting the development of the sessions.

Supporting older people with low-level digital skills highlighted the importance of starting with basic digital literacy, such as setting up email accounts and using search engines, before advancing to more complex topics like digital media literacy and online safety. This enabled people to build foundation digital skills and confidence before exploring more advanced themes.

Games and quizzes

Building online games into the sessions helped keep people engaged, boosted confidence, and sparked enjoyment from learning new skills. Quizzes were developed to gather participant feedback. Price comparisons and product reviews were also popular in maintaining engagement and learning.

Translation tools

Most of the older people attending the sessions were from ethnic minority backgrounds and had English as an additional language. Having cultural references within sessions that members could connect with was a useful hook to help improve engagement and solidify learning. Building the use of translation tools such as Google Translate into the sessions helped to make the sessions more accessible. This also left learners with the ability to use such tools going forward, to great personal benefit.

Smaller group sizes

Staff working at community organisations faced some challenges to delivering the sessions due to varying digital skill levels and language barriers. This highlighted the need to adapt the sessions, often working in small groups or one-to-one rather than in one large group. This led to the need for extra staff and volunteers to support the sessions. Peer support was effective in encouraging further participation and maintaining an informal atmosphere,  and empowering participants to share their own digital skills.


The final part of the course was giving out certificates to celebrate the participants’ achievements. These certificates became as important as the workbooks, and everyone wanted one.

Developing the sessions

During the first two months Leeds Older People’s Forum and the delivery partners tried different ways of delivering the sessions then gathered participant feedback. From this process six core sessions were developed focusing on key themes:

  • Phone settings.
  • Sending and receiving emails.
  • Internet searching.
  • Managing your health online.
  • Media literacy online safety.
  • How to use translation apps.

These sessions were turned into workbooks that could be printed and given to participants to practise at home. Printed session plans were also used to support the organisations to continue delivering these sessions beyond the project end date.

“I feel that we have tested and tried lots of different methods to deliver BOSS and now we have streamlined the process and been able to concentrate on what has worked best to meet the need of members. I will be using these materials in my sessions in future.”

Anne Pearce, Digital Lead, Leeds Irish Health and Homes.

Leeds Older People’s Forum then adapted further sessions to prioritise practical digital skills support such as internet searching, opening links, and uploading photos. They then built on these skills in further sessions such as online shopping, online safety, media literacy, and health literacy.

“I have taught many people on this course and was so pleased when a learner told me proudly that he had booked his hospital appointment using an NHS link. Prior to the course he was afraid to open links on his phone and would have to wait for his son to visit to do it for him. He was so happy that he could do this independently himself within the session.”

Samantha Haggart, Digital Inclusion Coordinator, Leeds Older People’s Forum.

All resources produced are available at BOSS Resources and Assessments.

Overcoming additional barriers

Lack of confidence, and fear of the unknown

Leeds Older People’s Forum and the delivery partners were careful not to overwhelm participants. They offered bite size themed taster sessions to encourage people with really low skills and confidence, and they simplified and scaled back sessions as needed. They invited external speakers, such as Virgin Money, to discuss digital safety in a practical way.

English as an additional language

Involving the delivery partners’ staff or volunteers who spoke the same language as the learners helped to reduce barriers for those with English as an additional language. Translating the workbooks and using digital translating tools made the sessions more accessible. This was essential in supporting people to overcome their initial fears of digital technology.  Learners appreciated the supportive environment with familiar peers and staff members who spoke their language. They reported that it helped to boost their confidence to ask questions without feeling embarrassed.

“If a service user got a letter from the NHS, they could use Google Translate to read it in their own language. It could even read the letter out loud for them if they had trouble reading it. This was a big success!”

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

Next Steps

Leeds Older People’s Forum commissioned an external evaluation for BOSS. The Be Online Stay Safe Final Report found that BOSS has been successful in achieving positive outcomes and impacts for older people, including those with low digital skills who have been able to apply their learning to stay safe online. The programme has also helped delivery partners to build capacity to continue applying what they have learned, particularly in terms of literacy knowledge and embedding digital support across their services.

 To continue to enhance BOSS, suggestions in the final report have been made to:

  • Define digital media literacy.
  • Explore funding options to strengthen capacity.
  • Encourage quick wins through activities to promote online safety.
  • Share good practices.
  • Capture the impact for future funding applications.
  • Identify any opportunities.

Applying these suggestions will ensure the BOSS workbooks and resources can be used successfully when organisations are delivering online digital literacy sessions in future. 

Feedback from organisations evidenced a need for more volunteers to provide digital support within future sessions, particularly for those with very low skills or cognitive impairments, who benefited from one-to-one support. To meet the demand for more sessions the organisations are looking to recruit and train more volunteers to build capacity.

Using the resources across the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network

The ambition is for BOSS to connect delivery partners with the city-wide Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network, sharing the BOSS learning and resources across the network to enable more organisations to deliver and adapt the content.

All of the BOSS resources, including workbooks, session plans and YouTube videos have been shared on Leeds Older People’s Forum website and are available in the 100% Digital Leeds Older People’s Google Drive. There will also be a toolkit developed, which focuses on top tips for delivering digital media literacy for older people using the learning from BOSS. Once this toolkit is finalised it will be shared widely.

The project resources will be shared at the next Older People’s Digital Inclusion network on 25 July. Contact us if you would like to attend or would like more information. If you would like more information on the BOSS project, please contact