In April 2023 100% Digital Leeds appointed a Digital Inclusion Officer to build community capacity to support digital inclusion for improved health participation in the York Road Local Care Partnership (LCP) area, with the support of NHS Health Inequalities Funding.
The role is hosted by The Old Fire Station and matrix managed by 100% Digital Leeds, using our community-based approach to improve and increase digital inclusion support to meet the needs of local residents.
After five months of having a Digital Inclusion Officer working across the area, organisations are more effectively working together to provide support for local residents looking to improve their digital skills and confidence. The Old Fire Station is becoming a place where residents across the area feel they can visit to get support to get online.
“I come to The Old Fire Station every Thursday for help using my new phone. I go to Burmantofts Senior Action on a Monday too, so I get two lessons each week. I’ve learnt lots about how to get the most out of WhatsApp. This has meant I can now video call my son who lives in America. In the past I’ve been limited to short phone calls which used to cost me a fortune”Terry, service user of The Old Fire Station and Burmantofts Senior Action.
Increasing support for digital inclusion at The Old Fire Station
Digital drop-in sessions
Since June, the Digital Inclusion Officer has been running weekly digital drop-in sessions which have been very well attended by a wide selection of people needing a bit of advice. The sessions take place every Thursday, from 10am until 1pm in the Old Fire Station’s café area. The sessions attract both those who attend week-on-week to develop their digital skills and those who drop by on a one-off basis to resolve an issue they’re having with their device.
Attendees can bring their own devices or there are laptops on hand for those without a device. Anyone struggling with connectivity can use the centre’s free wifi or be gifted a free data SIM via the National Databank.
Being a regular feature in the café area of the Old Fire Station has helped to raise the profile of the available support to everyone who uses the space. Seeing a group of people eager to learn more about digital has been effective in encouraging others to come forward, have a friendly chat, and start to make sense of areas of technology which are causing confusion.
Signposting from other organisations working out of the Old Fire Station building
The Old Fire Station is home to five other community organisations plus a whole host of other services. One of the greatest successes is how well the digital support is being accessed by the all of the centre’s visitors. The Digital Inclusion Officer has focussed on ensuring the organisations are all aware of the support available to them and their service users, complementing the support those organisations already offer.
“I was getting help from Gipsil at the Old Fire Station. I want to get some qualifications and apply for jobs but it’s all online nowadays and my very old phone was broken. Gipsil managed to get me a new phone and then with the Digital Inclusion Officer’s help I got a free data SIM card and some lessons on how to use my new phone. Without the help of both Chris and Gipsil I would have had no chance with moving my life forwards”Netta, a service user of Gipsil and The Old Fire Station
The People’s Pantry and Clothing Rebellion also operate out of the Old Fire Station on a Thursday offering pre-loved clothes and low cost foods. With the cost-of-living crisis hitting people hard, service users have been signposted to the Digital Inclusion Officer, who has then been able to provide free data SIM cards to those who are struggling financially.
The Leeds City Council Mobile Community Hub visits The Old Fire Station weekly, allowing for greater cross-referral opportunities. The Mobile Community Hub has wifi and laptops available for people to use, plus two members of staff on hand to support people with council queries and transactions, managing their benefits, and completing online forms.
Increasing the capacity of organisations in the York Road area to support digital inclusion
With extra funding the organisations in the York Road area have been able to expand their operations and reach. Through collaborations with corporate partners, they have sourced more devices to offer to their services users and provide more capacity in terms of staffing hours in order to strengthen the support available.
The Digital Inclusion Officer has been working to increase the number of organisations offering digital inclusion support. Recently St Vincent’s has been added to the list of Digital Health Hubs in the area, joining organisations such as Burmantofts Senior Action and Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours. Offering a safe space, devices to use and with friendly advice on hand if needed, St Vincent’s is a very welcome addition to the network. They run a digital drop-in session every Wednesday from 10am until 12.00 but people can visit and use their IT facilities at any time the centre is open.
Work is continuing with several other local organisations to support them with funding bids so that they too can become part of this flourishing network focussed entirely on improving the well-being of local communities.
Understanding the digital inclusion needs of the local community
The Digital Inclusion Officer has been involved in a number of projects aimed at better understanding the digital inclusion needs of the local community.
Working with Ahead Partnership, the Old Fire Station hosted a series of workshops as part of the Growing Talent Digital Leeds programme. The event brought together thirty students from two local secondary schools to hear how local young people are digitally excluded.
Service users of the Old Fire Station were also invited to attend a focus group conducted by the Centre for Social Justice exploring the barriers people on low incomes face to engaging with digital, from costs, to ease of use, to poor data coverage.
Working closely with the local Primary Care Network teams, discussions discovered a need for further assistance for those who are frail and unable to physically go to the community organisations running digital sessions. Work is currently being conducted to enable digital sessions to be run in communal rooms in local Housing Leeds tower blocks for the benefit of social housing tenants. With initial support provided by the Digital Inclusion Officer, the aim is that these sessions will ultimately be peer-led with extra support provided if necessary.
Digital inclusion is becoming more and more important and it’s vital that the work at the Old Fire Station and the network of community organisations continues so that people aren’t left behind, missing out on the important services which are all increasing their online presence. If you would like to discuss enhancing your organisation’s digital inclusion offer in the York Road area and feel you would benefit from support, then please contact Chris Bamber at Chris@TheOldFireStationGipton.org.uk