Background

To support the third sector health and wellbeing response to COVID-19, the Leeds City Digital Partnerships team worked closely with Forum Central and 100% Digital Leeds to design and launch a grants fund: COVID-19 Fund Supporting Third Sector Health and Wellbeing Response to COVID-19.

Using its convening powers to bring together funders from different sectors, the Leeds City Digital Partnerships team secured financial contributions that created a grant fund of circa £100,000.

The premise behind the grants fund was to enable organisations to use digital solutions to work more effectively in lockdown or to directly support their service users by providing data packages or equipment. The fund was aimed at organisations supporting health needs with a particular focus on Forum Central’s Communities of Interest identified as being most at risk during the pandemic.

In a further example of the Leeds City Digital Partnerships team using its role to support the third sector, some organisations applied for funding to buy laptops for their staff to work from home. Instead, the Council bought 50 laptops at a more competitive rate and gifted them to the organisations, making the fund more cost-effective and enabling more organisations to benefit.

With many peer support groups, Neighbourhood Network schemes and other community organisations suspending their face-to-face activities, lockdown put digitally excluded people at further risk of social isolation as neither the organisations nor their service users were equipped for the sudden shift in operating model.

The Third Sector Leeds Resilience Survey noted that 77% of third sector organisations said digital exclusion has been an issue for the audiences they work with during this time.

In addition to supporting the city’s efforts in relation to the response to the pandemic, this work meets one of the Leeds City Digital Partnerships Team’s key strategic priorities for 2020-21, which is to increase the digital robustness of third sector partners in the health and care system. All of the organisations with bids which matched the application criteria will have been either funded or provided with equipment. Provisions were made to speed up the payment process in order to urgently get the funds to small groups without any available reserves.

The 100% Digital Leeds team implemented an online application process for the grants and assessed applications on a first come, first served basis. Some organisations received funding within two days of the fund being launched.

Around 100 organisations, and the people they support, will benefit from this grant fund. Evidence of the impact of this funding is outlined in the case studies and quotes below.

Headline Statistics

  • 150 funding applications were received, totalling over £130,000
  • A funding pool of approximately £100,000 was created thanks to contributions from the Better Care Fund, Forum Central, Leeds Community Foundation, and BT
  • Over £58K was provided in direct grant funding across 68 organisations
  • Equipment purchased by DIS was provided to over 30 organisations
  • Predominantly, bids were made to either purchase equipment to enable staff to work remotely from home, or to provide equipment directly to service users in the form of phones, data packages, or tablets

Feedback from funded organisations

Leeds Asylum Seeker Support Network

“Asylum seekers living in Home Office accommodation do not have access to Wi-Fi.  The Home Office allocates asylum seekers £3 a week for communications – a device and a pay-as-you-go sim card with calls and data.  Usually this would be supplemented by utilising free community Wi-Fi in council buildings, shopping centres, and fast food outlets – but access has been limited during lockdown.

Government support for asylum seekers comes via Migrant Help, an online platform and telephone call centre, making help and advice inaccessible for those without a device and credit for calls and connectivity.  Many asylum seekers do not even have televisions.  Before the pandemic asylum seekers in this position would have been able to access support locally through migrant third sector organisations like LASSN, PAFRAS, RETAS, but lockdown has caused all of these organisations to close their doors. 

All of these circumstances mean people have not been able to access reliable essential information about, among other things, how to stay safe during the pandemic.  This is particularly worrying given that we now know that people who are black or other ethnic minority backgrounds are more at risk of dying from COVID-19.  On top of this, refugees and asylum seekers are more likely to be living with long term physical and mental health conditions, making them further at risk of adverse effects from COVID-19.

LASSN have addressed this essential need for connectivity by providing refugees and asylum seekers with phone credit.  First £5/month and more recently £10/month, from LASSN’s own resource and to the organisation’s direct service users.  Taking a collaborative approach has made it possible for LASSN to extend this offer to all asylum seekers in the city:

  • £1,000 from a successful application to the 100% Digital Leeds grants fund and £3,500 repurposed funds from West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner was used to purchase MiFi dongles.
  • DIS wiped and donated 80 reconditioned smartphones which allowed devices to be gifted to those who do not own a device with the capacity to access the internet.
  • Solidaritech have donated laptops and other devices to support households with children.
  • Each sim/MiFi dongle provides people with three months of data and all equipment is gifted to the beneficiaries.
  • The city’s migrant third sector has worked to identify families without connectivity and refer them to LASSN.

With this approach LASSN have provided over 100 households with internet access.  Households are encouraged to share their connectivity within the household and externally where possible, making sure that the maximum number of people benefit from the scheme.

Digital skills support has also been an issue, and engaging with new ways of organisational delivery such as Zoom has been a challenge for all involved, including organisational staff and volunteers.  The sector has come together to overcome this barrier too, with organisations creating and sharing support materials in different languages, working together to improve digital literacy for all.

Leeds has an excellent Wi-Fi network but only some people can access it, making those who can afford it more able to access the information and services we all need to keep ourselves and our families safe.  Can internet access be made more inclusive?  Can we work with corporate partners to try and make things fairer?  Can we help LASSN to be able to spend their time and resources on supporting people to claim asylum rather than supporting them to access essential services like Wi-Fi?”

Jon Beech, Director Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network

Touchstone

“The mobile phone purchased for a client literally transformed my client’s world overnight. I’d been working with a vulnerable, young woman with her small baby. This client speaks no English, has no friends, no TV, no Internet, no books, no possessions and severe mental health problems. Since lockdown, the client had been staring at four blank walls and was spiralling deeper into depression. Much of what we encourage people to do to get better is to connect with the outside world. Unfortunately this was something my client was unable to do for safety reasons. Purchasing the phone with internet service therefore was critical in making those outside connections. Since this point the lives of both her and her baby have been enriched, and although there is a very long way to go, there has been a significant and positive mood increase since the phone arrived. Being able to offer this gift not only assisted their lives, but made the therapeutic process much easier and more successful, enabling the client to stay engaged within the therapy. Hopefully this feedback demonstrates the significance and importance of such a grant and shows what a little money can do to better an individual’s life.”

Barca-Leeds

This grant has allowed us to purchase approximately 40 new mobile phones, top ups, chargers and mobile data.

At Barca-Leeds we work with some of the most complex and vulnerable people in the city across a range of our projects. Much of our work is conducted face to face, engaging with people to encourage and support them to access the services they need including drug and alcohol treatment, physical and mental health support and housing support services.

Going into lockdown meant that we would lose contact with many of our clients as we were unable to give the same level of direct contact that we would normally provide. From the outset we aimed to ensure that we had at least telephone contact with people, but many of our clients did not have access to a mobile phone, for various reasons.

Being able to provide a phone to every client has been invaluable and is literally a lifeline for some people. There has been instances where phones are lost, stolen or sold! And we have had to monitor this but in the main our clients have held on to them and been able to maintain regular contact with our services.

Having the phones has enabled clients to be able to be contacted to resolve housing issues, to take ownership of their own health matters i.e. speak to their GP’s themselves, arrange a change of pharmacy for a prescription. More importantly it ensures positive rapport building as I am able to contact them daily, check on how they’re doing mental health-wise and be more flexible with when and where our support meetings take place.

One phone was delivered to a service user to allow Adult Social Care and Forward Leeds to complete urgent assessments to provide immediate support. This wouldn’t have been possible during the current restrictions as services were unable to provide home assessments.

Another person told us that they felt the phone was their ‘life line’ and, although they lost it and needed a replacement, they have kept in semi-regular contact. This is a positive step for them.

The phones have enabled multi-agency working which is critical for our client group. This included being in contact with us, probation, Joanna Project, Social Justice and Adult Social Care from their release from prison. We also managed to source some recycled phones which we then bought credit, mobile data and plugs and chargers.

The grant has been invaluable for us and our clients and continues to be so. Thank you for your help and support it literally has been crucial support in keeping people connected during this crisis.”

Paula Gardner, Operations Director (Complex Needs), Barca

Feedback from equipment recipients

Shantona Women’s Centre

“We are based in Harehills (LS8 postcode area). Majority of service users have had some support around digital inclusion. Additionally, staff have had internal training, self-taught and attended zoom information sessions to improve their digital inclusion. We estimate that around 100 service users have been supported to be more digitally included and that about 10 staff have become more digitally included Chrome books have enabled workers to continue delivering support and recording outcomes whilst working from home. Having multi-lingual staff has removed the language barrier so that services users understand how to access and navigate these platforms.”

The Joanna Project

We work with women across the whole of Leeds who struggle with addictions and can be of no fixed abode.

Chromebook has been used for socially distanced visits to complete new online benefits claims, accessing bank accounts, uploading a sick not and a skype meeting to celebrate a child’s birthday who is in foster care. The long battery life, swift launch and neatness, compared to a laptop, has been hugely appreciated. The women we support are often in crisis and very anxious, so these features have meant the difference between a successful intervention, or a failure to help someone in real need.

Leeds Bereavement Service

“Operate across the whole of the city. Laptop given to Development Worker, front facing camera made a massive difference. Provided online training sessions and also online support to individuals. Since April 2020 they have helped 69 people.”

Leeds Mind

“Laptop used by Job Retention Specialists to carry on supporting 20 of our clients across Leeds by transferring the weekly support on Zoom. The Job Retention Specialist helps clients retain their employment if it is at risk whilst they are recovering from their mental health difficulties.

URP Leeds Limited

“The laptop you have provided to our company is life-saving. Used to support clients across the city to fill in application forms etc. Since April we have supported 91 clients and among them 18 of them were advised on how to use Zoom and how to use bite size website, and among the participants 6 of them were provided with a Tablet loan. We were also able to give out 4 used laptops which were matched through donation.

Specialist Autism Services

Specialist Autism Services covers Leeds as a whole (our service users can access from any part of Leeds). We have estimated that we have supported 45 individuals to be more digitally included.

West Yorkshire Family Mediation Service

We provide family mediation services to divorced and separated couples in order to help them with outstanding issues concerning their property, finances and especially their children. Laptops used by mediators to remotely engage with clients and their children via the internet.  Since April, we have directly supported in the region of 100 people plus their families.

Trinity Network (Social Opportunities for Older People)

Are encouraging members to use zoom to contact friends and family. Clients, staff and volunteers in the 60+ group are definitely more interested and have been accessing online services and using zoom to engage in quizzes and meetings. I would estimate since April approximately 20 people would have been benefited.

Age UK

I can tell you that we support older people across Leeds – anywhere with an LS postcode. Have supported approximately 2700 older people since the pandemic started. We have worked closely with approx. 20-30 older people to help them learn digital skills to connect with family e.g. Skype, Zoom, on line shopping etc.

Health For All

We work across the city as an organisation. Laptops used for our young people and families staff to connect with vulnerable young people and families. Since April have supported over 500 people digitally via zoom calls, telephone chats, online groups, online courses, virtual weekly peer groups. We also support young people and families from Morley and Rothwell. Also used the laptops to support Teenspirit groups, positive destinations group, young parents group, care leavers group and dads group.

Leeds Autism Services

“We currently operate across the whole of Leeds. Since April, we’ve supported around 10 – 12 people to be more digital. However, we envisage that this figure will rise to around 30 – 40 by the end of July.”

Dial Leeds

“Support people Leeds wide, but been a major focus on Moortown Foodbank due to travel limitations etc recently. Helped 25-30 people pretty regularly with weekly contacts and using digital means to progress such things as food parcel deliveries, energy related issues and issues around mental and physical wellbeing.  Laptops have meant that volunteers carry on contacting clients and to keep in touch with the office.

Complete Women CIC

Laptop used to run daily coffee mornings to catch up on everyone at home to help reduce loneliness for those still isolating. From April 2020 we have been able to support all of our members (60+) to become more confident digitally and to use Zoom and shopping online etc. Have also supported 4 families are being supported with monthly internet vouchers.

Crossgates and District Good Neighbours

We cover the Crossgates area our customers are 65 +. Have trained 45 people to use Zoom and lent 11 people tablets with WiFi. Half of these has never used WiFi before, but are now connecting to church services.  Also done 1-2-1 help with phone queries with 15 people who were concerned scams or help with pc. Also run on line IT lessons covering Facebook, Learn my way, WhatsApp, Google photos and backing up photos.  The online IT classes have 8 members.

Full list of grant recipients

OrganisationFunded
Crossgates and District Good Neighbours Scheme£290.00
Basis Yorkshire (www.basisyorkshire.org.uk)£1,000.00
St Vincent’s Support Centre£500.00
Holbeck Together£750.00
Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network£1,000.00
Mafwa Theatre£972.00
People Matters (West Yorkshire) CIO£984.00
DAMASQ LTD£1,000.00
Solace Surviving Exile and Persecution£1,000.00
Getaway Girls£1,000.00
Yorkshire & Humberside Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary£400.00
Seacroft Friends & Neighbours£250.00
Turning Lives Around£1,000.00
Circles of Life Women Together (COLWT)£1,000.00
Barca-Leeds£1,000.00
Lighthouse (West Yorkshire)£700.00
DIAL LEEDS LTD£685.00
Women’s Health Matters£1,000.00
Mind ‘N’ Health CIC£1,000.00
Touchstone£1,000.00
Armley Helping Hands£1,000.00
Middleton Elderly Aid£1,000.00
The Youth Association£924.00
NET  – Garforth Neighbourhood Elders Team£1,000.00
Aireborough Voluntary Services to the Elderly (AVSED)£900.00
Leeds Women’s Aid£1,000.00
Feel Good Factor£1,000.00
OPAL£1,000.00
Disability Sport Yorkshire£1,000.00
Leeds Black Elders Association (LBEA)£915.00
St Gemma’s Hospice£952.00
East Street Arts£968.90
Arts & Minds Network£1,000.00
Denshaws Newlands & Rydals TARA£1,000.00
Leeds Unity Centre£1 000
St Luke’s Church, Holbeck£998.00
Hejira Housing£1,000.00
Fibro Peer Support Group LCC£200.00
Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice£698.00
That Friday Feeling£1,000.00
Support After Rape and Sexual Violence (SARSVL)£1,000.00
Naya Savera CIO£900.00
Racial Justice Network£1,000.00
The Conversation Club (U.A.)£600.00
Trust Leeds£1,000.00
Leeds Dads£1,000.00
Future Horizons£1,000.00
Better Leeds Communities£629.82
Leeds Refugee Forum£912.00
Pudsey Community Project£958.00
Chapel FM Arts Centre / East Leeds FM radio£1,000.00
Otley Action For Older People£1,000.00
The Cardigan Centre£925.00
Leep1£1,000.00
Making Space£1,000.00
Care & Repair Leeds£1,000.00
Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London£769.86
Leeds Irish Health and Homes£1,000.00
Progress To Change£1,000.00
Community Links£1,000.00
Foundation£1,000.00
Leeds Swahili Cultural Community£1,000.00
Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE)£156.00
Leonard Cheshire Disability£370.00
OWLS (Older Wiser Local Seniors)£800.00
Hamara£1,000.00
Yorkshire MESMAC£1,000.00
Moor Allerton Elderly Care£1,000.00

Full list of equipment recipients

Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE)Zest – Health for Life
MINT – Men In Need TogetherProud ‘N’ Diverse
Age UK LeedsEritrean Cultural Centre in Leeds
Luv Jesus MinistriesHyde Park Source
Proverbs31Woman CICSikh Sport UK
West Yorkshire Family Mediation ServicePhoenix Health and Wellbeing
Leeds MindComplete Woman CIC
Leeds African Communities NetworkHealth for All ( Leeds) Ltd
Trinity Network (Social Opportunities for Older People)Mosaic Holbeck
Joanna LeedsCatholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)
Leeds Bereavement ForumBumps and Babes
URP(LEEDS)LIMITEDConnect Housing
Specialist Autism ServicesLeeds Mencap
Leeds South and East FoodbankMiddle Eastern & Mediterranean Community (MEMEC)
Leeds Autism ServicesChapeltown & Harehills Learning Project
Latch Ltd (Leeds Action to Create Homes)Shantona Women and Family Centre