Growing Talent Digital Leeds

100% Digital Leeds has partnered with Ahead Partnership as part of their Growing Talent Digital Leeds programme on a social action project focussed on digital inclusion. Young people from Mount St Mary’s Catholic High School, Leeds and Bishop Young Academy were called upon to help 100% Digital Leeds understand how families local to the York Road area of the city might experience digital exclusion and to help shape the digital inclusion support offer available at local community venue The Old Fire Station. We were joined by a BBC journalist who interviewed workshop facilitators and students with coverage expected to feature on BBC Radio Leeds.

“Ahead Partnership’s Growing Talent Digital Leeds programme aims to inspire more young people into a career in digital and tech, helping to close the skills gap that exists within the sector. This social action project focused on digital inclusion, a key issue that is at the core of bridging the skills gap and levelling the playing field within tech and digital.”

Suzie Bell, Growing Talent Digital Leeds Project Lead

Understanding digital inclusion locally

29 young people from year 8 attended two workshops at The Old Fire Station supported by volunteers from StantecPlusnet and Willmott Dixon.

In the first workshop the young people explored the importance of digital skills, connectivity, confidence, and motivation and how all four barriers can impact on the digital inclusion of a community. The students mapped out their typical day and counted the number of times they used their smart phone or the internet, reflecting on how digital exclusion might impact on their day-to-day life. Some impacts highlighted included finding it more difficult to communicate with friends and family, issues traveling around the city, and struggling to access information.

The students also learned about the digital inclusion support currently available at The Old Fire Station such as the gifting of sim cards with data for those experiencing data poverty, weekly digital drop-in sessions for those looking to develop their skills, and free wifi in the café. They considered some of issues that might impact on the accessibility of the offer for local people and communities such as knowledge of the support available and lack of confidence accessing it.

Surveying levels of digital inclusion

The young people used their knowledge of the barriers to digital inclusion to design a questionnaire surveying the levels of digital exclusion experienced by their peers. Between workshops both groups took the questionnaire back to school to be completed by the whole year 8 cohort.

Whilst the survey found that the majority of the young people surveyed do not face digital exclusion a significant number face one or more barriers that stop them confidently making the most of the online world. Some of the issues shared include lack of access to equipment, running out of data, and concerns over catfishing and cyber bullying.

A full report will be produced but some of the headline figures show that, of the 310 year 8 students surveyed:

  • 38.9% rated their computer skills as ‘ok’ or ‘poor’.
  • 1.6% do not feel confident in their ability to use a digital device.
  • 10.1% only have access to a digital device a couple of times a week or less.
  • 1.8% don’t own any kind of digital device.
  • 4.9% said their parents don’t have access to a digital device at home.

Shaping the digital inclusion support available locally

In the second workshop the students completed a presentation boot camp so they had the skills they need to use the survey findings and other research to paint a picture of local digital inclusion levels. They presented their findings to a panel of experts, as well as sharing their recommendations on what The Old Fire Station’s digital inclusion support offer should look like.

“We were so impressed with the students from Bishop Young Academy and Mount St Mary’s Catholic High School who had a wealth of ideas on how to break down barriers to accessing digital resources and engage people from all generations. Including young people’s voices in actions and decision making around topics that affect their communities is at the heart of what we do at Ahead Partnership to improve social impact, so we’re really pleased that The Old Fire Station and 100% Digital Leeds will review the students’ ideas and proposals.”

Suzie Bell, Growing Talent Digital Leeds Project Lead

Next steps

The Old Fire Station has recently received NHS Health Inequalities funding to support the recruitment of a Digital Inclusion Officer to support the development of digital inclusion support initiatives locally. The insights gathered from the young people will help shape the digital inclusion offer at The Old Fire Station and other local organisations.