Voluntary Action Leeds (VAL) is a charity that supports communities by helping people and Third Sector organisations in Leeds. VAL is an infrastructure organisation that supports the city’s third sector develop by providing a range of services including training, funding support and marketing advice.
The importance of developing the digital skills of grass-roots organisations
Some of VAL’s service users are new groups looking for advice and information on practical issues like funding, governance, and procedure. The advice and information is often available to be found online, if groups have the skills and connectivity needed to access it.
“I think that for some of the smaller groups it’s a worry that it’s online. I think that they feel quite frightened that it’s online and maybe for some of the smaller groups it might even be a barrier to them even applying.”
The majority of the new, small groups that approach VAL for help and advice are unable to access online information and systems and this limits their ability to access information and complete online applications. Those who do have access often lack the skills to find reliable information, and the confidence to trust the information they find.
Through the 100% Digital Leeds Tablet Lending Scheme VAL have borrowed six iPads to enhance the support they offer to organisations looking for help and advice around funding, and those looking to develop a safeguarding policy.
Using iPads to support organisations to access funding
Incorporating iPads in to funding support has been invaluable to supporting organisations to develop the transferrable basic digital skills needed to act independently, building community capacity. VAL have been able to use the iPads to work with organisations to find and apply for funding. Just being able to see the process of completing the form has helped organisations to see that it’s not as difficult as they might think.
“it’s about demystifying it [digital] and making it less intimidating… people hear ‘online’ and think “I’m not going to be able to do it” or “it’ll be a big job for us to do” “
Where possible, VAL now encourage organisations to search and apply on their own device such as a mobile phone. They now encourage people to start their application online during a session, save it, and work on it later, then come back for feedback from VAL at a future session. This approach relieves the pressure on both the organisation and VAL to write and submit and application in a single session, plus gives organisations the skills they need to better manage their application later, and take the lead on future applications. Where organisations do not have their own device VAL have encouraged them to include the cost of a device into their funding application.
“I think it takes the fear out of applying so that’s been really useful”.
VAL also support organisations to sign up for VAL’s funding advice newsletter which takes the leg work out of finding different funding opportunities. Funding comes from many different sources and short application periods often mean that by the time an organisation have heard about a fund through word of mouth, the application window has closed. Receiving up-to-date information about funding sources straight to their email helps an organisation looking for funding to be more efficient and proactive.
“It’s such an important thing. People are always looking for funding and if you don’t know the different funding sources you don’t know where to start.”
Using iPads to support organisations to develop a safeguarding policy
VAL have been offering basic safeguarding training out in the community for a while, but many organisations are just now realising that they need a safeguarding policy. Previous support has meant handing out paper copies of safeguarding information and templates to organisations but having the iPads has allowed VAL to help organisations to develop the digital skills to find the information themselves.
Many organisations can essentially use a search engine but struggle to read search results in a way that means they can quickly assess the information. Signposting organisations to a recognised site that’s simple to navigate and find their way around has been as powerful giving organisations the skills needed to identify safe sites themselves.
“With the safeguarding it’s about showing them how to find a recognised site that is easy for them to follow and to navigate their way around… People are coming in and they might have the skills [to get online] but they don’t know how to find the information. They’ve got some of the skills – they can type the words in to the search engine – but when it comes up, they think “which one is the right one for me? Do I have to go through all of these to find the right one?”. “
VAL are able to help organisations to understand that the information they need is available online, find the information they need, and identify reliable sources of information. Helping organisations to problem solve in this way empowers the organisation to do more for themselves and extends the capacity of VAL. These are transferable digital skills that help organisations to act more independently across the board.
Sustainable digital skills and access for grass-roots organisation
As well as offering connectivity and digital skills development using iPads borrowed from the Tablet Lending Scheme, VAL have encouraged organisations to identify sustainable ways to access online resources. They regularly promote the Tablet Lending Scheme to organisations that don’t have their own equipment but where organisations do have a device they are encouraged to use their own smartphone or tablet.
VAL have found that, for smaller groups, confidence is often more as much of a problem as lack of basic digital skills. Small volunteer-led organisations often only have a small pool of people and some tend to be older.
“Some volunteers are retired people because those are the people who have the capacity, but they may not have the right levels of digital skills and confidence. For some it [digital] might be quite daunting prospect”
From this group, VAL have found that many people don’t realise that they have transferable digital skills. They feel confident using their phone for personal use but become outfaced when looking at organisational tasks, or feel confident using their phone but don’t think they can use a tablet. Supporting organisations to understand they do have transferrable skills and they can manage admin tasks using a smart phone or tablet has helped empower organisations to act more efficiently.
“For smaller organisations that are doing things in their own time, being supported to do as much admin as possible on their own device is really important as it is most convenient for them when they are short of time and low on support.”
Although the pilot has been very successful VAL recognise that they have not yet embedded digital across their service, and that there are still ways that they could utilise the iPads. They recognise that there needs to be a digital element to all support sessions and having the equipment to do that is invaluable. Many sessions are out in the community in locations that may not have wifi so having something portable and 4G enabled is really important.
VAL plan to extend use of the iPads to, expanding from safeguarding and funding in to things like safer recruitment, as well as taking them to networks sure as the Migrant Access Project, to signpost to other support, best practice, and other network and forums.