Partner profile: Pyramid

Pyramid is an inclusive arts collective working with people with learning disabilities and autistic people in Leeds. Pyramid also plays a lead role in driving digital inclusion for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

Since 2021, Pyramid has hosted an Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator who works with organisations supporting people with learning disabilities across the city, building their capacity to support digital inclusion for their members. The Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator facilitates the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN) which brings together organisations to embed digital inclusion support within their service offers for people with learning disabilities and autistic people. Pyramid also hosts a consultation group of people with lived experience whose thoughts and opinions inform the work of the Coordinator.

Most recently, through schemes such as Multiply, Pyramid has worked with members to support their digital skills, confidence, and connectivity for increased employability and financial resilience in the face of the cost of living increase.


Pyramid has over 30 years of experience working with autistic people and people with learning disabilities. They support their members to build their skills and confidence and to advocate for themselves. 

Pyramid use art activities as a tool to engage members with digital activities in creative and engaging ways. They support their members to use a variety of digital equipment, supporting some of those furthest away from digital inclusion to embrace digital.

Pyramid support their members to make art in a wide variety of mediums and display their work in exhibitions and public spaces all over Leeds. They do this through collaborative art groups, including a programme for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD), as well as providing one-on-one creative support and professional development opportunities. Pyramid’s focus is helping their members to create art, however their projects also help members to increase their confidence and interpersonal skills, and to help them to live more independent lives. 

Supporting people with learning disabilities and autistic people to overcome the barriers to digital inclusion

Many staff at Pyramid have known their members for many years, and have excellent, trusting relationships with their members which are based on mutual respect. They understand their members needs and interests, and how digital can be used to enable them.

Many people with learning disabilities and autistic people face complex barriers which can limit their digital inclusion. They vary between individuals, but include:

  • Many people struggle to afford digital equipment and connectivity due to low levels of employment in this community.
  • Many people with learning disabilities find commonly used digital devices are not accessible for them, and many apps and websites are not designed for this user group.  70% of UK websites are not compliant with accessibility standards.
  • Many people with learning disabilities miss out on the life-enriching experiences that the internet can provide if their carers, support workers, or families think they are too vulnerable to the potential dangers that the internet can present, and therefore restrict their access and usage, limiting their personal choice and freedom. 
  • Some people with learning disabilities lack the confidence to try digital activities, or do not understand how they might be relevant to them. 

Pyramid has embedded digital inclusion support across their service. Their staff are trained in digital inclusion awareness, helping them to understand how digital skills can help their members to make art, access opportunities and live fulfilled and balanced lives. They have also received training from AbilityNet to help them understand how devices can be made more accessible for members. Pyramid is a member of the National Databank and is actively giving out SIM cards to members in data poverty. 

Integrating digital inclusion into arts activities

Pyramid find that using art, music and creative activities is a fantastic way to engage their members with digital activities, particularly those who are nervous about trying new things. An example of this may be running a session where artists create physical artwork, but encourage members to use tablets to take photographs of the work afterwards. Alternatively, members may practise drawing on paper but also be given the opportunity to use drawing apps to create art work. This makes using digital more relevant for members as they can see how it relates to their interests.

Pyramid began embedding digital inclusion support into arts sessions in 2019 with their ‘Next Steps’ group’s self-portraiture project.

Most recently Pyramid has used a stop motion studio app to embed digital skills and awareness into in an arts project, working with a group of artists with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) at Aspire. They explored sensory objects found in nature to make abstract 2D art, alongside creating experimental stop motion films. Some of these artists had never used digital technologies before, and can be a little resistant to trying new things. The facilitator’s knowledge of the group and their particular needs and interests meant that she was able introduce digital into the project in a way that was enjoyable and accessible for members. The project involved collaging objects from nature, making it very tactile, which suited the needs of the members. Using the app meant that the members’ collages were captured into short films which could be shared far more widely with others. The facilitator ensured that artists with PMLD were involved in every stage of the process. They were encouraged to use the app and have autonomy on what they wanted the finished films to look like.

“The group are very nervous about engaging with digital tasks. By making digital activities a very small part of a much bigger project we got even the most unwilling group members pressing buttons on a screen and managed to create some beautiful artwork in the meantime. Using the app was so easy and enjoyable that it has made the members, and us as facilitators, much more excited to learn new digital skills in the future.”

Wendy Robinson, Artist, Pyramid

Facilitating the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network

The Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN) brings together organisations supporting autistic people and people with learning disabilities across Leeds, to address digital exclusion.

The network was formed in response to the pandemic with member organisations initially coming together to support each other to move their delivery online.  The necessary closure of physical spaces. left many autistic people and people with learning disabilities at risk of social isolation, boredom, and mental health issues.

Since the pandemic the network has worked to explore shared barriers and solutions, share best practice, and partner to access additional resources and funding. So far ALaDDIN member organisations have been supported to apply for and secure £300,000 of external funding to support digital inclusion. Beneficiaries include Advonet, LEEP, Slate, People Matters, The Bridge (Health for All,) Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, and the Halo group at Hamara.

Hosting the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator

As well as co-facilitating the ALaDDIN network, in 2021 Pyramid began hosting an Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator. The Coordinator works with organisations citywide to embed digital inclusion support within their service offers for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

This post is matrix-managed by 100% Digital Leeds and was originally funded by NHS Leeds. The post is currently funded by UK Shared Prosperity Fund with a focus on supporting digital inclusion to increase financial inclusion for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

 “The matrix-management arrangement and the relationship with 100% Digital Leeds has meant that the Coordinator has been able to act as a neutral broker for new partnership work. It really feels like the ‘neutrality’ of the post and the city-wide focus created by the association with 100% Digital Leeds gives greater traction and impact to projects than would have happened had the projects been done by Pyramid working in isolation. The partnership with 100% Digital Leeds has allowed Pyramid to make new friends, partnerships and projects across the city which have benefited individuals and organisations in many ways. It has also had a really positive impact on the way that we do things at Pyramid ourselves.”

James Hill, Director, Pyramid


It is very important that people with learning disabilities and autistic people have a chance to express what they need and want from support services. A group of autistic people and people with learning disabilities meet up once per month to inform the work of ALaDDIN.  The group have the chance to share their questions and concerns about doing things digitally and they can get the help they need. 

“I love being a part of the ALaDDIN consultation group because I feel listened to there. We learn new skills while doing fun activities and the other people in the group help me when I get stuck. I am getting more confident with my digital skills all of the time and I enjoy showing my mum and dad the things I have learned.”

Stephen, member of the ALaDDIN consultation group

The group supports one another to learn digital skills such as using Google maps and making their devices more accessible, which they pass onto their peers, workers, friends and families. The group continue to meet at Pyramid once a month and are reimbursed each meeting for the important work they do. 

Film made by Royal Mencap and the ALaDDIN consultation group.

Digital inclusion and financial resilience

Pyramid are a Multiply delivery partner and have worked with 30 members to help them to improve their numeracy and digital skills for improved money management in the face of increased cost of living.

Many of the members at Pyramid have traditionally found it challenging to learning maths, or have not understood how maths is applicable or useful to their own lives. However, staff at Pyramid made sure that activities were engaging for their members by making them relevant to their interests and day-to-day activities. Tasks included members creating their own money and using this to ‘buy’ imaginary things. Members also spent time trying to find art materials at bargain prices online with the support of artists and volunteers.

Each person who took part in the Multiply programme was gifted a device which was suited to their needs. For instance, members who don’t have access to the internet at home were given devices with data on them, and members who struggle to read and write were given smart speakers which they can control with their voices. Some of the members had parents or carers who also needed a little extra support to use the devices. A session was organised by the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator for group members and parents and carers to practise setting up and using the devices together. The members have been using these devices in a variety of ways, from helping them to create art to helping them to access social media and apply for jobs.

“Ella would normally be intimidated by maths activities. As someone with a learning disability, she had historically found learning maths very challenging and frustrating. However, when she came to us, she really enjoyed learning maths skills in an environment where she felt comfortable, alongside workers who she felt comfortable working with. This had a really positive impact on her confidence and self esteem. She feels very confident using her new tablet and the internet now, and enjoys using this to be able to join social groups.”

Nicky Lines, Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator, Pyramid

Digital inclusion for employability

Pyramid has been working in collaboration with Leeds City Council, People Matters, and United Response to support employability for people with learning disabilities and autistic people by embedding digital inclusion into their Developing You course. Developing You is a free, twelve-week training programme for adults with learning disabilities and autistic people, which explores issues around wellbeing and work. The group takes part in a range of activities to learn about the world of work, identifying their own skills and interests, thinking about what jobs they might be suited to, and identifying the steps they could take to get there.

100% Digital Leeds has worked with Pyramid to ensure that digital skills have been embedded into the Developing You course. The Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator has attended sessions to ensure that bespoke digital interventions are planned to support the needs of students and has worked closely with tutors in the planning of the course. The Coordinator has also worked with tutors so that they feel confident signposting members for further digital support where required.

Pyramid has received funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to deliver a project which will support autistic artists and artists with learning disabilities to make money from their work. The course will involve practical training such as sessions on how to organise a craft stall and how to facilitate a workshop. It will also teach people how they can use digital skills to promote their work, from setting up a successful social media account to creating their own webpage.  

Next Steps

Pyramid continue to embed digital technologies in the work they do in ways which are creative and relevant to their members. They are planning on running another cohort of Multiply for seven of their older members who are not currently confident using digital technologies. They will be recruiting members to their new employability project over the next few months.

The Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator will continue to coordinate digital inclusion projects throughout the city, with a focus on supporting people with autism and learning disabilities to use digital in ways that can help them to manage their finances independently and move closer to employment. Contact if you are interested in joining the ALaDDIN network or want to find out more.

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

Your Back Yard care homes project

Your Back Yard is a Leeds based social enterprise who work with local communities to support healthy lifestyles. Over the last nine months the organisation has delivered digital skills sessions across six care homes in Leeds. When working with care settings 100% Digital Leeds identified a gap in digital skills support provision. The team partnered with  Your Back Yard to address this issues, supporting the organisation to apply for Awards For All funding to improve outcomes for residents through digital inclusion and to explore approaches to digital support. Your Back Yard worked with the University of Leeds to further explore the outcomes of the digital sessions.

“Because of the age group of the people we look after a lot have never come across an iPad. Is there going to be a benefit? There absolutely is. Doing this and giving them new skills gives them a new lease of life, they’ve got something to aim for.”

Staff member, Rothwell Nursing Home

Your Back Yard

Your Back Yard is experienced in working with older people to support digital skills and confidence. The organisation has developed a digital inclusion offer within their core service. They have worked with 100% Digital Leeds on many projects, and have previously delivered digital skills sessions in sheltered accommodation schemes.

The 100% Digital Leeds team’s ongoing work across the care sector through the care homes key initiative has identified the need for digital support in care and the barriers to digital inclusion in those settings. These include:

  • Lack of suitable digital infrastructure.
  • Low levels of confidence with digital tools and technology.
  • Reluctance among people with care and support needs, or their carers, to use technology.
  • Lack of capacity and resource, and ineligibility for most funding schemes which are predominantly for the VSCE sector.

“I feel that a significant barrier for us would be that not everybody is IT savvy and it may take time to train staff. Our wifi system is not good enough and could go down.”

Adults and Health, Summary Digital Assessment of Care Providers in Leeds

Through conversations, test and learn projects, and relationship building with different parts of the care sector, 100% Digital Leeds sought to further understand the barriers that care settings face to engaging in a meaningful way with digital tools and resources. It was highlighted that the sector itself had limited capacity, resources, or understanding of the benefits to digital inclusion to deliver their own programmes of work. Because of Your Back Yard’s previous experience 100% Digital Leeds approached them to partner on this project, bringing capacity to the sector to address the need for digital skills support in care.

Tweet from Leeds City Council’s Care Quality Team.

Developing the digital skills support offer

100% Digital Leeds supported Your Back Yard to apply for funding from Awards for All to deliver digital skills sessions in care homes over nine months. The intended outcomes of the project were that:

  • Residents would develop their digital skills and confidence.
  • Residents would be able to connect digitally with families and friends.
  • Using digital tools and technology would give residents a feeling of being in a community, rather than alone.
  • The sessions would physically bring residents from within the homes together, into communal areas where they will learn together, socialise together and become a closer community.

The care sector in Leeds is large, with over 140 residential care homes across the city. 100% Digital Leeds worked with the Service Transformation Team in Adults and Health in Leeds City Council to focus Your Back Yard’s offer. They collaborated to identify care homes that would be more likely to take up the offer of support. The Service Transformation Team are providing some care homes in Leeds with funding to move from paper records to a Digital Social Care Record (DSCR). It was these care homes that were prioritised, taking a holistic approach by providing digital skills support for residents alongside the implementation of the care home’s new digital care tools. With a real shift towards digital becoming an essential part of a caregiver’s day to day responsibility, embedding digital inclusion into this process meant that care homes could see the further benefits of digital for staff and residents.

Over the course of nine months Your Back Yard worked with:

  • Dolphin Manor Care Home, in Rothwell.
  • Headingley Hall Care Home, in Headingley.
  • Horsforth Manor Care Home, in Horsforth.
  • Rothwell Nursing Home, in Rothwell.
  • Seacroft Grange Care Village, in Seacroft.
  • Springfield Care Home, in Garforth.

Your Back Yard bought iPads to support with the sessions and designed session plans for the residents covering practical and transferrable skills like emails, social media, and using virtual platforms such as Zoom.

The importance of a person-centred approach

Early on in the sessions Your Back Yard encountered issues with engagement. They found that residents attended the first session but then lost interest and did not attend future sessions. They explored the reasons for the lack of engagement with staff and discovered that the session themes being offered weren’t familiar to residents, who couldn’t see the relevance of the skills sessions to their own day to day life. Your Back Yard adapted the sessions, incorporating a more person-centred approach to further understand the residents’ needs and interests.

“Rachael at Your Back Yard played a pivotal role in explaining concepts with patience and empathy, contributing to overall positive outcomes. Despite instances of hesitancy and lack of confidence among some participants, efforts were made to address confusion and provide additional support.”

University of Leeds, Impact of Digital Inclusion Workshops on Attendees.

100% Digital Leeds and Your Back Yard visited the residents to chat with them about their hobbies and interests and to create relational connections with the group. Residents were shown jigsaw apps on the iPads as they were chatting and interacting, introducing digital in a very informal way alongside the residents reminiscing and talking about their lives. The jigsaw apps had already been successfully used by partners in the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network and were known to be popular as they are fun and familiar.

This person-centred approach meant that sessions were now tailored to the interests, abilities, and needs of each resident. After adapting the approach and better understanding the need, attendance at the digital skills sessions became more consistent because the support was now relevant and appropriate to the residents. The key to this approach was a willingness to be flexible in terms of delivery and the ability to pivot based on residents’ needs and attitudes to learning during the session.

“It’s difficult to understand what type of sessions this group benefits from. Sometimes they work best with word and brain games, other times creative stuff, other times practical games. It’s hard creating sessions that cater towards everyone’s interests.”

Rachael Tierney, Digital Worker, Your Back Yard.

In some sessions Your Back Yard found that residents would be willing to try a new game, a new website or try a new skill that they had not done before, like taking selfies with the camera on the tablets. However the same group in the next week would be unwilling to try anything new and would want to go back to familiar games or websites. Your Back Yard were able to flex with the needs and interests of the groups at any one time which meant that residents stayed enthusiastic about joining in. This approach meant that the project could go at the appropriate pace for the learners without them feeling pressured to stick to pre-set plans.

Care home staff involvement was key to the residents’ engagement and participation. Staff already had a trusted relationship with each individual and could get them involved and enthused about the sessions in both the lead-up and during.

“Two of the people I supported were a couple. The wife lived independently in the apartment side and the husband was on the dementia ward. The wife came to some sessions and thoroughly enjoyed them, so much so that she brought her husband along to the remainder of the sessions. Despite struggling with dementia, her husband picked up the concept of iPads really quickly and found a lot of enjoyment in playing games. It was incredible to see them work together so closely and watch the husband learn from his wife, as she helped him and showed him how to play certain games. The digital sessions helped them to connect over something they both enjoyed, something they had struggled to do due to the husband’s dementia diagnosis. It was a real testament to the importance of digital sessions, as they were finally able to enjoy doing an activity together.”

Rachael Tierney, Digital Worker, Your Back Yard.

Exploring barriers and breaking down preconceptions

On an initial visit to one care home, staff were hesitant as they were concerned about their poor connectivity and what their residents would be able to gain from digital skills support. The care home had not received an offer like this before and didn’t understand the benefits. The wifi wasn’t strong and didn’t extend beyond the office and because of this, residents previously hadn’t been supported with digital activities.

Your Back Yard knew that a lack of digital infrastructure is a barrier to digital inclusion faced by many care settings and were able to provide iPads with inbuilt connectivity to support the skills sessions. Your Back Yard were able to allay concerns by providing examples of digital activities they could offer and what benefit this might have for staff and residents and the home agreed to host the sessions.

One resident supported was John, who was hesitant at first about his ability to use the iPad. John is fairly young in comparison to other residents at Mulgrave House, and he was particularly keen on becoming more digitally included. He had worked in a fire station but acknowledged that this was before the digitisation of the service so he had missed out on using digital tools and technology in his working career. John loved the digital sessions as he was supported to use digital tools he found interesting and useful. Your Back Yard showed John how to use Borrow Box, BBC iPlayer, and BBC Sounds. He was so engaged that he borrowed the iPad for six weeks and used it to read books, listen to podcasts, and watch films and tv shows in his own time.

“In our first session, I showed John how to use Google Earth, and we spent the entire session looking at different places of significance in his life. We looked at the place he went to university, the place he grew up, and other places he hasn’t visited in years. It was extremely encouraging to see John so enthused by something so simple and accessible. I think it was really interesting for him to see how much certain places have or haven’t changed in the years since he’s visited them.”

Rachael Tierney, Digital Worker, Your Back Yard.

Another resident who received one to one support was Bob, who suffers from Aphasia after having a stroke, which means he is unable to speak. Bob loves motorbikes, so Your Back Yard spent a few sessions with him playing motorbike games and watching motorbike related videos on YouTube. Bob eventually secured his own iPad from a speech and language therapist.

The apps on the iPad were mainly speech related. Through using digital tools for speech and language Bob regained the ability to have a voice, he could use the iPad to communicate. When he got bored or tired of doing these, Your Back Yard would play games with him on their iPads, which he loved. By using this approach, the digital work that Bob was taking part in to improve his health was broken up by more fun activities, ‘digital for work’ was tempered by ‘digital for fun’. By using digital for the things he was passionate about, like motorbikes, he not only consolidated his digital skills but ensured that he stayed engaged and more likely to use the speech and language apps in the future. 

Tweet from Your Back Yard.

Challenges overcome and lessons learned

Over the course of nine months Your Back Yard overcame many challenges, adapting the offer regularly to support the needs of each individual care home and resident. The key components to ensuring meaningful care home engagement were:

  • Delivering a welcome session with staff and residents to introduce the offer and understand the needs.
  • Building relationships with the care home and with residents.
  • Taking a person-centred approach.
  • Modelling positive digital behaviour with staff to ensure sustainability of the work.
  • Creating an engaging atmosphere by using fun and familiar digital tools, like games.
  • Working with residents in small groups, building in peer support opportunities.

In preparation for the sessions Your Back Yard researched free apps linked to hobbies and interests familiar to residents. They looked for apps free from potentially confusing elements such as pop-up ads. From this Your Back Yard created a recommended apps list that they found beneficial when working with residents.

“The positive impact of the digital inclusion sessions on residents’ social well-being also cannot be understated. All participants expressed satisfaction with the socialisation opportunities provided during the sessions. Not only do these sessions provide a platform for learning, but also are vital in fostering a sense of community and belonging among participants.”

University of Leeds, Impact of Digital Inclusion Workshops on Attendees.

Next steps

The Awards for All funding was for 12 months, finishing at the end of June 2024. While the Your Back Yard project was on a short funded timescale, supporting digital inclusion in care settings remains an ongoing focus for the 100% Digital Leeds team. Valuable learning and insights into the digital landscape in care acquired from the project will enable 100% Digital Leeds to better shape and define the offer going forward. This includes case studies that demonstrate the benefits of engaging with digital which could be used as best practice for other care homes interested in developing their own digital inclusion programmes.  

Rothwell Nursing Home expressed disappointment that the programme was coming to an end as it was clear that access to the iPad with support from Rachael was significantly beneficial to their members’ mental health and wellbeing.

“[The resident] was a much happier person when Rachael came every week to deliver the digital sessions. Seeing people’s reaction and change was amazing.”

Staff member, Rothwell Nursing Home

Since the programme ended the care home have received support from 100% Digital Leeds to borrow iPads from Leeds Libraries and the team have facilitated a connection with AbilityNet who are going to provide handover support across a few one-to-one sessions.

Other care homes have been motivated to buy their own equipment:

“Seacroft Grange residents have really enjoyed taking part in the digital sessions. We will be carrying on with this activity regularly.  We have recently purchased iPads to continue sessions with our residents.”

Activities Coordinator, Seacroft Grange Care Village.

“The residents have really enjoyed these sessions. We are hoping to have our new Samsung tablets in a couple of weeks to continue running the sessions in place of your visit.”

Activity Coordinator, Springfield Care Home.

This project forms part of a wider 100% Digital Leeds care settings initiative which contributes towards a Theory of Change model to help shape and design our care homes workstream, identifying priorities and how success is measured.

The four outcomes within the Theory of Change model are:

  • Care home staff have a greater awareness of digital inclusion and the benefits it can bring.
  • Care home staff embed digital inclusion within their service offer.
  • Care home residents use digital technology to support their wellbeing, inform their choices and increase/maintain social connections.
  • Care homes have increased digital resource and connectivity.

100% Digital Leeds will continue to explore the landscape of digital within the care sector. We will do this through increased relationship building, test and learn projects such as this one, further development work, assessing how to address the need, overcoming barriers to digital inclusion, and providing strategic support. The next step in the care homes workstream is the Arts in Care Digital Programme taking place in September.

Arts in Care Digital Programme 2024 information webinar

The Arts in Care Digital Programme 2024 is back for a third year. 100% Digital Leeds is curating a programme of digital activities in response to the National Day of Arts in Care Homes, and with a focus around digital inclusion.

The team is looking for organisations to contribute to a week of activities including dance, craft, music, and theatre, that care settings will be invited to access digitally the week of Monday 23 to Friday 27 September.

2024 information webinar

Join the 100% Digital Leeds team on Thursday 11 July at 2pm for a 30 minute webinar where artists, arts and cultural organisations, and other interested parties, can hear more about the proposed plans and how they can contribute an activity to the programme.

Book your tickets for the Arts in Care Digital Programme 2024 information webinar via Ticket Source

Attendees can also hear findings from co-production events held at various care settings where the 100% Digital Leeds team have talked to people accessing care services to ask what’s important to them and what they would like to see as part of the week’s programme.

“I want to make music not listen to music. Singing has been such an important part of my life. I met my husband through singing. Singing in choral group took me out of Cornwall and travelling around Europe.”

Care recipient, Headingly Hall.

Arts in Care Digital Programme enabling digital inclusion

In previous years the programme has included contributions from organisations such as Opera North, Yorkshire Dance, Aspire CBS, People Matters, Leeds Libraries, and Leeds International Piano Competition. Last year’s programme saw 11 organisations deliver 13 sessions, attended by a total of 56 groups, with hundreds of care recipients engaging with arts and culture activity across the week. 

The programme helps to position digital as an enabler to the care sector’s priorities, in a recognisable and accessible context. Arts and creativity can motivate care residents to build their digital skills and confidence, leading to future engagement with digital learning. This can result in increased wellbeing outcomes through using digital to enable increased social interaction, engagement with the wider world, and the ability to access information and be empowered to make decisions about their own care.  

“Accessing the programme digitally is a way of pairing the familiar with the unfamiliar. Taking a game of bingo, a game that is often played in care settings and putting it online to be enjoyed as a group in the social space of a care home is an accessible, fun, but primarily familiar entry into a digital world, for both care staff and residents.” 

Jennifer Rhodes, Assistant Digital Inclusion Officer, 100% Digital Leeds.


Partner Profile: Hamara Centre

The Hamara Centre is a community organisation supporting residents in Beeston. The organisation began offering digital inclusion support in 2019 and started working with 100% Digital Leeds with the development of Digital Health Hubs.

Hamara is now an active member of two digital inclusion networks co-facilitated by 100% Digital Leeds. As a Neighbourhood Network, Hamara is a member of the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network. Hamara’s HALO project team is a member of ALaDDIN, the digital inclusion network bringing together organisations supporting adults with learning disabilities.

Hamara was a key partner in the Be Online Stay Safe (BOSS) project, facilitated by Leeds Older People’s Forum with the support of 100% Digital Leeds, and funded by DCMS. Implementing online safety education has empowered users to navigate the internet independently, benefiting older individuals wary of online scams. The impact of digital literacy extends transferable skills for social media, job search assistance, and mental well-being.

Most recently Hamara was a delivery partner for Multiply aimed at supporting people experiencing digital exclusion, feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, and facing barriers to accessing learning in a more formal or traditional setting. As part of Multiply Hamara was able to gift each learner a new digital device such as a smart phone, tablet, or smart speaker, along with two years of connectivity. Learners are supported to develop the digital skills and confidence they need to make best use of their new digital device to save and manage their money.

“Digital has been invaluable for people’s mental health, as having access to the internet has allowed them to stay connected with family and friends, listen to music, watch movies, and more. With a little bit of learning and confidence, having access to online information has opened a lot of opportunities for doing good things.”

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

About Hamara

Hamara Centre has grown to be the largest ethnic minority organisation in the voluntary and community sector in Leeds and is well placed to reach out and support the specific needs of the local communities they support, such as health issues, social exclusion, and poverty. Hamara is located in one of the most deprived neighbourhood in Leeds, and the area exhibits many of the hallmarks of multiple deprivation. It has a diverse demographic and ethnic mix, with one in four households not using English as their primary language.

The neighbourhood is characterised by many transient communities, often serving as the first residence for new migrants. Despite some improvements, the housing stock remains poor, and there is a high turnover of residents. The area benefits from proximity to the city centre and other employment areas with accessible bus routes. However, crime rates are high and frequently underreported, with significant issues related to drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. Children’s outcomes are notably poor, raising numerous child welfare concerns among local practitioners. Additionally, residents struggle to engage with public services, which are sometimes inflexible in meeting their needs.

Hamara is situated in one of Leeds City Council’s Priority Neighbourhood Areas. There are six Priority Neighbourhoods, all of which fall within the 1% most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the country. Hamara falls within the ‘Stratford Street and Beverleys’ Priority Neighbourhood. A Health Needs Assessment conducted in 2020 shows that 72.5% of the population in this area are from minority ethnic groups. People with a South Asian background are slightly in the majority, followed closely by people with a White British ethnicity. It is a highly deprived area with 31% experiencing employment deprivation and 45% of the residents experiencing income deprivation. The living environment is poor with high population density, poor housing and high crime rates. 10% of domestic violence referrals to Leeds Domestic Violence Service are from this postcode, and long-term health conditions such as coronary heart disease and diabetes are more prevalent here than in other areas of the city.

Hamara offers a wide range of services designed to meet the needs of the local community. These include:

  • Health promotion.
  • ESOL support.
  • Youth activities.
  • Older people’s services.
  • Support for people with learning disabilities.
  • Education and employment and training programmes.
  • A Dementia Café.
  • A food bank.

Hamara also offers digital support including access to free wifi and digital equipment on site, digital skills classes, and free 4G sim gifting via the National Databank. With support from 100% Digital Leeds, they received funding to improve the centre’s wifi, buy equipment for use in the centre, and increased staff confidence and capacity.

Hamara staff take a person-centred approach, embedding discussion of barriers to digital exclusion into their existing needs assessments. This ensures their digital inclusion offer reflects the needs of the local community, and every service user is offered the right support for them as standard. Hamara’s staff took part in a digital inclusion awareness workshop facilitated by 100% Digital Leeds, ensuring that digital inclusion needs are considered as part of a holistic conversation whenever a person visits the centre, from using the foodbank to attending an ESOL lesson.

Digital Health Hub

Hamara became a Digital Health Hub when 100% Digital Leeds partnered with Local Care Partnerships (LCPs) to developing a community-based approach to digital inclusion to enable digital health participation. The model involved working with key community organisations in a place, supporting them to develop as Digital Health Hubs. The initial development of the approach took place with Beeston and Middleton LCP and saw the development and launch of an initial five Digital Health Hubs in the LCP footprint, one of which was Hamara.

Digital Health Hubs are dedicated community organisations and locations with trusted people on hand to help their service users overcome barriers to digital inclusion so that they can access relevant information and tools to improve their health and wellbeing.
As a Digital Health Hub, Hamara serves as a local space staffed with friendly individuals who not only can speak the same language as the members within the community but are also ready to help in building their digital skills and confidence, accessing online resources and utilising tools that can enhance their ability to manage their health and wellbeing effectively.

This includes supporting people to:

  • Engage with the NHS in the way that works best for them.
  • Make the most of digital tools that can help them understand and manage existing health conditions.
  • Use digital to improve wider determinants of health such as employment, housing, social inclusion, and financial inclusion.

Hamara has adapted their Digital Health Hub services to meet the specific needs of the community it serves. Language is a particular barrier for many of Hamara’s service users. In response to one service user’s confusion over an NHS letter, Hamara began supporting service users to use Google Translate. This tool has also been found to be beneficial for individuals with learning disabilities or literacy barriers, as it allows them to listen to the translated text if reading proves difficult.

“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.

As Hamara continues to provide various outstanding services to tackle health and wellbeing and health inequalities they are one of the winners of the 2024 GSK IMPACT Awards which is funded by GSK and managed in partnership with The King’s Fund, an independent charitable organisation working to improve health and care in England. The GSK awards provide funding, training and development for charities doing excellent work to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

“Through its broad range of services, Hamara Healthy Living Centre is embedded within its local community, dedicating itself to tackling stark health inequalities faced by its population whilst ensuring the community voice is heard at a strategic level. It has effectively identified various challenges – such as food poverty and language barriers – and created targeted programmes of work to address these sensitively, with a culturally-appropriate approach. Hamara Healthy Living Centre is a trusted partner of local communities, who greatly benefit from the committed work of the charity, Leeds City Council and the NHS.”

Lisa Weaks, Senior Associate at The King’s Fund.

Be Online Stay Safe (BOSS)

BOSS was a collaboration between Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) and 100% Digital Leeds, supported by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Fund (DSIT) formally known as the DCMS Media Literacy Programme Fund. The goal was to address digital inclusion challenges faced by older individuals in diverse communities, and barriers to accessing media literacy, aligning with the goals outlined in the DIST fund. Being a BOSS delivery partner has allowed Hamara to support older members to develop their digital skills and confidence ranging from basic knowledge, such as how to send and reply to emails, to more advanced skills, including how to identify online scams and phishing emails.

Google Translate was introduced as part of BOSS after Leeds Older People’s Forum and the BOSS delivery partners recognised a need for supporting service users with language and literacy barriers. Everyone involved in the BOSS sessions at Hamara found Google Translate useful, but it was especially useful for the women’s group.

“They found it like magic, and it made a big difference for them during and after the sessions.”

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre

During one of the women group’s sessions, the learners explained that they had learnt how to send pictures and files via WhatsApp to family members abroad, which they found useful. As the level of English competency varied within the group, the introduction of Google Translate allowed service users to better understand official documents, letters, and food labels.

Peer-support has been encouraged as part of the BOSS project, enabling people with lived experience to share their learning and support others, bridging gaps where language and literacy were key barriers. This extra confidence and ability within groups has supported service users to be more independent, freeing up staff capacity to allow more time to be spent with service users who might require more intensive support.

“An individual had trouble using apps and social media on their phone. Now they can shop on eBay, use Amazon, check Facebook, and browse Facebook Marketplace. Since learning these skills, they have also been a great help to their peers, sharing the benefits of using online platforms and boosting their confidence. They even came up with more ideas for selling items at home and making money, something they couldn’t do before.”

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

The impact of the remarkable work at Hamara was highlighted in an article on the Hyphen website: Inside the Muslim community group bridging the digital divide.

HALO Project

The HALO project is a day service for people with learning disabilities and autistic people, which is hosted at the Hamara centre. Many members of the HALO group are from minority ethnic backgrounds and have complex support needs. This means that they are at high risk of digital exclusion. HALO offers a safe space where people with learning disabilities and autistic people can learn new skills, socialise, and reach their full potential in a safe and supportive environment. HALO staff have been working hard to support digital inclusion for their members, with the support of 100% Digital Leeds.

The HALO group take part in a wide range of activities focussing on improving the life skills of members, from bowling and Zumba to arts and crafts. The 100% Digital Leeds team have worked closely with the team at Hamara to ensure that the HALO members have the equipment and the support required to take part in digital activities. The Hamara team have had training from AbilityNet to learn how they can make their devices more accessible for people with additional needs. Funding from the Multiply scheme has meant that every member of the HALO group has been gifted a digital device with connectivity, alongside support to improve their mathematics and budgeting skills.

The HALO group have also been eager participants of the Positive Digital Walks project, where members have had the opportunity to visit their local green spaces while trying different apps and resources. This has allowed HALO members who are more nervous about trying digital activities to learn skills in a fun and relaxing environment, while also getting some exercise and exploring their local community.

Next Steps

Hamara’s digital support services are in high demand but their capacity to accommodate requests for support is limited. To continue to provide digital support, Hamara is keen to recruit volunteers with digital skills and confidence. Volunteers play a critical role in supporting the delivery of Hamara’s digital inclusion offer, boosting individuals’ confidence and addressing potential obstacles to engagement. 100% Digital Leeds will continue to provide ongoing support and explore funding opportunities to address capacity issues, ensuring the sustainability of Hamara’s digital inclusion support services.

Digital inclusion research project with Leeds Beckett University

Over the last 12 months, 100% Digital Leeds has worked with the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University on a research project funded by the British Academy.

The aim of the research was to understand how two city-wide programmes led by local authorities – 100% Digital Leeds and #CovConnects – contribute towards addressing digital inequality at a city-wide level, and how this impact can be measured.

The project also aimed to improve understanding of the complexity of such programmes, and to support local and national government to design, implement, and evaluate more effective city and region-wide digital inclusion interventions.

The final report was published on the British Academy website in May 2024.

Co-producing a Theory of Change and evaluation framework for local authority-led, city-wide digital inclusion programmes

The British Academy wrote a Policy Brief outlining lessons and best practice from this research and two other digital inclusion research projects:

The key lessons for policymakers at regional and local levels were:

  • Digital inclusion provision at local and regional levels may be undermined by the lack of a nationally coordinated strategy.
  • Digital inclusion is a cross-cutting policy issue that can impact social and economic policy agendas.
  • Approaches to digital inclusion can benefit from recognising it as an intermediate policy outcome rather than an end in itself.
  • Longer-term and less prescriptive funding arrangements can enable delivery partners to provide tailored support that meets people’s long-term digital inclusion needs.
  • Digital inclusion programmes benefit from taking place-based approaches that are tailored to local contexts and co-produced by actors at different scales.

Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund 2024

The Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund is a permanent grant funding stream administered by Leeds Community Foundation in partnership with 100% Digital Leeds. The fund supports the development and delivery of sustainable digital inclusion interventions in Leeds. Grants of up to £10,000 are available to community organisations aimed at ensuring that individuals and communities in Leeds have the skills, support, and equipment to be active online, now and in the future.

The 2024 Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund launched on 6th June and is open for applications until 12 noon on Thursday 11th July. The grant criteria, eligibility, and all other relevant information can be found on the Leeds Community Foundation website.

Contact us for support in developing your project idea and fund application. To ensure you can make the most of the support available from the 100% Digital Leeds team organisations should read the grant criteria and eligibility, and watch the briefing event recording, before contacting us.

Fund launch and briefing event

This year’s Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund was launched on 6th June with an online briefing event hosted by Leeds Community Foundation and 100% Digital Leeds. During the event we shared information about the fund’s criteria and application process, as well as the support that 100% Digital Leeds can offer.

Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund Briefing Event recording, via YouTube.

Leeds Digital Charity Ball

Every year, money raised by the Leeds Digital Charity Ball is given in grants to community organisations through the Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund. Grants support the development and delivery of sustainable digital inclusion interventions in Leeds, and the fund is administered by Leeds Community Foundation with support from 100% Digital Leeds.

On 9 May 2024, the digital and tech sector in Leeds came together at the Royal Armouries for the third annual Leeds Digital Charity Ball. The event aims to celebrate the city’s growing tech and digital community, shine a spotlight on the importance of digital inclusion, and raise funds to narrow the digital divide.

Hundreds of people attended the event, including representatives from some of the community organisations who received funding after last year’s Digital Ball. 100% Digital Leeds were invited to give a speech on the night alongside Steph Taylor, Chief Executive of Leeds Community Foundation. We highlighted the positive impact of digital inclusion and the difference that the funded organisations are making to the lives of people in their communities.

Partner profile: Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme is one of 100% Digital Leeds’s most long running partnerships, supporting digital inclusion since 2018. Their offer is constantly changing as they adapt to meet the needs of people in East Leeds. Lately Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours has adapted their digital inclusion offer to support service users struggling with the increased cost of living. The organisation has focussed on supporting service users to improve their digital skills, confidence, and connectivity so that they can benefit from digital tools and services that can help maximise their incomes, manage their finances, and make their money go further.

To ensure maximum impact Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours has:

  • Identified digitally excluded members via the organisation’s service offers that are most likely to be accessed by service users struggling financially, such as the food pantry.
  • Embedded digital inclusion support into service offers supporting those hit hardest by increased cost of living.
  • Focussed on supporting digital inclusion to help people improve their financial situation in the long term.
  • Looked to different funding sources and partnership opportunities to maximise the amount of support available for those struggling with the increased cost of living.

The organisation has already started to see the positive impact of their work, with some members being much better off financially as a result of their support.

“We supported one lady to get £19,000 in backdated housing benefits by helping her with her emails. She was in sheltered accommodation and the rent had changed. She was paying the rent from her pension and was struggling. We helped her send an email to look into her benefits entitlement, which led to her income being recalculated. She was eligible for housing benefits, going forward and back dated. She got all that money back, plus an additional £600 per month going forward, which changed her situation drastically.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ digital inclusion journey

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme provide support services including a food pantry, friendship groups, exercise classes, and lunch clubs to residents living in Crossgates.

The organisation has offered digital inclusion support since before the pandemic, initially supporting older people at their Station Road centre. They are a member of Leeds’s Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network, co-facilitated by 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum. They are also a member of the National Digital Inclusion Network, with Good Things Foundation recognising the impact of their work in a case study. 100% Digital Leeds has partnered with the Neighbourhood Network many times, including in 2019 to launch the city’s first Digital Health Hub, and in 2020 to support digital inclusion for people with dementia and their carers.

In November 2021 the organisation broadened their offer with the launch of a second site. Cross Gates and Whinmoor Community Hub is based at Crossgates Shopping Centre and is open to people of all ages. The Hub offers a wide range of support, information, and advice. Free wifi and access to digital equipment are available on site, and those struggling to afford connectivity can be gifted a SIM card with six months of free 4G data, calls, and texts, via the National Databank. The organisation has two Digital Support Workers available to offer one-to-one support with things like online shopping, online GP appointments, using travel apps, and managing benefits.

Most recently Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours:

  • Were beneficiaries of the 2023 Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund, receiving a £10,000 grant to broaden their digital inclusion offer.
  • Partnered with 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum on Travel Connections, a city-wide project exploring how improved digital inclusion can support older people to travel independently.
  • Partnered with 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds City Council’s Employment and Skills team to deliver Multiply, supporting digital inclusion and numeracy skills for improved financial resilience for those hit hardest by the cost of living crisis.

As a result the organisation has a strong digital inclusion offer, with digital support embedded into their person centred, holistic approach.

Identifying those hit hardest by increased cost of living

Cross Gates and Whinmoor Community Hub launched their food pantry two years ago. For £5.00, people struggling financially receive a selection of foods such as bread, milk, vegetables and fruit, plus a number of non-perishables such as tinned meat and fish, and some treats. The pantry has supported over 900 individual households with affordable food to date, including a mix of single people, families, and older people. As the cost of living continues to increase more and more people are accessing the service. After seeing the same people coming back again and again, the Hub wanted to look at at how they could help people improve their financial situation.

“ When a person comes in for help, they might ask about one thing but it’s rare they only face one issue. Whenever people visit either of our sites the staff talk to them about the things they can do with digital that might make their lives easier. Anyone that joins our older people’s service or visits the Hub goes on to a referral system. Everybody receives a follow-up call, even if they’ve just come in to ask about help with getting a bus pass, doing something online, or attending a coffee morning. Everyone gets an individual call and are asked various questions to check their wellbeing. If we hear that they’re struggling with money, they’d be referred on to the cost of living support. If they need IT support we pass their details on to our Digital Support Worker. So everyone is offered the support they need and no one’s slipping through the net.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme.

Supporting digital inclusion for improved financial resilience

“We got fed up with just giving people what’s essentially a sticking plaster. People were coming to us for food again and again, we weren’t helping them get to the root cause of the problem.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme.

The organisation began by partnering with 100% Digital Leeds to deliver Multiply, a government-funded scheme to improve adult functional numeracy skills. 100% Digital Leeds worked with Employment and Skills to award grants to trusted third sector delivery partners working with communities who are most likely to be digitally excluded, feeling the effects of the cost of living crisis, and facing barriers to accessing learning in a more formal or traditional setting. Those supported include people on low incomes, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health needs, refugees and asylum seekers, and older people. Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours was one of those delivery partners.

“Multiply has been a first step to supporting us to really be able to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis. It gave us the capacity to spend more time with people to really understand their situations and help them with the root cause. The funding has made a big impact because when somebody comes in with a problem you’ve only got so much time to help them, then there’s somebody sat waiting. These sessions allowed us to give people a block of time in a relaxed environment.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Receiving funding to deliver Multiply helped Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours better understand how to support people struggling with the cost of living going forward. They’ve since received different funding to do more cost of living workshops which have been well attended by people of all ages from the local community.

To develop their cost of living sessions, the organisation looked at the one-to-one support they found themselves regularly giving to individuals struggling with the increased cost of living. They identified the support that really made a difference to people’s finances, and built their offer around this. From there the organisation were able to develop a range of courses supporting practical skills like household budgeting, improved numeracy, and healthy eating, all with digital inclusion support embedded. Supporting people in a group setting has allowed the organisation to make more efficient use of their resource for maximum impact.

The sessions help people to manage their day-to-day living costs and lower their bills. Attendees look at their spending, are advised on where they could save, and then they each complete a personalised action plan to manage their money better. Course content includes supporting people in receipt of benefits to access social tariffs for cheaper wifi, parents on low incomes with young children to register with the NHS Healthy Start scheme for support to buy milk and vegetables, and people who use more water due to health issues to pay a lower rate on their water bill. The content is constantly changing as it’s adapted to meet the needs of each session’s attendees, and attendance is incentivised with a £10 supermarket voucher.

Those who have attended the cost of living course have told Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours how helpful the sessions has been. Many are regulars, and they call into the Hub to let the organisation know how much money they’ve saved, others the organisation has contacted afterwards to follow up. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We identified one gentleman who we knew was struggling financially. We realised he was entitled to Attendance Allowance. We supported him to apply and he’s now about £600 a month better off. A gentleman that our Digital Support Worker has just been helping is recently bereaved. He told us that he’d give his wife housekeeping money and she’d take care of everything. He’s not very mobile and struggles to carry shopping. We’ve just taught him how to do his supermarket shopping online and get it delivered. He came in with some chocolates to say thank you. He told us it’s life changing for him and he feels quite proud of himself. He loves how the app remembers his last order and he can just add or take away items and reorder. It’s little things like that which make such a big difference.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Partnering to increase resource and maximise impact

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ cost of living support offer is constantly changing according to the needs of service users and the resource available. The organisation is keen to partner with organisations offering specialist services that their service users can benefit from. The organisation has Money Buddies offering support on site. They have Green Doctors helping people with the Heating on Prescription initiative. Local healthcare professionals have a presence due to the organisation’s work with the Local Care Partnership, and their Digital Health Hub status.

“We see people who need help on a daily basis. The things that we’re doing are good, and the funding’s fantastic, but there’s not enough funding for the core costs and staffing. We don’t want to take over and try and do everything. We try to do signposting and referrals as much as we can. We want to make sure that people benefit from all of the resources available.”

Jo Horsfall, CEO at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Over the past year Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours has utilised multiple funding streams to increase the amount of support available to those struggling financially, to improve the root cause of their situation:

  • The Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund facilitated by Leeds Community Foundation and 100% Digital Leeds supported the organisation to offer digital skills support for a year, with ten tablets purchased to be used at IT training sessions in groups and one-to-one.
  • Outer East Community Committee funding supported the organisation to provide ten ‘Cost of Living’ workshops.
  • Clarion funding supported the organisation to provide sixteen ‘Cost of Living’ workshops, with each participant receiving a £10 shopping voucher.
  • Multiply funding supported the organisation to develop and deliver a course on numeracy and digital inclusion for financial resilience for 30 people. Each participant also received a free android tablet with 80GB of data per month for two years.
  • Household Support Fund facilitated by Forum Central and Leeds Older People’s Forum supported the organisation to distribute 150 Slow Cookers and £1,200 in fuel and food vouchers to over 60s in the area to support with the cost of living crisis.

“The support and resources we receive from funders mean we are able to reach and help more people. We identify the issues people are struggling with then we use a test and learn approach to ensure that we can meet demand and support community members at the correct level, with things that make a real difference. For example, our ‘Cost of Living’ course has developed into a ‘Healthy Eating’ course at a time when some people are forced to decide whether to ‘eat or heat’.”

Vanessa Anderson, Digital Support Worker, Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Digital inclusion in primary care

The adoption of digital technology across health services has significantly increased in recent years. Around 10 million more people in the UK used NHS websites or digital applications in 2021 compared with 2020, and NHS App registrations increased from 2 million people in 2021 to 30 million in 2023. However, the benefits are not yet accessible for everyone. Around 30% of people who are offline feel that the NHS is one of the most difficult organisations to interact with.

100% Digital Leeds is working across healthcare and community settings to support digital inclusion for improved health outcomes. This involves increasing digital inclusion awareness among staff, building capacity to support digital inclusion in communities, and supporting the implementation of digital inclusion solutions to common challenges that patients face when engaging with health services.

The need for supporting digital inclusion in primary care

Improving General Practice (GP) access is one of the NHS’s top priorities. Last year NHS England launched a delivery plan for recovering access to primary care to improve GP access to patients across the UK, with Integrated Care Boards delivering their own improvement plans for communities. The plan’s main objective is to tackle some of the pressures facing GPs and other services as they work to get back to normal after the pandemic.

The aims of the plan are:

  • To tackle the 8am rush for appointments and reduce the number of people struggling to contact their GP practice.
  • To restore patient satisfaction and for patients to know on the day they contact their practice how their request will be managed.
  • To support a move to more digital options and encouraging use of the NHS App.

100% Digital Leeds is working in partnership with the Primary Care Transformation Team in Leeds to support the implementation of the delivery plan by exploring ways that embedding digital inclusion into existing strategies and activity can support both staff and patients to engage with digital tools and services.

This involves:

  • Increasing opportunities for patients to have a better understanding of the tools available and gain support in using these tools.
  • Offering training and support to staff to better enable them to have positive digital inclusion conversations with patients to raise awareness of digital tools and services and help people better understand the potential benefits of using them.
  • Supporting staff to signpost people to digital support in trusted spaces in the community. 

100% Digital Leeds has worked with the Primary Care Transformation Team to develop a patient digital needs assessment questionnaire. This enables admin teams to better understand the digital inclusion barriers patients may face, meaning they can signpost to the right support based on individual needs. 

Supporting the implementation of Patchs

In 2023 Primary Care teams across Leeds began the rollout of Patchs, a new tool to support patients in managing their appointments and communicating with practices. 100% Digital Leeds partnered with Lingwell Croft Surgery and Middleton and Hunslet Primary Care Network to explore ways that digital inclusion could support with the implementation of the new digital tool for patients and staff.

Staff expressed that they felt confident in using Patchs but had low confidence in offering the tool to patients who may face barriers to digital inclusion. 100% Digital Leeds developed tailored digital inclusion awareness training for staff to increase their confidence in having positive digital inclusion conversations with patients, supporting patients in using Patchs, and improving signposting to appropriate digital inclusion support in the community. Staff are encouraged to signpost patients to the city’s Digital Health Hubs for support with digital skills and to access connectivity and devices. 

“The training has been super useful. I feel more excited about offering this to patients now and can see the real benefits. It’s good knowing where in the community is offering support such as free data and devices, I can now share this with my patients.”

Receptionist, Lingwell Croft Surgery.

The training improved staff skills and confidence leading to increased opportunities for patients to engage with practices digitally and empowering patients to have greater access in managing their own health and wellbeing, resulting in fewer unnecessary GP appointments. 

“We’ve found that staff feel a lot more confident having conversations with patients about digital. More of our patients have been supported to use Patchs and staff have signposted patients to Middleton Elderly Aid where they have been helping lots of our patients with the sign-up process in their digital sessions. We have seen a rise in patients using Patchs and I will look at sharing this work wider across the other practices in the PCN.” 

Julie Howard, Lingwell Croft Surgery.

Next steps

As a result of the success in embedding digital inclusion into the rollout of Patchs at Lingwell Croft, 100% Digital Leeds is having further discussions with the Primary Care Development Team to explore replicating this approach with other practices adopting Patchs.

100% Digital Leeds plans to support the adoption of this model across the additional three practices that are part of Middleton and Hunslet Primary Care Network. Beeston Primary Care Network will be rolling out Patchs from April 2024 and 100% Digital Leeds will play a similar role in supporting the embedding of digital inclusion into the implementation plan. This training and the embedding of digital inclusion will support future rollout plans for digital tools such as other platforms such as Airmid and Accurx, as well as condition specific self-management tools.

Travel Connections

In 2023, Leeds Older People’s Forum were awarded a grant through the Department for Transport’s Tackling loneliness with transport fund to deliver the Travel Connections project. The project focused on increasing digital inclusion opportunities for older people in engaging with taxi and bus apps. 100% Digital Leeds partnered with Leeds Older People’s Forum and identified six key community organisations to act as delivery partners:

  • Age UK Leeds
  • Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme
  • Holbeck Together
  • Leeds Irish Health and Homes
  • Morley Digital
  • Your Backyard

Project objectives

Leeds Older People’s Forum and 100% Digital Leeds worked with the delivery partners to identify the following key objectives:

  • Older people have greater awareness of, and feel confident to interact with, the full range of transport apps available in Leeds.
  • Older people can use transport apps to increase independence and social connections, reduce isolation.
  • Older people have improved digital skills and confidence.
  • Staff and volunteers across the partner organisations feel confident their ability to support older people to use transport apps.

100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum set up a steering group with all delivery partners, enabling organisations to collaborate, and share experience and best practice.

The delivery partners identified key transport apps currently available in the city:

  • Uber
  • Amber Cars
  • UK Bus Checker
  • First Bus app
  • Moovit
  • Trainline
  • Flexi Bus app

The delivery partners worked with their service users to navigate the apps and identify potential barriers to use. Older people shared a lack of confidence in using the apps, with many expressing concerns over inputting their bank details into the apps without leaving themselves open to scams. Applying for a senior bus pass was identified as an additional challenge for older people as the process is digital. As a result, online safety and the senior bus pass application process were identified as additional project objectives.

Project delivery and initial outcomes

Each delivery partner took a person-centred approach, identifying any additional barriers to individuals using transport apps and tailoring their support to meet that specific need. Each organisation delivered their digital support in different ways. Some supported older people in small group settings, some one-to-one, and some via home visits, where service users were unable to travel to community settings. 

Many of the organisations designed and developed written guides to using the apps, highlighting each feature and how best to use it. The guides received positive feedback from service users and were brought together in a shared Google Drive, allowing all organisations to access them.

Holbeck Together

Holbeck Together found the initial barriers their service users faced were:

  • Lack of understanding of the range of apps available.
  • Lack of digital skills associated with practically using the apps, such as how to download them. 
  • Lack of understanding of the terminology used in the apps.
  • Lack of trust in people’s own ability to use the apps safely, including concerns around inputting personal details.
  • Low digital skills and confidence.

In response, Holbeck Together delivered a series of tailored digital support sessions themed around each app. They invited service users who already used the apps to attend the sessions and share their experiences of the benefits of using the apps, and to encourage peer support. Holbeck Together planned days out to enable people to practically use the apps. With support service users visited Leeds City Centre and Yeadon on the bus, using travel apps to plan their journey and book their tickets.

“The group had so much fun working together to plan the best route on the app.  They thoroughly enjoyed it and said it felt ‘less scary’ because they’d done it all together.  They loved the fish and chip lunch at the destination!  With the app they were able to find the right stop and using the live tracker, only had 5 minutes to wait at the bus stop.”

Sean, Digital Inclusion Officer, Holbeck Together.

The sessions were successful in supporting service users to develop the skills and confidence needed to use the apps to support travel. The project’s success has meant that Holbeck Together is continuing to deliver transport-themed digital support sessions. They have found there is a real demand for this support across their community, and as a result, many of their service users have been supported to grow their skills and confidence, and now enjoy using travel apps to move around the city.

“I would like to say how wonderful this project has been. I have learnt so much and feel so much more confident in using the bus apps. As a widow, aged 75, it has given me a reason to go out and has helped with my grief. I can now plan my routes on the app to meet friends and visit even more places of interest.”

Irene, 75, service user.

Morley Digital

Morley Digital identified concerns around sharing personal information and making in-app payments as an additional barrier to their service users using travel apps. In response, Morley Digital developed guides around how to safely use payment features and input personal details into the apps. These were then shared across all delivery partners.

“We ran themed digital support sessions around using payment options in the apps, exploring PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Airpay which is used on the Amber Taxi app. There was a real worry before these sessions, but we went through each step in detail and the members said they felt so much better and appreciated our help in setting it all up with them.”

Alan, Digital Inclusion Worker, Morley Digital.

Leeds Irish Health and Homes

Leeds Irish Health and Homes identified that many of their service users were without a suitable device to download and use travel apps. In response they used some of their funding to purchase smartphones to gift to service users in need. 4G data was also provided with the smartphones, enabling service users to download travel apps and use digital tools that could help people stay in touch with family, friends, and services. 

After identifying the support needed by their service users, Leeds Irish Health and Homes designed a four-week course themed around using bus apps, with the fourth session ending with a practical exercise of booking a ticket and making a journey. The sessions reduced older people’s fears around making journeys using travel apps and increased their independence in navigating the city.

Older people felt more confident in using the First bus and Arriva apps, including to plan journeys to Harrogate, Scarborough, and Saltaire.


Leeds Older People’s Forum gathered feedback and case studies from each of the delivery partners and produced an evaluation report to share findings. The report showed that more older people have been encouraged to use public transport after receiving support via the project, meaning more people have been able to reconnect with their friends, families, and communities. Across the organisations service users welcomed peer support which empowered older people to share their new skills to then help others. Many have developed their digital skills and increased their confidence to use transport apps and apply for bus passes to travel around Leeds and beyond.

“Not everyone lives next door to relatives and friends so by increasing people’s confidence in using taxi and bus apps we are helping them to increase their social opportunities, to meet at a coffee shop for example, and helping to reduce loneliness.”

Delivery Partner.

Many older people said the support on offer via this project reduced their anxiety around travelling, particularly app features such as the ability to see their taxi approaching, the car registration, and knowing who their driver would be. Many found using live tracker features highly useful, meaning they won’t be waiting a long time for buses in cold weather conditions. Through the project it also became apparent that applications for bus passes in Leeds were relatively low, so organisations have built this support into their delivery and subsequently more older people have applied for their bus passes as well as helping other older people to do the same. 

“It’s made such a difference; I like to see my taxi and where it is on the journey.  I would never have known how to use the app before, but the help I’ve received has been great and I now use it all the time. They showed me how to save my journeys on the app so it’s just a click of a button now to order my taxi, and I feel so much safer.”

Service user, Your Backyard.

Staff and volunteers across the delivery organisations also said they’d developed their own digital skills and now felt more confident in supporting older people to use transport apps and apply for bus passes. They found about apps they hadn’t heard of, such as Moovit, which have proved to be great options for safely navigating the city, planning routes, and gaining more confidence in travelling independently. 

Next steps

Based on the success of the project and the high demand for support amongst older people in using transport apps, the delivery partners continue to provide this support. With the support of 100% Digital Leeds the delivery partners have embedded this into their existing digital support sessions and service offers. The travel app guides and resources produced via this project are all now widely available and the organisations are continuing to explore new apps that may be of use to their service users.  These resources have been shared across the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network and network partners have begun conversations with West Yorkshire Combined Authority to look at further support around the process of applying for a senior bus pass.