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.

Partner profile: St Paul’s Ireland Wood

St Paul’s Ireland Wood is an Anglican church and part of the diocese of Leeds. The church focuses on making a difference in the lives of individuals, the community, and the wider society. They offer a range of groups and services for local residents who are isolated, on a low income, or otherwise in need. Services include hosting the Ireland Wood outlet of the Leeds North and West Foodbank, Money Buddies debt advice service, ‘Baby Basics’, a voluntary group providing essentials to expectant and new parents, and their new ‘Warm Welcome’ , a weekly group providing a warm space and hot meal. .

St Paul’s Ireland Wood is working closely with the Woodsley and Holt Park Digital Inclusion Officer to embed digital inclusion support into existing services. As a result the church now offers digital skills support and access to digital devices, as well as free wifi, for the benefit of the local community.

“Our digital offer has really developed over the past six months and Ayisha’s help has been a big part of that. We have been able to increase our offer so that we can now give people access to iPads. Ayisha has helped train up our volunteers so they can also offer weekly digital support and help with signposting.”

Rev Bev Monck, St Paul’s Ireland Wood.

Understanding the digital inclusion need for support

St Paul’s Ireland Wood initially supported service users with access to free wifi. At their ‘Warm Welcome’ session they responded to the need for occasional support with digital tools and services such as helping people complete online forms or their Universal Credit journal. They identified that service users may need further digital inclusion support and invited the Digital Inclusion Officer to attend a Warm Welcome session to help better understand the needs, and barriers faced.

“At my age you don’t think about learning new things, especially online, but Ayisha showed me how to use an iPad and helped me understand how to search for information on things like food, local history, and sports people I like. I really enjoyed her company when she attended the Warm Welcome evenings.”

John, service user at St Paul’s Ireland Wood.

The Digital Inclusion Officer attended the Warm Welcome session and spent time chatting with service users about their use of digital and sharing tips on how to improve their digital skills. As some service users do not own a digital device, two devices owned by the church were made available for service users to use throughout the evening while they were enjoying a hot meal.

Older service users used the tablets to research recreational interests such as history, documentaries, and sports. Parents were supported with navigating phone settings, and setting up apps on tablets as this was a barrier for them on their own devices at home. The children used the tablets to play games online.

“One of the important things was to see how different people engaged with digital and some of the barriers they have when it comes to getting online, using apps, and their own devices. Seeing the variety in use and needs allowed us to see that digital needs vary from person to person, and how important it is to support everyone based on the level they are at, and the things that are important to them.”  

Ayisha, Digital Inclusion Officer, Woodsley and Holt Park LCP.

Building on the existing digital inclusion offer

The Digital Inclusion Officer identified the need for more devices to support access for service users without their own smart phone, tablet, or laptop. Five iPads with 4G data were borrowed from Leeds Libraries. This additional equipment has allowed St Pauls to offer further support with digital access and skills development during the Warm Welcome sessions and other services used by people more likely to be digitally excluded.  

The Digital Inclusion Officer supported the team at St Paul’s to deliver digital skills support during the Warm Welcome evenings that took place from September to November 2023. She used this time to train the church’s existing volunteers to offer digital inclusion support themselves. Volunteers were supported in how to have positive conversations with service users who may be low in digital skills, confidence, and motivation, and as a result reluctant to engage with digital tools. They also learned how to support service users to develop their digital skills and independently use digital tools and services.

Since December 2023, digital skills support has been made available across the church’s service offer. The team of volunteers at St Paul’s now deliver this support independently and have enjoyed seeing service users make the most of the online world.  

“The team at St Paul’s have done an exceptional job at learning on the spot and driving interest in digital inclusion within their existing activities. It has been refreshing to see people get comfortable after a few tries of using the tablets and then asking questions about how they can do the same thing at home.”

Ayisha, Woodsley and Holt Park Digital Inclusion Officer.

Next steps  

As St Paul’s continues to thrive in their digital provision, they plans to register with the National Databank which will allow them to gift SIM cards with free 4G data to members of their community struggling with digital poverty.

They are also working closely with the Digital Inclusion Officer to increase their capacity for supporting digital inclusion. Better Leeds Communities, the local organisation that hosts the Digital Inclusion Officer on behalf of the Woodsley and Holt Park Local Care Partnership, is also hosting University of Leeds Social Work placement students to help increase capacity for further digital inclusion provision across the area. The students will be supporting St Paul’s with additional digital skills sessions between March and July 2024.  

Bringing digital support to residents of tower blocks in LS9

100% Digital Leeds and The Old Fire Station are working with Housing Leeds and Space2 to deliver digital inclusion sessions from communal spaces of tower blocks in Gipton. The sessions are bringing digital support to the doorsteps of older residents with frailty and mobility issues in one of the most disadvantaged wards in the city. ‘Brekkie and Browsing’ sessions are currently facilitated by staff from The Old Fire Station and Space2. The aim is for the groups to become self-sustaining in the near future, using a ‘digital champion’ model to encourage peer support within the group. The sessions have been successful in engaging and supporting residents less able to access existing community provision.

Taking a partnership approach to supporting digital inclusion in the York Road area of the city

Local Care Partnerships (LCP) bring together local stakeholders such as community organisations, NHS care providers, and elected members to facilitate joined-up working to address local health needs. The York Road LCP identifies digital inclusion as a local priority. As a result The Old Fire Station currently hosts an NHS funded Digital Inclusion Officer, matrix managed by 100% Digital Leeds, to work with partners across the York Road LCP footprint to increase the amount of digital inclusion support available to local residents.

At a recent York Road LCP meeting NHS Patient Care Coordinators identified that older residents with physical frailty and limited mobility find it difficult to attend digital skills sessions held by local community organisations. To address this, the Digital Inclusion Officer worked with the local Housing Leeds Tenant Engagement Officer to further understand local need and they identified older residents in tower blocks as a group that would find it most difficult to access existing digital inclusion support. Communal spaces in Denbigh and Brecon tower blocks were identified as suitable spaces to run sessions from, and the Digital Inclusion Officer worked with local community organisation Space2 to develop ‘Brekkie and Browsing’.

“As a community organisation we know that there are many local residents in East Leeds who struggle to access our groups and activities. We are fully aware that there are many who fall into groups that can go under the radar and may drop into the category harshly defined at times as ‘hard to reach’. People who may be lonely and isolated, face health issues, or having caring responsibilities. By putting on our Brekkie and Browsing group in residential spaces like these Gipton tower blocks we can show that people will come along, take the new opportunities to learn and enjoy the new company.”

Lawrence Glyn, Community Development Worker, Space2

Brekkie and Browsing sessions

‘Brekkie and Browsing’ sessions allow residents in the Denbigh Croft and Heights, and Brecon Rise tower blocks, the chance to come to a relaxed session to chat about and overcome their digital issues with support from those more confident with IT. The weekly sessions take place on Monday mornings and a free breakfast is provided. The sessions are promoted by Tenant Engagement Officers, Care Coordinator, and resident word of mouth, targeting those less likely to engage with support in the community.

Whilst some attendees are just starting their digital journey, others have used the sessions to add to their pre-existing knowledge but they may have previously lacked the confidence needed to build on that knowledge. Attendees are supported to get the most out of their digital equipment whilst keeping themselves safe online and avoiding scams. Attendees can bring their own devices or use the laptops provided.

“What got me interested and excited when I first saw the advert was that someone was willing to show me how to properly use my laptop and my smartphone. I have achieved some of the things most important to me, to help me use my devices much easier and in such a short time. No more struggling with things I use the most, and I’ve made new friends while learning.”

Resident at Denbigh Heights.

Support has included using and managing online documents, formatting spreadsheets, and using online price comparison sites to get better deals. Attendees have used their improved digital skills to help make their money go further, to improve their employability, to help with their volunteering, and to stay in touch with friends and family.

Attending the group has had the added benefit of improving attendees’ confidence and reducing loneliness. Some members have reported attending the sessions has helped them to focus after recent bereavements.

“It’s great coming to the group – getting up, out and about, and joining in with others. Thanks for putting it on.”

Resident at Brecon Rise.

Next steps

The ‘Brekkie and Browser’ sessions have been initially facilitated by staff at The Old Fire Station and Space2 and the aim is for the groups to become self-sufficient utilising peer support. Residents with more digital skills and confidence will be identified from existing group attendees and supported to become digital champions and take over the leadership of the sessions, with light touch support from The Old Fire Station and Space2. This will free-up the capacity of The Old Fire Station and Space2 to roll-out Brekkie and Browsers approach to other tower blocks and social housing settings in the LS9 area.

“Running the groups with Chris has proved purposeful, very effective, and clearly very needed. There are so many people out there with such varying levels of digital need, alongside socialisation, some far more isolated than many people realise. The sessions have quite quickly created quite a special group, bringing much needed learning to an older group who want to connect to the world, be that learning how to use their smartphone, log on to a network, set up a spreadsheet, upload a CV, or send an email. It is of great benefit to everyone involved and, at the same time, it builds its own community of like-minded people which is why the group has continued to grow into a social group keen to find out more.”

Lawrence Glyn, Community Development Worker, Space2

Digital Trustees

Leeds Digital Volunteering Partnership is partnering with Third Sector Lab to pilot their Digital Trustees model in Leeds. Third Sector Lab is hosting an online matchmaking event to connect charities and professionals from tech, data, design, IT and other digital backgrounds.

The event will take place online on Thursday 28 March, 10.00am – 11.30am. For more details and to book your place, visit the Third Sector Lab website.

In today’s digital age, charities face new challenges and opportunities that require them to adapt to the changing landscape of technology. According to the 2023 Charity Digital Skills Report 78% of charities say digital is now more of a priority and 66% are interested in making use of emerging technology. However, 73% say they don’t feel prepared to respond to the opportunities and challenges it brings, with fewer than half having a strategy to focus their approach to digital transformation.

Charities that recruit volunteers with digital skills to their Board of Trustees can tap into their expertise to develop effective digital strategies, enhance their digital presence, and ultimately achieve their goals more efficiently. Volunteering to support a charity as a Digital Trustee helps individuals develop their leadership skills, make a real impact on the future of a cause they care about, and feel connected to the city.

What is a ‘Digital Trustee’?

Most charities are led by a Board of Trustees. A Board of Trustees primarily operates in an advisory capacity leaving decision-making to the charity’s senior leadership. A Trustee is an unpaid position, with the individual giving their time on a voluntary basis.

Digital Trustees are individuals with experience in digital, data or design who volunteer their time to sit on the Board of a charity and offer their expertise to help charities improve their digital strategy and capabilities. They provide guidance to the organisation around how they can best make use of digital as well as insight into best digital practices, helping the charity adapt to the changing landscape of technology.

Digital Trusteeships create a more permanent and long standing relationship between charities and individuals from the tech sector. The Trustee is able to gain a better understanding of the needs of the charity as well as gaining a strong grounding in strategic oversight, supporting their personal development. Having a Digital Trustee on their Board means charities have a trusted tech champion to help them find digital solutions that truly work for them and their beneficiaries.

Joining a charity’s Board as a Digital Trustee can help an individual:

  • Build their leadership skills and expertise.
  • Learn from a diverse range of fellow board members.
  • Make a real impact on the future of a cause they care about. 

Recruiting a Digital Trustee to their Board can help a charity:

  • Get expertise to support long-term direction and strategy.
  • Empower the rest of the board to understand the potential of digital.
  • Give the charity a competitive advantage when it comes to data, design and technology.

Almost anyone can be a Trustee, regardless of how junior or senior they are in their career, and regardless of their ethnicity, class, gender orientation, sexuality or any other difference. Charity Boards thrive when they have a diversity of skills, knowledge, age and experience on their board. There are a small number of circumstances in which individuals are not eligible to be a Trustee. You can find more information on the Voluntary Action Leeds website.

Digital Trustee Matchmaking Event with Third Sector Lab

Leeds Digital Volunteering Partnership and Third Sector Lab are hosting an online matchmaking event to connect charities and professionals from tech, data, design, IT and other digital backgrounds. 

The event will take place online on Thursday 28 March, 10.00am – 11.30am. Places are free to both charities looking to recruit a Digital Trustee and individuals looking to volunteer to join a charity Board as a Digital Trustee. Book your place at the Third Sector Lab website.

The session will include an introduction by the founder of Third Sector Lab, Ross McCulloch. This will be followed by a series of rotating breakout rooms to let participants meet in smaller groups. The session is not exclusive to Leeds-based charities and prospective Digital Trustees, but some of the spaces have been ring fenced for Leeds.

Before attending the session, both charities looking to recruit a Digital Trustee and individuals looking to volunteer to join a charity Board as a Digital Trustee are asked to please complete a profile on the Third Sector Lab website so that organisations or potential trustees can get in contact after the event. 

Leeds Digital Volunteering Partnership

Leeds Digital Volunteering Partnership (LDVP) is made up of representatives from 100% Digital Leeds, Leeds Community Foundation, Voluntary Action Leeds, and the city’s tech sector. LDVP fosters cross-sector partnerships that help the city’s third sector organisations benefit from the digital skills and capacity of the tech sector, and to enable tech businesses and their employees to gain new skills, experience, and a sense of community through work with not-for-profit organisations. Find out more about 100% Digital Leeds’s work with the city’s tech sector.


100% Digital Leeds is working with Leeds City Council’s Employment and Skills team and third sector partners to support communities hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. ‘Multiply’ is a government-funded scheme to improve adult functional numeracy skills. To date, 15 third sector deliver partners have received funding to support over 420 learners to improve their financial resilience. In addition, each learner has been gifted a digital device with connectivity and supported to develop the digital skills and confidence they need to make best use of digital and the internet to manage their money.

Supporting digital inclusion and financial resilience for those hit hardest by the cost of living crisis

Multiply is an adult maths support programme, which is part of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund’s Levelling Up programme. The Multiply programme aims to boosts people’s ability to use maths in their daily life, both at home and work. The Leeds City Council scheme is managed by the Employment and Skills team.

100% Digital Leeds has 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.

100% Digital Leeds Multiply delivery partners:

The delivery partners have used the funding to create courses with content tailored to meet the specific needs of the communities they work with and within, aimed at those hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. Course content covers numeracy skills for improved financial resilience, such as household budgeting, price comparisons, online selling, and self-employment. Each organisation has also used their funding to purchase and 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.

Case study: Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme is a charity in Cross Gates that works with older people to reduce loneliness and isolation, and to support independence. The organisation also manages Cross Gates and Whinmoor Community Hub, based at Cross Gates Shopping Centre. The Hub provides support, advice, and information for people of any age in the local community.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours designed their Multiply course to meet the needs of the local community. They identified learners through their Community Hub, a service the local community reach out to for one-to-one support when they’re struggling with money or are in a crisis situation.

“People often come into the Community Hub in a state of crisis, and we do our best to help them. We’ve got our food bank at the Community Hub and now we’re offering cost of living support sessions. Instead of just giving people a bag of food every week, we can support them to think about how they can save money by budgeting better.”

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

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours designed the course to help people develop the skills they need to better manage their finances going forward. The course content includes:

  • Household budgeting.
  • Price comparisons and switching suppliers.
  • Affordable meal planning.
  • Maximising benefits.
  • Debt management.
  • ‘Needs’ versus ‘wants’.

Of the 28 learners supported in their first round of Multiply, 13 said they came away from the session having already saved money. Many more left with the skills and understanding needed to make changes that would help them save money going forward.

“In the older people’s arm of the organisation we’re doing a lot more referrals for Attendance Allowance and Pension Credits. We know that people aren’t claiming all the benefits they’re entitled to and are struggling as a result. One person we’ve helped was really struggling financially and didn’t realise he was entitled to Attendance Allowance. He’s now £600 a month better off.”

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

“People were worried about things like changing their insurance. They were saying, ‘But this company’s been good, I don’t want to switch’ even though it’s gone up £300 pound every year. They didn’t realise how much money they could save until we showed them how to do price comparisons.”

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

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours recognise that whilst some learners may want to share their personal experiences, others may not want to talk about their situation. So they used their knowledge of the local community to develop sessions discussing hypothetical situations likely to resonate with learners.

“We developed budgeting scenarios to get people thinking about the kind of things they spent the money on and looked at different ways money could be saved in each of the different situations. If people wanted to share their own situation they could, but if they didn’t, they could just talk about the worksheets.

Some of the scenarios were simple things that we take for granted. We talked about buying a sofa on credit and people didn’t realise that interest makes it more expensive than paying up front. Now people are saying if they need something like that, they’re going to save up for it, because they don’t want to be spending more money than they have to.”

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

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours recognise that many of their service users lack confidence in their maths skills, do not have formal qualifications, and may not have had a positive experience of formal education. As a result, they are more likely to be apprehensive about attending a course focussed on maths. Because they have an existing trusted relationship with their service users Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours can take an active role in supporting and encouraging people to attend learning.

“Some people were nervous, like they were going into an exam. We had to give a lot of encouragement and support to come along, reassuring them it wasn’t a test, and we were all going to be working together. We rang people the day before to remind them it was going to be fine, and they should come down.

Some were really anxious. One lady said she’d been up all night worrying that she wasn’t going to be able to do it and she’d let people down. People were worried they were going to be stepping into a classroom after a long time out of education, so holding the sessions at the Community Hub, a space that that they had been to before for support, made a lot of difference.”

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

“Some of the older people don’t have any formal qualifications and a lot of them have never had to manage money. Some of the ladies that came, their husbands had always done it and they’ve literally just been given some money for housekeeping. Then the husband had died and they’re left in situations where they didn’t really understand money management, so if they don’t have a family member who can help, they really struggle.”

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

Those struggling with the cost of living are also those most likely to be digitally excluded as they find the cost of a digital device and connectivity prohibitive. Lack of access to equipment has stopped many people from engaging with digital, and being able to gift devices to those who have not been able to afford them has meant Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours have seen increased demand for digital skills support from those who have taken part in Multiply.

“I think the tablet and the data was a really good incentive and I think some of our learners probably wouldn’t have come without that. We’ve targeted people who didn’t have a device or couldn’t afford the internet. It’s led to more requests for one-to-one digital support because people have got the equipment and have started to understand some of the benefits of being online. So it’s more work for us, but the people are benefitting and that’s what we’re here for.”

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

Receiving funding to deliver Multiply has 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. 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.

“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.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours learner case study: Hilary

Hilary is 72 years old and has struggled with budgeting all her life. She had lost a lot of her confidence and was worrying about making decisions to save and manage money, especially since all of her children had now moved out. Hilary was used to having her family to support her financially and to take control of ensuring everything was paid, but her 30-year-old daughter has just left home.

The budgeting skills and personal plan really helped Hilary put things in perspective and made her feel like she could cope by recording and keeping a track on her income and her outgoings. She even realised that she could save money on her broadband, something that is very important to her as it is a good way for her to communicate with her family, now that they don’t live at home.

By taking part in Multiply Hilary and another lady that attended the course have found out you can buy a monthly cinema ticket for just £15. They are now going to the cinema together a couple of times a week because they like watching films, being in company, and it’s also warm so they’ve saved money on their heating bills.

‘’I’ve always loved the cinema but couldn’t always afford it, this is perfect, and I have some company too’’.

Hilary, Multiply learner at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours learner case study: Chloe

Chloe is a 20-year-old single mum who is struggling on a low income. She does want to get back into employment or further education but has a 7-month-old baby. She doesn’t drive and childcare cost are high. Chloe recently moved to a house that is out of the area as she was unable to find anywhere close to family and friends. She is more isolated as a result. This is the first time that Chloe has lived on her own, so she is learning how to budget and pay bills. Chloe found the budgeting scenarios of the Multiply course especially useful as she was unaware that if you bought something and paid weekly it would cost you more.

The tablet with data that Chloe received by attending the Multiply course has meant that she can better connect with the outside world. She is currently searching for part-time work or further education or training courses that she can fit in around the baby and care needs.

Chloe gained a lot from the Multiply course and will put all the budgeting tips and skills to use. She is going to try save a little each week for anything that she may need for the baby, herself, or her first home.

“It was good to have a day off from been a mum. I enjoyed it and feel more confident that I can deal with managing and working out money now. I can now do percentages, which is something I struggled with at school.”

Chloe, Multiply Learner at Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours.

Lippy People and digital storytelling

Lippy People is an advocacy charity that uses video storytelling to help people to share their often challenging lived experiences with a wider audience. They help people use their experiences as a foundation for building their skills and resilience to affect positive personal and social change. Lippy People have worked with 100% Digital Leeds to embed digital inclusion support within their Life, Loss, Learning, Legacy (4Ls) project, working with people with learning disabilities.

“A conversation with the 100% Digital Leeds team really showed us how important digital inclusion is for people who have the potential to be socially isolated. We are thrilled that only a few simple tweaks have allowed us to make a difference in such an important area. It is great to see how our members are using their new skills to take ownership of their own work.”

Peter Townson, Learning and Development Manager, Lippy People.

Life, Loss, Learning, Legacy

Life, Loss, Learning, Legacy (4Ls) is a 12-week, peer-led storytelling and coaching service which supports people to reduce the isolation they often feel as a result of significant life-changing experiences including bereavement, end of life or significant changes in their health. The groups meet every week to share stories and explore the positive learning and legacies they can positively build on from their lived experiences. 

Lippy People has worked with storytellers from the ages of 18 to 100 years old from a diverse range of backgrounds, including people with learning disabilities. They have co-produced and shared over 120 video stories on bereavement.  You can watch the videos on the Lippy People website.

‘She Was There For Me’ – Life, Loss, Learning, Legacy.

Embedding digital inclusion in their work

The skills that storytellers develop are those useful for life, as well as for future involvement in similar creative projects. When recording and editing, the video storytellers develop transferable skills such as learning how to use iPads and laptops, as well as scanners, cameras, and sound equipment.

“We frequently use digital equipment with people who are at risk of being digitally excluded. Talking to the 100% Digital Leeds team really illuminated how we could ensure that our members develop their digital skills as they work with us.”

Peter Townson, Learning and Development Manager, Lippy People.

Lippy People support storytellers to distribute their stories online through social media platforms, incorporating guidance on online safety. This ensures storytellers are empowered to share their stories as widely as possible and engage in powerful, self-led advocacy. 

During the latest 4Ls project, working with adults with learning disabilities, Lippy People borrowed eight iPads from Leeds Libraries so that storytellers could film and photograph each other throughout the group sessions. This was instrumental in gathering peer-led learning to be included in the project learning report, which aims to use video as an accessible and interactive way to outline project impacts and outcomes. 

The project was a huge success and storytellers expressed their excitement and gratitude at improving their digital storytelling skills. 

“I was looking forward to learning about video and also how to video and take photos when I’m at group events and activities and now I feel more confident to do that.”

Storyteller involved in Lippy People’s 4Ls project.

Next Steps

After trialling using iPads in project delivery, Lippy People are now hoping to secure funding for their own iPads to be used on every project, which will improve the digital inclusion aspect of all of their work. They are working closely with 100% Digital Leeds to identify and secure funding to support the purchase.

Lippy People regularly attend Autism and Learning Disabilities Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN) meetings to network with partners, share good practice related to digital inclusion, find out about upcoming funding opportunities, and learn about assistive technologies which can help people with learning disabilities or physical disabilities to access the internet and to use technology in ways which are empowering and useful for them. 

Partner Profile: SLATE Leeds

SLATE Leeds provides essential work and training opportunities for adults with learning disabilities in Leeds. The organisation supports people with learning disabilities to gain essential skills which help them to move closer to employment, increase their confidence, improve their mental wellbeing, and reducing social isolation. 

SLATE works with 45 individuals with learning disabilities across Leeds, with furniture shops in Armley and Hunslet, and the Feel Good Café based in East Leeds.

SLATE recognises that providing greater digital access and support amongst members means that people with learning disabilities can become more independent, manage their finances, move closer to gaining employment, and participate more widely in the world. 100% Digital Leeds has supported SLATE to develop digital participation and inclusion within their day-to-day work in ways that meet their objectives and benefit their members.

Overcoming barriers to digital inclusion

Many people with learning disabilities face numerous barriers to gaining work experience and paid employment. Only 5.1% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work. These barriers vary widely but can range from struggling to understand inaccessible written information and instructions, to a lack of knowledge and expertise from employers, and a lack of appropriate support to gain or maintain employment.

SLATE aims to break down these barriers by offering holistic and person-centred support to their members. Their team of dedicated staff and volunteers work alongside people with learning disabilities to help them gain experience which matches their talents and interests, whether this is working in a people-facing role or working behind the scenes.

SLATE has developed a brilliant record of embedding digital activities in the work that they do with members. This gives members opportunities to learn digital skills which enable them to complete tasks independently, feel confident in the workplace, and stay in contact with family and friends. 

“Digital activities are such a big part of day-to-day life now: you need them to manage money, apply for a job, and travel independently. We help people with learning disabilities to gain digital skills so that they can be confident members of our society.”

Ann Wilson, Manager, SLATE Leeds

Digital tasks that SLATE members complete daily include checking prices of items online, doing basic calculations, and learning to use the touchscreen tills properly. By personalising digital activities to make them relevant to members and breaking the activities down into simple steps, staff and volunteers empower more reluctant members to engage with the digital world.

Supporting essential digital skills and confidence

The cost of living crisis has made life more challenging for everyone, but a Scope Disability Price Tag 2023 report explains how this has had a disproportionate impact upon disabled people and those with a learning disability. This group of people face additional challenges such as lower levels of employment and additional costs for essential specialist equipment. SLATE recognises these challenges and in 2023, they took part in the Multiply programme which focused upon improving their members’ digital skills while also helping them to improve their numeracy skills and to increase their financial resilience. As part of the programme members used digital devices to shop around for the best prices for everyday items, practiced budgeting skills, and searched the internet for useful money saving tips.

“I used to be a bit nervous to do digital activities but doing them with staff who know me well made me feel a lot more comfortable. I’ve learnt skills to use at work, but I feel happier going online at home now too.”

Member, SLATE Leeds

Supporting access to equipment and connectivity

Due to financial challenges, affording equipment and data can be a challenge for people with learning disabilities. Through the Multiply scheme, 25 SLATE members have received a device with 24 months’ worth of data on it which enables them to access the internet and stay in contact with their support networks, without concerns about mobile contracts or additional charges.

Volunteers and staff at SLATE have set up accessibility features on some of these devices so that they can be voice controlled by their owners. People with literacy issues are often unable to type questions into search engines and others may struggle to switch devices on by remembering the correct sequence of buttons and clicks. The right accessibility features means the digital world is made much more user-friendly for people with learning disabilities.

SLATE has also signed up to the National Databank, which allows them to give out a SIM card with six months’ worth of data on it to people who are living in data poverty. 

Expanding digital inclusion support

SLATE is continuing to work closely with 100% Digital Leeds to make their members more confident and bring digital skills to a wider audience. They have recently secured funding from Cognizant, a prestigious multinational IT services and consulting company, which has partnered with 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Community Foundation to offer support and funding to five community organisations tackling digital inclusion in Leeds. 

SLATE will be using this opportunity to give their members additional training and person-centred support to use digital equipment in their shops. They also plan on creating at least one paid mentoring post for a person with a learning disability to digitally upskill their peers. 

Partner Profile: Refugee Education Training Advice Service (RETAS)

Refugee Education Training Advice Service (RETAS) offers essential support and guidance to refugees, people seeking asylum, and vulnerable migrants in West Yorkshire. The organisation supports the social, cultural, and economic integration of refugees, people seeking asylum, and migrants, as well as improving their wellbeing and reducing destitution. Based in the heart of Harehills, their impact on the communities they serve reaches far and wide. In 2022, a total of 4,800 people seeking asylum were supported in Leeds, and 79% of those were supported by RETAS.

People seeking asylum, refugees, and vulnerable migrants often have an array of intersecting barriers causing digital exclusion, which we know to be inseparable from other disparities in society. They face additional barriers to acquiring digital skills, like having limited English, meaning support needs to be tailored to meet communication preferences and specific needs. In addition, there are issues which have caused them to leave their countries of origin which require expert levels of knowledge, trust, and understanding before they begin to make progress in their online journey.

RETAS offers a range of services alongside digital inclusion, supporting service users’ holistic needs. Services include English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) sessions, wellbeing support through the Welcome to Leeds Project, housing workshops, and other initiatives based on the changing needs of their service users. The support they offer is holistic, ongoing, and adaptable, and those who have been in the country for many years still access their services.

Supporting access to equipment and connectivity

Most people that RETAS works with have limited funds and cannot afford equipment or sustained connectivity. The stress and uncertainty involved with asylum in the UK can be reduced by having access to information found online. As well as access to information, digital access and skills are tools for education, connection to family and friends, understanding their new environment, and improving wellbeing.

In December 2024, Biometric Residence Permit cards will be digitised, and the government plans to digitise the immigration system as much as it can. You can read more about these changes to Biometric Residence Permit cards here. This means it is more important than ever that people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants coming into this country have access to a device and a good internet connection.

Access to the internet is also essential to stay connected with family and friends in people’s home countries to improve wellbeing and support mental health. A survey by the Refugee Council found that 61% of people seeking asylum suffered from a serious mental health issue, and refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the rest of the UK population. A report recently published by the Red Cross, Offline and Isolated, highlights the importance of internet access:

“Without internet at home, my situation would have been much more difficult, and I would have suffered… The internet has made my life better by allowing me to read new things. I can also send emails to my caseworker whenever I need them and call my friends through the internet.”

Participant from Jamaica, 56+ age group.

RETAS has an onsite IT suite with access to PCs, and those with a device but limited connectivity can use the building’s wifi. Those with no access to a device at home can borrow a tablet with 4G connectivity from RETAS, or can be referred to Solidaritech, an organisation that repurposes donated and laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones, passing them on to asylum seekers and refugees. RETAS is in the process of joining the National Databank and will soon be able to gift sim cards with free 4G data, calls, and texts, to service users experiencing data poverty.

Supporting essential digital skills and confidence

Essential services for those seeking asylum, as well as other vital services such as health, housing, and benefits take a digital first approach, which can be challenging for some refugees, people seeking asylum, and migrants when they need to find comprehensive information about particular issues, and then know how to address them successfully. RETAS provides digital skills support so that more people can independently access these online services.

Essential digital skills courses

RETAS offers an essential digital skills course that contains advice and guidance on common barriers which refugees, people seeking asylum, and migrants are often likely to face when going online, such as:

  • The confidence to interact with and use a digital device.
  • Managing files and folders to store documents and improve organisation.
  • Using the internet safely to avoid scams and understand how to protect your data.
  • Using email to contact support services, schools and colleges, and friends and family.

“Before completing the course, I had no digital skills, and needed help to understand how to use a computer, including how to use a keyboard. Now I can create documents and use shortcuts. I would now like to explore working in IT in the future.”

Service user, RETAS

One-to-one digital skills support

Alongside courses, RETAS offer one-to-one sessions, technical and non-technical, for specific queries after they speak to service users and identify their particular challenges, needs, and aspirations. Approximately 40 personalised tutorial sessions to support learners were recently delivered over a 12-week period. Learning outcomes from the one-to-one sessions ranged from registering on shopping websites, formatting CVs, and finding information about employment opportunities. Service users also used these sessions to make informed decisions when purchasing digital devices that were right for them.

“I previously relied on my daughter to support me with writing emails and communicating with my other children, but now I am able to do that myself.”

Service user, RETAS

For some low confidence learners, who would not have felt able to attend a groups session, the one-to-one sessions have been an opportunity to develop their digital skills in a less intimidating setting. This has resulting in them using their devices or the IT suite more regularly to address challenges or become more independent when dealing with issues. For more confident learners the one-to-one sessions have offered insight into job prospects in the tech sector.

“It has furthered people’s confidence as they practiced their skills in a more relaxed environment where learning was more personable. The sessions helped learners to better understand topics and ask questions.”

Digital Skills Tutor, RETAS

Expanding the digital inclusion support available

RETAS recently joined the list of Digital Health Hubs across the city. The organisation has also been awarded a grant from the Leeds Digital Inclusion Fund to continue the vital work they are already doing to upskill people in the community and expand their digital support offer to include topics such as:

  • Using NHS digital services.
  • Online banking.
  • Accessing online welfare and benefits services.
  • Finding employment online.

RETAS recognises that providing greater digital access and support amongst service users means that people can become more independent, as well as access services which can improve their wellbeing, help them understand their rights, and provide relevant information and opportunities.