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.

Supporting older people’s digital confidence with University of Leeds’s Writing Back project

Writing Back is an intergenerational digital pen pal project which pairs students at the University of Leeds with older residents across Yorkshire to exchange emails. The scheme was established to help tackle loneliness and social isolation but organisations supporting older people have found involvement in the scheme supports members to develop transferable digital skills and confidence. Burmantofts Community Friends have partnered with the Writing Back team to connect six of their members with students for a year.  Engaging with the scheme has motivated members to build digital skills and confidence. 100% Digital Leeds is partnering with the Writing Back programme to support them to identify and build relationships with Leeds organisations working with older people interested in taking part in the programme.

“It’s good to be able to connect with someone different and it’s also good for teaching skills.”

Kelly, Outreach and Digital Engagement Worker, Burmantofts Community Friends.

Supporting improved digital skills and confidence at Burmantofts Community Friends

Burmantofts Community Friends is a charity supporting people aged over 60 in and around LS9, the neighbourhood with the lowest average household income in Leeds. Recognising that lack of motivation is a significant barrier to their members engaging with digital, Burmantofts Community Friends take a creative approach to supporting digital inclusion. The organisation embeds opportunities for digital engagement across their service offer, highlighting the ways digital tools and services can support members to continue living independently. Their Breakfast and Browsers group supports members to develop transferable digital skills such as using QR codes, making online payments, and scanning and uploading documents through creative projects such as day trips and reminiscence work.

The opportunity to take part in the Writing Back project came about at the same time that Burmantofts Community Friends received funding to gift tablets with 4G data to their Breakfast and Browsers members unable to afford their own devices. After supporting members to set up email addresses, Burmantofts Community Friends faced the challenge of how to best support members to practise sending and receiving emails, an essential skill needed to keep in touch with friends, family, and services, without one-to-one support from the organisation. Taking part in the Writing Back programme enabled Burmantofts Community Friends to offer an email pen pal for each member interested in hearing about members’ hobbies and interests.

After initial reluctance, feedback from Breakfast and Browsers members has been positive. Participants were excited about receiving a reply, which motivated them to keep the conversation going and to further practise their email skills, including developing new skills such as how to send emails with attachments. One member’s first pen pal email was five words long, and by the end of the six month programme she was sending full paragraphs.

“I had members saying ‘I’ll never be able to do it’ and by the end they were doing it on their own, sending emails backwards and forwards to their pen pals. People were excited to look at their emails, not stressed. People like sharing their stories.”

Kelly, Outreach and Digital Engagement Worker, Burmantofts Community Friends.

The Writing Back programme

Established in 2014, the award winning Writing Back programme is based in the International Student Office and Global Community Team at The University of Leeds. In addition to providing support around health and wellbeing the team signpost students to volunteering opportunities. Writing Back started life as an intergenerational letter writing programme to tackle loneliness and social isolation for both international students and older people across Yorkshire. During the pandemic the programme moved to using email, which resulted in an added dimension of improving digital literacy skills and digital communication.

I can honestly say it has been an incredibly enjoyable experience so far. The premise of the project revolves around connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, exchanging thoughts, stories, and ideas through the written word. It’s a fantastic opportunity to explore different perspectives and cultures, creating a true global conversation.

Feedback from International student, University of Leeds

Student participants attend training to prepare them for the role. Going forwards, 100% Digital Leeds will deliver additional digital inclusion awareness training for students involved in the programme, helping them to understand how they fit into the larger digital inclusion network of support being delivered across Leeds.

Taking part in Writing Back

The University of Leeds is interested in partnering with organisations supporting older people in Leeds. For more information, or to register your interest in taking part, contact us.

Digital Inclusion for Older People

This October the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network came together to celebrate the network members’ efforts to support digital inclusion in 2023 and identify shared priorities for 2024.

Over 50 people working with older people across the city attended the event at Virgin Money to hear about best practice as well as form new partnerships that support their digital inclusion offers. Network members Burmantofts Community Friends and Your Backyard shared learning, Good Things Foundation shared support and resources available, and Virgin Money shared partnership opportunities for the network. The event also featured a marketplace with organisations discussing key themes such as accessibility, changes to telephone services, and health and wellbeing.

“It was great to meet up with so many people and organisations doing digital inclusion work across Leeds at the networking event…there is so much going on in this area, and so much is needed as more and more key services get moved online. It’s a massive help having 100% Digital Leeds periodically bringing us all together every to share information, network and share ideas.”

Tony Mullin, Your Backyard.

Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network

The Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network is a partnership between 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum, bringing together 38 organisations supporting older people across the city. The network builds sector capacity to support digital inclusion for older people by identifying shared priorities, forging new partnerships, and sharing learning and resources. 

The network’s digital inclusion priorities for 2024 were identified as:

  • Transport
  • Online safety
  • Online banking and money management
  • Digital health participation
  • Shopping for utilities and fuel poverty
  • Recruiting and managing volunteers

The network has worked to address some of these priorities this year. Transport Connections has been exploring how to improve transport options for older people with support from Department for Transport’s ‘Tackling loneliness with transport’ fund. Be Online Stay Safe supports older people in diverse communities to overcome the digital inclusion barriers they face to accessing media literacy with the support of Department for Culture, Media, and Sport’s Media Literacy Programme Fund.

Key takeaways from the network meeting

New network shared resource repository

A shared drive has been created as a place members can access and share useful tools and resources such as ‘how to’ guides and digital skills session plans. Members are encouraged to upload any documents they have created that they think others may find useful, facilitating peer support across the network.

Current content on the Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network shared drive includes ‘How to’ guides for travel apps and information about Digital Voice, BT’s new home telephone service.

Support available from Good Things Foundation

We were joined by Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity. They support organisations via their National Digital Inclusion Network which is free to join. Support includes:

  • The National Databank, via which organisations can get free SIM cards with 4G data, calls and texts to gift to those struggling to afford connectivity.
  • The National Device Bank, via which organisations can get reconditioned tablets and smartphones to gift to those unable to afford a device.
  • Learn My Way, an eLearning platform which organisations can use to support digital skills.
  • The Fix the Digital Divide Fund gives grants of between £1,000 and £6,000 for organisations looking to build their digital inclusion capabilities.
  • Training and networking opportunities for organisations looking to develop their digital inclusion offers.

Partnership and signposting opportunities from Virgin Money

Virgin Money is the first bank in the UK to sign up to the National Databank with plans to distribute SIM cards from 16 stores across the country, including several Leeds branches. They also offer free money management advice and support in store and out in the community.

MHA Active app

MHA offer a free lifestyle and wellness app that provides a host of content tailored to an older audience. Users can access carefully created content from exercise videos and cooking demonstrations to quizzes and live events. The app also has a specialist dementia friendly section.

Digital skills and accessibility support from AbilityNet

AbilityNet showcased their free online resources and promoted their network of over 300 community-based volunteers to help older people and disabled people of any age to use all kinds of digital technology.

  • My Computer My Way offers simple ‘how to’ guides to utilise accessibility features to make devices easier to use. The guides offer step-by-step instructions on how to adapt a phone, computer, or tablet to meet the user’s needs.
  • AbilityNet has a team of volunteers who can provide free IT support at home. They can help with a range of tech challenges including setting up new equipment, fixing technical issues, showing people how to stay connected to family, and using online services.
  • The organisation runs free webinars on a range of topics. Their upcoming ‘Top tips for boosting your digital skills’ webinar will see guest speakers from BT Group and Age UK discuss how to ensure that older people, in particular, are not left behind in the digital revolution.

Digital support and access from Leeds Libraries

Leeds Libraries highlighted a selection of their digital resources:

BT Digital Voice

Digital Voice is the name of BT’s new home phone service. All landlines are going digital meaning from calls will be made over the broadband network, rather than the old analogue network. Analogue landline technology will be switched off in December 2025. The switchover started in April with people who were ready to switch. BT is working with charities such as AbilityNet and AgeUK to ensure everyone will be ready to make the switch by 2025. Find more information about Digital Voice on the network shared drive.

Video introducing digital voice

Next Steps

The next Older People Digital Inclusion Network meeting will take place on 23rd January 2024. If you would like to join the network, please email natasha.hill@leeds.gov.uk.

Partner profile: Leeds International Piano Competition and Be Caring

Through partnership working with Leeds International Piano Competition (LIPC) and Be Caring the 100% Digital Leeds team developed an arts and culture digital inclusion offer that aimed to address the digital inclusion need in care by:

  • highlighting the ways that care settings can utilise digital to engage with the city’s arts sector and increase arts participation for care residents.
  • making new and lasting connections between individual care settings and arts organisations in the city.
  • supporting the improved digital skills and confidence of staff and residents in care settings.
  • supporting improved arts participation for care audiences.

A live tea dance and a series of curated piano recitals were produced and made available to care settings through the Arts in Care Digital Programme, and an in-person event was held by Be Caring for staff and care recipients. The success of these activities will lead to more digital inclusion engagement for both LIPC and Be Caring.

“The way I’ve been thinking about digital more and more is that it’s a tool. We could probably never on any sort of scale engage with [a care] audience except for digitally because we can’t really take our competition winner into a care home because they need a Steinway piano. So really the only connection is going to be digital.”

Sally Egan, Leeds International Piano Competition

60% of staff across care homes nationally report low levels of confidence with using digital technology. This statistic was echoed in a recent digital social care record summary, where a digital assessment of care providers in Leeds reported that 43% of care homes didn’t have adequate wifi across their building, and 6% of settings have no wifi at all. There is a need to address the current offer of connectivity and equipment within care homes. There is also a need to address the confidence and skills of staff working in care homes to utilise digital technology and capabilities to best support the people they work with. 

The arts can provide opportunities for social interaction, movement, and activity which could play a role in mitigating some of the behavioural factors that are associated with increased risk of dementia. Additionally greater engagement in cultural activities has links with reduced frailty.

Working in partnership to maximise access to arts and culture through digital

This project saw 100% Digital Leeds partnering with LIPC and Be Caring to utilise digital to improve access to creative content for people living with dementia and their carers.

Leeds International Piano Competition

Founded in 1963, the Leeds International Piano Competition (LIPC) is one of the world’s foremost music competitions, holding performances over three days every three years and attracting a digital global audience. Alongside the competition the organisation runs an educational and outreach programme with schools, and a popular piano trail across the city. For 2023, Head of Creative Learning and Engagement Sally Egan was keen to expand their creative learning programme and wanted to test and learn new approaches to community engagement to see where they could have an impact. As a result, LIPC partnered with 100% Digital Leeds on the Arts in Care Digital Programme.

100% Digital Leeds Arts in Care Digital Programme

The Arts in Care Digital Programme aims to help develop the digital skills, confidence, and motivation, of care homes staff and care recipients. The programme is curated by 100% Digital Leeds with the support of a steering group made up of partners from across health, culture, and care settings.

The programme aims to foster meaningful relationships between arts and cultural organisations and care settings, to give care staff the experience of hosting digital sessions within their space. It also gives arts and cultural organisations the opportunity to reach new audiences, work with new technology, and for everyone to have a joyful and uplifting experience in the process. The aim with the week was to help to tackle some of the barriers to inclusion faced by care recipients and staff taking part in digital arts activity, and to develop their digital skills and confidence. In the process of managing the programme the team would also have the opportunity to form valuable relationships with the care sector, deepening our understanding of the specific barriers of engaging with digital in this context, and also what the individual motivators are. This creates stronger foundations for our ongoing work with care including the work that we are delivering for the digital social care record (DSCR) in partnership with Leeds City Council’s Adults and Health Service.

Be Caring

Be Caring is the UK’s largest employee-owned social care provider. Based in South Leeds their range of services covers everything from traditional domiciliary care to more complex needs like dementia, learning disabilities, palliative care and reablement. Be Caring partnered with 100% Digital Leeds to engage with the Arts in Care Digital Programme to see how they could better support the wellbeing of their service users.

“As an organisation, we want to transform the sector, innovating new models of care which better support the people we care for, and our employees themselves. We’re achieving this through engaging with our clients and colleagues, encouraging open and honest communication.”

Be Caring

Using digital to enable people with dementia and their carers to engage with Leeds International Piano Competition

The demographic of the LIPC audience means that some audience members are living with dementia, whether they have reached the stage of a formal diagnosis or not. The team was keen to make their programme as inclusive and accessible as possible for people living with dementia. They met with Tim Sanders, the Dementia Lead for Leeds, who is also a pianist. From this conversation, the idea for a Leeds Carers Piano Competition came about. Held in July at Opera North the competition was open to staff of Carers Leeds, people living with dementia and their families. 

“It’s not for us to tell people how to experience. We’re trying to create more relaxed settings where people can behave more authentically and experience [culture] in a way that suits them better.”

Sally Egan, Leeds International Piano Competition

Following on from the competition in July, LIPC planned to celebrate National Dementia Carers Day with a tea dance in the Civic Hall, in partnership with Carers Leeds. Sally contacted the 100% Digital Leeds team who organised a meeting with the technical team at the Carriageworks Theatre with the aim of recording the tea dance to show as part of the Arts in Care Digital Programme. This would enable them to widen their reach, to find new audiences and to re-connect with those audiences that may have lost touch with the competition after entering care.

“Loved the music, singing and dancing. Very uplifting.”

Leeds care home

The tea dance was recorded and then made available via YouTube alongside four curated piano recitals, introduced by members of the LIPC team. Despite technical hitches to the sound meaning that some of it had to be re-dubbed, the recordings proved to be extremely popular with care homes. The 100% Digital Leeds team were also keen to promote other digital resources that would sit alongside the event providing a more holistic approach to the digital opportunities presented to care staff. Alongside the LIPC offering 100% Digital Leeds signposted staff to Medici.TV  which streams classical concerts online and can be accessed with a Leeds Libraries library card, plus other resources such as Borrow Box and access to online newspapers and magazines.

“If you have sensory difficulties or if you’re very introverted, then going into a space with people you don’t know to hear something might be the last thing you’d ever want. If we think about the competition in the Great Hall in the university, we can get 200 people in there for one round. But we live stream it to 5,000,000.”

Sally Egan, Leeds International Piano Competition

The 100% Digital Leeds team presented at a Registered Managers Information and Quality Forum, speaking about how care settings could take part in the Arts and Care Digital Programme. Lance Gardner from Be Caring contacted the team to see how we could work together for the benefit of their staff and clients. 100% Digital Leeds facilitated a relationship with LIPC which led to Be Caring organising a tea dance for their clients at a café in Beeston, using the recorded tea dance as inspiration for an in-person afternoon tea.

This was the first time the group had met since the pandemic and the first time that one of their care recipients had left the house for 15 years. At the event she was also able to connect with her niece who she hadn’t seen for six years. The event was a resounding success, however a huge amount of time went into making it happen, including making sure that transport was in place for the participants. This time pressure is partially mitigated by the way in which Be Caring are constituted as a social enterprise, as staff are paid for all of their contracted hours rather than just the hours they are providing their in-person care. Lance is now keen to expand on their digital work and is exploring ways in which he can build on the success of that initial tea dance meet-up with support from the 100% Digital Leeds team.

“You’re doing this in my environment. This is my home, so I can feel good about myself and I become the centre of attention in a way that might not have been for many, many, many years.”

Lance Gardner, Be Caring

Next Steps

Both Be Caring and LIPC are keen to continue their relationship with 100% Digital Leeds to further investigate how they can use digital tools within their organisations.  Be Caring have made plans to continue meet-up events using digital as a motivator and are also looking at other digital approaches to encourage communication between their clients. One idea is that they give care recipients tablets to be able to keep in touch with each other from their own homes with the aim of maintaining and reinforcing social bonds, with wellbeing outcomes linked to improved mental health and reduced feelings of isolation.

“In relation to wellbeing, cultural participation afforded older people a range of positive emotional experiences, making them feel happier… Older people also reported feeling more of a connection with their own personal identity, as well as building a collective identity, which led to increased confidence and self-esteem. “

Baring Foundation, Every Home a Creative Home Report

LIPC are interested in working with 100% Digital Leeds on their Creative Learning Engagement Laboratory where LIPC have the freedom to experiment with innovative approaches for the benefit of their audiences and to increase the organisation’s reach, including audiences in care.

Tackling data poverty in partnership with Good Things Foundation

In September 100% Digital Leeds hosted two events sharing the city’s approach to tackling digital poverty, as part of Leeds Digital Festival. Across the two events attendees from almost 90 organisations found out more about Leeds’s approach to gifting data, and how they can play a role in supporting more Leeds residents to access free data. The events focussed on raising awareness of Good Things Foundation‘s, National Databank, an initiative which provides free mobile data, texts and calls to people in need via the charity’s network of community partners.

So far 100% Digital Leeds and Good Things Foundation have supported over 50 organisations across Leeds to join the National Databank and start gifting data. Between them those organisations have received over 6,000 SIMs to gift free 4G data to the people and communities in Leeds who need it most.

Figures from Leeds Poverty Factbook show that:

  • Relative Poverty is estimated to affect 178,630 people in Leeds (after housing costs are deducted from income).
  • Local estimates from HMRC & DWP estimate that 32,933 children under 16 in Leeds were in poverty in 2021/22.
  • There were 65,830 food parcels given out informally during 2021/22 through emergency food providers, parish pantries and  Community Care Hubs.
  • An estimated 55,274 Leeds households were in fuel poverty in 2021 under the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) metric.  This affects 15.8% of all Leeds households.

Watch the ‘Tackling data poverty in Leeds’ webinar.

Good Things Foundation

Good Things Foundation is a social change charity working across the UK to fix the digital divide. One in 20 UK households don’t have home internet access (Ofcom, 2022) and over 2 million UK households struggle to afford connectivity via broadband or mobile data (Ofcom, 2022).  This is why Good Things Foundation launched the National Databank, which distributes free data in the form of SIMs and data vouchers to partner organisations in the National Digital Inclusion Network.

Representatives from Good Things Foundation spoke at both of our events themed on tackling data poverty. Bryony Evans, Recruitment and Activation Manager at Good Things Foundation attended our face-to-face event, Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting, speaking about the National Databank including sharing updates about recent website improvements that should make data easier to access in the future. She also supported local organisations such as Gipsil and Damasq to join the National Databank and start gifting free data.

“During my time at Good Things Foundation I’ve worked closely on the set up of the National Databank, so I was very interested to hear from the other speakers about how they had integrated gifting free data into their work. I came away from the event inspired by the huge amount of work being done and the people being supported in Leeds.”

Bryony Evans, Recruitment and Activation Manager at Good Things Foundation

Find out more about the National Databank by watching this video from Good Things Foundation.

Case study: The Old Fire Station

For East Leeds residents without access to wifi or struggling with fuel costs Old Fire Station in Gipton is a safe, warm, and friendly space to access free wifi, where people are welcome to linger. They joined us for the Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting event and shared their experiences of gifting data via the National Databank.

The Old Fire Station is home to six local charities supporting a range of people including those with mental health needs, people with learning disabilities, and those looking for work. The site also has rooms available to hire, a cookery school and a café for the whole community to enjoy.

Over the last nine months, 100% Digital Leeds has helped The Old Fire Station to access funding and resources to offer local people skills support via digital drop-in sessions and connectivity via the National Databank, and they have also become a Digital Health Hub. Clarion Housing has funded the organisation to deliver a digital oral history project using the building’s rich heritage as a catalyst for digital inclusion. Most recently The Old Fire Station has been awarded NHS health inequalities funding to host a Digital Inclusion Officer to work with partners across the York Road Local Care Partnership footprint and continue the development of the Digital Health Hub Network.

“By working with the organisations in the Old Fire Station and the local area, we get a deeper understanding of the needs of their service users. We’ve focussed our efforts on embedding data gifting into as many services as possible across all of the organisations here. Making the most of this increased connectivity is really important, so we also offer digital skills support in a friendly and relaxed environment.”

Chris Bamber, Digital Inclusion Officer at the Old Fire Station

Embedding SIM gifting into services supporting people on low incomes

The Old Fire Station offers many services to support those on low incomes including support with cost of living and money saving advice. The People’s Pantry and Clothing Rebelling offer affordable food and clothing, Digital Drop-in sessions are available in the café every Thursday, and a the Leeds City Council Mobile Community Hub visits weekly, supporting people with council queries and transactions, managing their benefits, and completing online forms.

Across each of those services people with a device but reliant on pay-as-you-go data or unable to afford any connectivity offered free SIMs via the National Databank, providing six months of free 4G data.

“I was getting help from Gipsil at the Old Fire Station. I want to get some qualifications and apply for jobs but it’s all online nowadays and my very old phone was broken. Gipsil managed to get me a new phone and then with the Digital Inclusion Officer’s help I got a free data SIM card and some lessons on how to use my new phone. Without the help of both Chris and Gipsil I would have had no chance with moving my life forwards.”

Netta, a service user of Gipsil and The Old Fire Station

Case study: Leeds Libraries

Leeds Libraries are one of 100% Digital Leeds’s key delivery partners. They joined us for the Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting event and shared their experiences of gifting data via the National Databank.

Leeds Libraries applied to the National Databank in July 2022, identifying this as a resource that could help them to expand their digital support offer in a sustainable way. Libraries’ digital offer already included a tablet lending scheme, access to free wifi and PCs in all of their 34 sites across the city, and regular digital support sessions, so being able to offer free mobile data, texts and calls to people in need broadened that existing support.

“I would encourage anyone working on digital inclusion to consider joining Good Things Foundation’s National Databank scheme and embed SIM gifting into their digital inclusion offer.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries.

Identifying sites for SIM gifting

All 34 Libraries and Community Hubs in Leeds are part of the National Digital Inclusion Network which helped when it came to identifying where the service wanted to launch their SIM gifting offer. Leeds has several high priority wards which have high levels of deprivation and low levels of digital engagement and Libraries wanted to offer SIM gifting in a range of geographical areas around the city. They considered how council colleagues with a presence in Community Hubs could support with signposting, and the range of community partners and organisations in an area that would also benefit from a local site offering SIM gifting.

SIM gifting is now available at five sites:

  • Leeds Central Library.
  • The Reginald Centre in Chapeltown.
  • The Compton Centre in Harehills.
  • Dewsbury Road Community Hub and Library.
  • Armley Community Hub and Library.

Identifying beneficiaries

The five pilot Hubs and Libraries are home to a range of council teams, meaning colleagues in Job Shops, Housing, Translation Services, Financial Inclusion, Project Development, Community Healthcare, Social Prescribing, and others, are able identify their service users experiencing data poverty and easily signpost them to get a free SIM.

SIM gifting is also included as a specific part of the Local Welfare Support Scheme (LWSS) process for customers who may be digitally excluded. LWSS Assessors offer services from Community Hubs, including having conversations with customers around their digital access. The Assessors refer eligible customers to a Community Hub and Library site to collect their free SIM and data.

“By getting the word out through council colleagues and community partners, we’ve had people signposted to us from a variety of different services. We’ve been able to support a whole range of our library users from care leavers to job seekers to Ukrainian refugees.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries

Libraries designed awareness training for each chosen Library’s teams. All frontline staff in Hubs and Libraries are trained as Digital Champions, meaning they already have a good level of understanding about the barriers to digital inclusion and how to help people overcome them.

Supporting positive outcomes

SIM gifting has helped Libraries to support their service users to access other beneficial services. Leeds Community Healthcare’s Maternity Services meet service users in the Wellbeing Pods available at Libraries and Hubs. They can use SIM gifting to help new parents who are digitally excluded to sign up for the NHS Healthy Start scheme, increasing access to food and vitamins for low income families. Job Shops staff can use SIM gifting to enable service users to access employment support available via Job Shops, and financial support via Leeds Credit Union.

“We started gifting sims in Autumn last year and to date have gifted roughly 700. Going by the RRP of these SIMs if they were purchased in shops, this equates to roughly £60,000 worth of savings, which in the current climate with the ongoing cost of living crisis really putting the squeeze on, has been a massive benefit to our communities and Library users.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries

Next steps

We know that being online can help people to earn and save more. Good Things Foundation’s Digital Nation Infographic shows that people with high digital engagement save £659 more a year, and manual workers with high digital engagement earn £5,000 more a year.

Good Things Foundation wants to partner with more organisations in Leeds to ensure that people who are digitally excluded can access free data, devices and skills support. As well as free SIMs, the offer from Good Things Foundation to community organisations includes a free digital skills learning platform in the form of Learn My Way, training, meet ups and more. To find out more, join one of Good Things Foundation’s free upcoming events.

The 100% Digital Leeds delivery partners who are signed up to the National Databank have gifted SIM cards with free data, text and calls worth almost half a million pounds. We want to build on that success.

100% Digital Leeds is keen to work with more organisations in Leeds to develop their digital inclusion offer, including SIM gifting via the National Databank. Contact us to arrange a chat.

Creative digital opportunities for care residents

The Arts in Care Digital Programme, curated and facilitated by 100% Digital Leeds, is a safe and supportive space for older people in care to experience culture with a digital element. Whether that be taking part in a virtual drumming session, an online chair based gentle movement class, dialling into a comedy opera session or seeing the sights on a virtual canal tour. By utilising digital as an enabler, care staff can bring the colours, sights and sounds of the outside world into the world of the care resident.

The Arts in Care Digital Programme may now be over for another year but there are still many opportunities to engage with digital for the benefit of staff and care recipients throughout the year. If your care setting is interested in receiving support from the digital inclusion team please use the contact form.  

Lunchtime recitals

Leeds International Piano Competition have curated 30 minute programmes of music from many different genres including classical, jazz, musical theatre, brass bands, organ recitals, chamber music, orchestral music, based on the theme ‘Reflections’ which is the 2023 National Day of Arts in Care Homes theme.

These programmes are designed to be listened to over lunchtime, so that people can focus on the recitals or have them on in the background while they eat lunch.

Autumn: Lunchtime Recital – Autumn

Reflections: Lunchtime Recital – Reflections

Mirror in the Mirror: Lunchtime Recital – Mirror in the Mirror

Over the Rainbow: Lunchtime Recital – Over the Rainbow

Carers Leeds Tea Dance

Join the Leeds International Piano Competition Carers tea dance streamed from Leeds Civic Hall. Open to staff of Carers Leeds, people living with dementia and their families, the very first Leeds Carers Piano Competition was held at Opera North on 17th July. The winner from that event then played at a tea dance for carers and people living with dementia in the Civic Hall in September. Visit the YouTube link to access the tea dance stream and enjoy listening to the music and maybe have a bit of a dance too, or maybe a tea dance of your own! Get your glad rags on, shine up your dancing shoes and join in!

Video from Carers Leeds

Opera North

This online session will introduce you to Verdi’s comic opera Fasltaff, adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Led by vocal animateur Marie Claire Breen, this will be a friendly space to learn, sing and have fun!

Video from Opera North

RJC Dance: October sessions for residents during Black History Month

Join RJC Dance for a one hour dance and movement session set to music that’s sure to get toes tapping, faces smiling and the memories flooding back! This session is appropriate for a range of abilities and seated variations will be demonstrated by the dance practitioner. RJC Dance is the leading inclusive Black dance organisation in the North empowering young people and adults through dance, movement and exercise. RJC are committed to vitality, active participation, creativity and renewal, working in partnership with national organisations to develop the diversity of Black British dance as a valued art form.

Contact administratorjcdance@icloud.com to find out more and book

Ascendance

Ascendance run regular Dance With Parkinson’s online sessions targeted for people living at home with neuro-disabilities. For more information visit the Ascendance website.

Yorkshire Dance: In Mature Company Zoom sessions

Yorkshire Dance is passionate about offering high quality arts interventions and supporting creative opportunities to underserved care homes and communities in Leeds. ‘In Mature Company’ is a programme of creative dance, movement and music aimed at frail older adults and people living with dementia, including weekly Zoom sessions.

Join Yorkshire Dance for free fun and lively dance sessions online every Tuesday, open to Leeds Care Homes, Day Centres and Recovery Hubs. Led by professional dance artists it’s a great way to keep active, promote body awareness, holistic health and fitness. You can do as much or as little as you like, and you can be seated or standing (some dancers choose to just do the upper body moves). The classes are all adaptable to different mobility levels and care staff are encouraged to also be part of the fun!

For more information and to join in please email IMC@yorkshiredance.com

Other resources

Memory boxes from Marks and Spencers

Sporting resources for older people from Sporting Memories

Visual archive of Sunny Bank Mill

Archive of old photos of Leeds at Leodis.net

The My House of Memories app allows you to explore objects from the past and share memories together. It can be used by anyone, but has been designed for, and with, people living with dementia and their carers

The BorrowBox app allows users to browse, preview, reserve, and download library titles on their electronic devices free of charge using a Leeds library card.

Leeds Libraries online resources including online magazines and newspapers

MediciTV is the world leading classical music channel offering access to the best of classical music. Sign in using a Leeds library card.

Get Online Week 2023

Organisations across Leeds are running a series of in-person digital support sessions and events across Leeds for Get Online Week, Good Things Foundation’s annual digital inclusion campaign. Here’s a run down of some of the events taking place across the city.

Tweet from 100% Digital Leeds

Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network event: 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum

Tuesday 17 October, 1.30pm – 3.30pm, Virgin Money, Leeds, LS1 6NP

Book your free tickets via TicketSource

To Celebrate Get Online week 2023, 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum warmly invite organisations supporting older people to this event which will share good practice, learning and resources to support older people with digital inclusion. The Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network launched in December 2020 and is a partnership between 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum. The Network brings together organisations across the city who support older people with digital.

This event will be an opportunity to meet organisations who are part of the Network. There will be a number of speakers sharing insights on a range of themes such as transport apps, online safety, digital health, recruiting and supporting volunteers, and ways to access funding to develop a digital inclusion offer within your organisation. There will also be a marketplace area with various organisations sharing information and resources and free refreshments provided throughout the event.

Tweet from 100% Digital Leeds

Burmantofts Community Friends

Join Kelly for a fun digital activity every day this week.

Monday 16 October, 10.00am – 12.00noon: Digital Disco

Tuesday 17 October, 10.30am – 11.30am: Zoom exercise class

Wednesday 18 October, 11.30am – 1.30pm: Lunch Club digital dress up and photo competition

Thursday 19 October, 12.00 noon – 2.00pm: Techy Tea Party

Friday 20 October, 10.30am – 12.30pm: virtual tour

Middleton Elderly Aid

Tuesday 17 October, 9.30am – 11.00am, at Middleton Elderly Aid

Join Middleton Elderly Aid for a digital games morning. Play cards, bowling, pool, sudoku, crosswords, and more. Tablets provided or bring your own.

           

Carers Leeds

Monday 16 October, 11.00am – 1.00pm: ‘Let’s Get Digital’ Drop-in:
Open to anyone who would like an introduction to technology or has any tech-related questions. Pop by to have a go on some free equipment, take home some handy ‘how to’ guides, receive a free SIM card, ask us any digital-related questions you have, and hear about how you can make technology fun. Coffee and cake will be provided!
No booking required, just pop in.

Wednesday 18 October, 11.00am – 12.00: ‘Supporting Your Own Health’ Workshop:
We know these days many health services require us to be online, and this can often come with its own challenges. If you would like to learn how to manage your own health online, come along to our friendly group workshop. We will be teaching you how to register for GP services online, how to book appointments, order prescriptions, and check your medical record. We will also share some different online tools that can help you manage your caring role and other health conditions.

Both events are hosted at Carers Leeds, 6 – 8 The Headrow, LS1 6PT

Booking is essential so please contact Holly directly on 07494 272 022 or email: holly.wilkins@carersleeds.org.uk

Tweet from Carers Leeds

Men’s Health Unlocked

Digital Drop-ins for men throughout Leeds during Get Online Week:

Monday 16 October:

11.00am – 12.00, Moor Allerton Community Hub and Library

1.00pm – 2.00pm, Reginald Centre

Tuesday 17 October:

10.30am – 11.30am, Seacroft Community Hub and Library

2.00pm – 3.00pm, Armley Community Hub and Library

Wednesday 18 October:

1.00pm – 2.00pm, Garforth Community Hub & Library

Thursday 19 October:

10.30am – 11:30am, Pudsey Community Hub and Library

Friday 20 October:

11.00am – 12.00, Beeston Community Hub and Library

Tweet from Barca

Morley Digital

Monday 16 October, 10.00am – 3.00pm

Digital drop-in at The Salvation Army Building, Ackroyd Street, Morley.

Tuesday 17 October 1.00pm – 3.00pm

Digital drop-in at The Meeting Hall, Town Street, Guildersome.

Feel Good Factor

Get Online Coffee Morning with the opportunity to find out more about the Be Online Stay Safe course, supporting online safety for older people. Visit Feel Good Factor at 53 Louis St, Leeds LS7 4BP.

Thursday 23 October, 9.30 -11.00am

The Old Fire Station

A series of themed drop-in digital support sessions at The Old Fire Station, Gipton Approach, Leeds LS9 6NL.

Tuesday 17 October, 10.00am – 1.00pm: Better health

Thursday 19 October, 10.00am – 1.00pm: Using a tablet

Friday 20 October, 10.00am – 1.00pm: Saving money

Leeds Irish Health and Homes

‘Have a Go’ at digital with support from Leeds Irish Health and Homes’ Be Online Stay Safe course graduates, at the Three store, White Rose Shopping centre, LS11 8LU.

Wednesday 18 October, 10.00am – 3.00pm

Leeds Libraries

Digital Drop-ins

Join one of Leeds Libraries’ Digital Drop-in sessions to get help to use your tablet, smartphone or computer.

Monday 16 October, 10.30am – 11.30am at Horsforth Community Hub and Library

Monday 16 October, 11.00am – 12.00 noon at Dewsbury Road Community Hub and Library

Monday 16 October, 11.00am – 12.00 noon at Moor Allerton Community Hub and Library

Monday 16 October, 2.00pm – 3.00pm at Yeadon Community Hub and Library

Tuesday 17 October, 1.00pm – 2.00pm at Middleton Community Hub and Library

Tuesday 17 October, 2.00pm – 3.00pm at Armley Community Hub and Library

Wednesday 18 October, 1.00pm – 2.00pm at Garforth Community Hub and Library

Thursday 19 October, 10.30am – 11.30am at Pudsey Community Hub and Library

Thursday 19 October, 1.00pm – 2.00pm at Hunslet Community Hub and Library

Thursday 19 October, 1.30pm – 2.30pm at Compton Centre Community Hub and Library, Harehills

Thursday 19 October, 2.00pm – 3.00pm at Wetherby Community Hub and Library

Tablet Lending

Individuals can borrow an iPad with data for up to 8 weeks (proof of address required). Organisations can borrow iPads to support their digital inclusion work – please contact LeedsLibraries@Leeds.gov.uk for more information.

Available at:

  • Armley Community Hub and Library
  • Headingley Community Hub and Library
  • Holt Park Community Hub and Library
  • Hunslet Community Hub and Library
  • Middleton Community Hub and Library
  • Seacroft Community Hub and Library

Belle Isle Tenant Management Organisation (BITMO)

Tuesday 17 October, 1.00pm – 7.00pm at Aberfield Gate, LS10 3QH

Drop in and speak to Tracey and Lisa to find out how BITMO can help you get online, including digital skills support, tablet lending, and data gifting. Meet the Digital Together group between 1.00pm and 3.00pm and stay on for a free hot meal at 3.30pm until 5.30pm.

Get support with housing, school, and benefits applications, log in to the Universal Credit portal, complete medication requests, passport and driving license applications, buss passes, and accessing council services.

MAECare

Wednesday 18 October, 1.30pm – 3.00pm: Shopping safely online.

Digital inclusion in the York Road area

In April 2023 100% Digital Leeds appointed a Digital Inclusion Officer to build community capacity to support digital inclusion for improved health participation in the York Road Local Care Partnership (LCP) area, with the support of NHS Health Inequalities Funding.

The role is hosted by The Old Fire Station and matrix managed by 100% Digital Leeds, using our community-based approach to improve and increase digital inclusion support to meet the needs of local residents. 

After five months of having a Digital Inclusion Officer working across the area, organisations are more effectively working together to provide support for local residents looking to improve their digital skills and confidence. The Old Fire Station is becoming a place where residents across the area feel they can visit to get support to get online.

“I come to The Old Fire Station every Thursday for help using my new phone. I go to Burmantofts Senior Action on a Monday too, so I get two lessons each week. I’ve learnt lots about how to get the most out of WhatsApp. This has meant I can now video call my son who lives in America. In the past I’ve been limited to short phone calls which used to cost me a fortune” 

Terry, service user of The Old Fire Station and Burmantofts Senior Action.

Increasing support for digital inclusion at The Old Fire Station

Digital drop-in sessions

Since June, the Digital Inclusion Officer has been running weekly digital drop-in sessions which have been very well attended by a wide selection of people needing a bit of advice. The sessions take place every Thursday, from 10am until 1pm in the Old Fire Station’s café area. The sessions attract both those who attend week-on-week to develop their digital skills and those who drop by on a one-off basis to resolve an issue they’re having with their device.

Attendees can bring their own devices or there are laptops on hand for those without a device. Anyone struggling with connectivity can use the centre’s free wifi or be gifted a free data SIM via the National Databank.

Being a regular feature in the café area of the Old Fire Station has helped to raise the profile of the available support to everyone who uses the space. Seeing a group of people eager to learn more about digital has been effective in encouraging others to come forward, have a friendly chat, and start to make sense of areas of technology which are causing confusion.

Signposting from other organisations working out of the Old Fire Station building

The Old Fire Station is home to five other community organisations plus a whole host of other services. One of the greatest successes is how well the digital support is being accessed by the all of the centre’s visitors. The Digital Inclusion Officer has focussed on ensuring the organisations are all aware of the support available to them and their service users, complementing the support those organisations already offer.

“I was getting help from Gipsil at the Old Fire Station. I want to get some qualifications and apply for jobs but it’s all online nowadays and my very old phone was broken. Gipsil managed to get me a new phone and then with the Digital Inclusion Officer’s help I got a free data SIM card and some lessons on how to use my new phone. Without the help of both Chris and Gipsil I would have had no chance with moving my life forwards”

Netta, a service user of Gipsil and The Old Fire Station

The People’s Pantry and Clothing Rebellion also operate out of the Old Fire Station on a Thursday offering pre-loved clothes and low-cost foods. With the cost of living crisis hitting people hard, service users have been signposted to the Digital Inclusion Officer, who has then been able to provide free data SIM cards to those who are struggling financially.

The Leeds City Council Mobile Community Hub visits The Old Fire Station weekly, allowing for greater cross-referral opportunities. The Mobile Community Hub has wifi and laptops available for people to use, plus two members of staff on hand to support people with council queries and transactions, managing their benefits, and completing online forms.

Increasing the capacity of organisations in the York Road area to support digital inclusion

With extra funding the organisations in the York Road area have been able to expand their operations and reach. Through collaborations with corporate partners, they have sourced more devices to offer to their services users and provide more capacity in terms of staffing hours in order to strengthen the support available.

The Digital Inclusion Officer has been working to increase the number of organisations offering digital inclusion support. Recently St Vincent’s has been added to the list of Digital Health Hubs in the area, joining organisations such as Burmantofts Senior Action and Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours. Offering a safe space, devices to use and with friendly advice on hand if needed, St Vincent’s is a very welcome addition to the network. They run a digital drop-in session every Wednesday from 10am until 12.00 but people can visit and use their IT facilities at any time the centre is open.

Work is continuing with several other local organisations to support them with funding bids so that they too can become part of this flourishing network focussed entirely on improving the well-being of local communities.

Understanding the digital inclusion needs of the local community

The Digital Inclusion Officer has been involved in a number of projects aimed at better understanding the digital inclusion needs of the local community.

Working with Ahead Partnership, the Old Fire Station hosted a series of workshops as part of the Growing Talent Digital Leeds programme. The event brought together thirty students from two local secondary schools to hear how local young people are digitally excluded.

Service users of the Old Fire Station were also invited to attend a focus group conducted by the Centre for Social Justice exploring the barriers people on low incomes face to engaging with digital, from costs, to ease of use, to poor data coverage.

Future plans

Working closely with the local Primary Care Network teams, discussions discovered a need for further assistance for those who are frail and unable to physically go to the community organisations running digital sessions. Work is currently being conducted to enable digital sessions to be run in communal rooms in local Housing Leeds tower blocks for the benefit of social housing tenants. With initial support provided by the Digital Inclusion Officer, the aim is that these sessions will ultimately be peer-led with extra support provided if necessary.

Digital inclusion is becoming more and more important and it’s vital that the work at the Old Fire Station and the network of community organisations continues so that people aren’t left behind, missing out on the important services which are all increasing their online presence. If you would like to discuss enhancing your organisation’s digital inclusion offer in the York Road area and feel you would benefit from support, then please contact Chris Bamber at Chris@TheOldFireStationGipton.org.uk

Digital inclusion in Woodsley and Holt Park

In July 2023 100% Digital Leeds appointed a Digital Inclusion Officer to build community capacity to support digital inclusion for improved health participation in the Woodsley and Holt Park Local Care Partnership (LCP) area, with the support of NHS Health Inequalities funding.

The role is hosted by Better Leeds Communities (BLC), and matrix managed by 100% Digital Leeds, using our community-based approach to improve and increase digital inclusion support to meet the needs of the local residents. The Digital Inclusion Officer has been working with 15 community organisations in the area, facilitating the development and delivery of sustainable digital inclusion support.

Taking a test and learn approach to support embedded digital inclusion

The Digital Inclusion Officer has been working with the Cardigan Community Centre, Older Wiser Local Seniors (OWLS), Kirkstall Valley Development Trust (KVDT), Supporting the Elderly People (STEP), and St Paul’s Ireland Wood, to enable a digital presence within their existing activities such as warm spaces, food hubs, arts and crafts sessions, social groups, and community cafes. The Digital Inclusion Officer has also supported the training and development of partners’ volunteers, building capacity and enabling the development of volunteer-led digital inclusion support across the area.

These pilot initiatives will be used to better understand the digital needs of the community and enable further digital participation, and engagement.

“Having the input of a Digital Inclusion Officer to offer guidance on how best to support our IT volunteers, providing information about training opportunities, and offering signposting on resources to support the older people who attend our sessions, has been crucial in enabling us to keep our digital support program running. After they linked us up with Leeds Libraries we have been able to borrow iPads with inbuilt connectivity so that we can better support our members who do not own their own computer or wifi. We have also been offered guidance on funding opportunities and how we can link up with other organisations to make the most of our digital offer.

Jenny Oates, Community Outreach Worker, OWLS

Increased digital inclusion support at Better Leeds Communities

Working closely with Better Leeds Communities BLC, the Digital Inclusion Officer has supported capacity building through the recruitment of volunteers. She has utilised existing resources such as borrowing iPads from Leeds Libraries to use with learners, and working in partnership with Worker’s Educational Association (WEA) to deliver a seven-week digital skills course.

There are plans to develop regular digital drop-ins that will allow community members to get support with digital needs such as managing Universal Credit journal, registering on the NHS app, sending emails, staying in contact with family and friends, browsing the web, using music applications, online shopping, online resources for children, and games. These sessions are scheduled to begin once the WEA Digital Skills course finishes in November.

“Since having a Digital Inclusion Officer join the organisation our awareness and understanding of how we can increase our digital inclusion work has started to embed into our everyday thinking. This is through the conversations and focused work we’ve done together and her ability to really appreciate and recognise the areas of opportunity for our strands of work to come together. We are looking forward to seeing our plans come to fruition with the confidence that we are supported by her skills and knowledge.”

Mel Thomas, Community Project Manager, Better Leeds Communities

Increasing digital inclusion support at Barca

The Digital Inclusion Officer has been supporting Barca to increase uptake of Men’s Health Unlocked, a programme that offers one-to-one digital skills support and connectivity to socially isolated men. She has also been working with Barca to explore funding opportunities to increase their digital offer.

“Having the support of a Digital Inclusion Officer has greatly benefitted Barca. She has been able to signpost users to the services we provide, she is knowledgeable about all things digital going on in the local community, and she is extremely helpful, kind, and approachable, which makes her a pleasure to work with. Our partnership has only begun, and we have only scratched the surface on what we can do and achieve in the future”.

Salim Khan, Digital Inclusion Officer, Barca

Sharing learning and resources with organisations working across the area

There are many digital inclusion initiatives taking place across the Woodsley and Holt Park area looking to engage people that are digitally excluded. The Digital Inclusion Officer is keen to share existing resources among partners to facilitate partnership working and enabling wider community participation. This is currently shared via email fortnightly on Fridays and during Local Care Partnership (LCP) meetings.

If you would like to discuss enhancing your organisation’s digital inclusion offer and feel you would benefit from support, then please contact Ayisha Hameed at ayishah@betterleeds.org.uk

University research project on digital service delivery

The 100% Digital team are working closely with researchers from Leeds Beckett University’s (LBU) Centre for Health Promotion Research (CHPR) on a pioneering research project: A hybrid future? A mixed-methods study to explore how voluntary and community sector organisations could combine in-person and digital service delivery for adults with learning disabilities and/or autistic people.

The LBU team is researching how voluntary and community sector enterprise (VCSE) organisations use technology effectively to help deliver services for adults who are autistic or have learning disabilities.

The LBU researchers are working with 100% Digital Leeds, Pyramid and VCSE organisations, and with service user, in Leeds to examine hybrid service delivery. This is when digital technology is used as well as, or instead of, in-person activity to provide services. The project will look at what works well and what doesn’t.

The importance of digital inclusion

The pandemic saw an acceleration in the need for people to upskill people around digital technologies. As many essential services were forced to move to virtual delivery people moved online with support from family and friends and other support workers. Despite this rapid progress, there are still many people with learning disabilities, or who are autistic, who experience barriers to getting online. As it becomes ever more difficult to access essential services such as banking, healthcare and government services without the use of the internet, it is essential that these barriers are addressed. Access to the internet can help tackle social isolation and empower people with learning disabilities and autistic people to have independence and autonomy.

Matt Bellbrough, a community partner for the charity Royal Mencap in Leeds, believes passionately in the importance of hybrid delivery:

“Digital technologies can help us to deliver our services and when used correctly, they help our members in their day to day lives. In my role we are all about getting service users as comfortable as possible with modern life through building confidence, learning skills and socialising. As being online has become such a big part of modern life, it’s so important we give our members the tools they need to navigate this world safely.”

Matt Bellbrough, Royal Mencap
Five people in a park, in front of a tree, holding smartphones.
Royal Mencap’s Positive Changes Volunteers experimenting with different apps on a daytrip out.

Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN)

LBU researchers are working closely with the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator.

In September, the Coordinator organised three workshops which were attended by thirteen Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN) member organisations. The workshops were designed to enable LBU researchers to gather information about how hybrid services are being delivered. Members of the organisations reflected on their practice and shares their invaluable experiences of using digital technologies with people with learning disabilities. The information shared will form a vital part of the research project.

Alice Claydon, Creative Programme Coordinator at Pyramid Arts was one of the people who attended a workshop.

“I really enjoyed the workshop: there were a great variety of organisations attending and everyone had a lot to say! It’s so rare that we get an opportunity to reflect on the work that we do with technologies and consider how we can improve our practice. Digital skills are essential when it comes to improving the independence and the wellbeing of our members, and it was great to share ideas of good practice with similar organisations. I’m excited to see the outcomes of the project!”

Alice Claydon, Pyramid of Arts

Two people sat at a desk with arts materials and an artistic interpretation of a laptop.
Pyramid members exploring how they enjoy using digital technologies.

Members of the research team are currently analysing the information gathered at the workshops and will be reviewing and literature available on the topic of hybrid delivery.  Further workshops to follow up the initial sessions will be taking place in November and organisations are compensated for staff time spent in sessions. 

If you are part of an organisation which works with people with learning disabilities and/or autistic people, and you are interested in taking part in this research, please contact nicky@pyramid.org.uk

The team delivering this research are: Professor Anne-Marie Bagnall, Dr Kris Southby, Dr Jo Trigwell, Sally SJ Brown and Danielle Varley from the LBU Centre for Health Promotion Research; Nicky Lines, ALaDDIN coordinator; and Amy Hearn from 100% Digital Leeds. 

This project is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) under its Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme (Grant Reference Number NIHR204244). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.