Belle Isle Tenant Management Organisation, BITMO, is a tenant-run organisation that manages housing and estate management. Their vision is to build a stronger, safer community for the residents of Belle Isle. Not only do they support tenants with housing issues, they also provide advice, training, and employment support services. The sense of community within the BITMO GATE building is ever present; residents can get involved in activities such as volunteering, a wellbeing group and children’s summer holiday activities.
Supporting skills with Digital Together
Digital inclusion support at BITMO is led by Tracey McGarry, a Community Development Officer. Upon receiving funding for becoming a Digital Health Hub in 2020, BITMO purchased tablets for lending, gifting and use on site, and set up MiFi for internet access in communal spaces. They are part of the National Databank, and gift SIM cards to community members experiencing data poverty. Residents come to BITMO for foodbank vouchers, and during these interactions staff ask questions about connectivity to see if a free data SIM could improve their day-to-day lives. This kind of support is proving more and more vital during the cost-of-living crisis: nationally, around a million people have had to cut back on broadband packages due to lack of affordability. People can access digital skills support at BITMO via one-to-one digital support sessions and weekly ‘Digital Together’ group learning sessions. Some learners without their own functioning laptop or tablet have been gifted equipment, if they have shown commitment to the course by attending three or more sessions.
Coproducing course content with learners
The content of BITMO’s ’Digital Together’ sessions is co-produced by the group so that the skills and tools covered reflect the needs and interests of the attendees. Tracey informs and inspires the attendees on the possibilities, and they share ideas about what they would like to get out of the digital world, which decides the direction the course will take. The group then uses the free digital skills platform ‘Learn My Way’ to support learners to develop their essential digital skills.
A ‘digital wishlist’ was produced by learners in a group ideas sharing session, ensuring sessions cover the knowledge and skills wanted and needed. Suggestions ranged from using voice commands, to learning a new language on Duolingo, to buying and selling on ecommerce sites like eBay and Vinted.
The discussions were divided into six main elements:
- Recognising and celebrating what learners can already do.
- Keeping in touch.
- Developing new skills.
- Managing money.
- Mental health support.
“The conversation that came out of that in 20 minutes was unbelievable…. They’re excited, they’re enjoying doing it, they’re liking doing Learn My Way.’’Tracey McGarry, Community Development Officer, BITMO
BITMO have worked with Leeds Libraries to raise awareness about the vast array of online services accessible for free to those with a library card, such as Newsbank, a collection of global online newspapers, MediciTV, a classical music channel, Ancestry Library edition, and Driving Test Theory practice.
Sessions end with a 15 minute YouTube video related to their interests, such as a virtual tour of the Natural History Museum. The tenants have been encouraged to do this at home which they call ‘travelling from their sofa’, experiencing the world via their screens using tools like Google Earth, Google Maps, and YouTube.
Learners are also supported to use council digital services to make their lives easier. One attendee wanted to book a bulky waste collection for his garden waste. He travelled to three separate locations to try and work out how to access this service, including a One Stop Shop, who all advised him to go elsewhere. Tracey was able to show him how to go online to book a collection without leaving his home, saving time, frustration and effort.
Celebrating learner progression and building a sense of community
BITMO does a fantastic job of recognising learner success by printing certificates and documenting these in personal portfolios, increasing confidence and motivation, two main barriers to digital inclusion. Tracey has plans to further celebrate learner progression with the creation of a display board tracking content covered in sessions.
“The learners said, Imagine in a year’s time if we’re in here with our graduation caps and we are able to do all these things!’’Tracey McGarry, Community Development Officer, BITMO
The group of Belle Isle residents that regularly attend the sessions have built a sense of community, friendship and peer support, and they now even meet up over a coffee outside of planned sessions to continue learning and sharing together. The group has also had open and honest conversations around mental health and grief. Moving forward, they will learn about how to access digital tools and services to support themselves, such as meditation and healthcare apps, forums and entertainment. Being able to share their experiences whilst learning has been a central part of the group’s success, helping to tackle isolation and loneliness in the community.
“They’re all smiling, they’re all coming back.”Tracey McGarry, Community Development Officer, BITMO
Tracey is keen to capture the momentum and motivation that the learners have. BITMO has been supported by the 100% Digital Leeds team to come up with innovative ideas, build connections with other organisations that are championing digital inclusion, and fully integrate digital into the vital services that BITMO provides. They are also looking to broaden engagement to support younger people with digital by connecting working-age adults who access employability services to digital support, and parents and carers who need support to help their children stay safe online. BITMO has achieved the sometimes daunting task of showing digitally excluded people that not only is the digital world entirely relevant to them, but it can also improve your wellbeing.