Partner profile: Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours Scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ digital inclusion journey

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

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

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

Most recently Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours:

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

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

Identifying those hit hardest by increased cost of living

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

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

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

Supporting digital inclusion for improved financial resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnering to increase resource and maximise impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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