Partner Profile: Hamara Centre

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

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

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

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

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

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

About Hamara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Health Hub

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

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

This includes supporting people to:

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

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

“If a service user got a letter from the NHS, they could use Google Translate to read it in their own language. It could even read the letter out loud for them if they had trouble reading it. This was a big success!”

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

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

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

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

Be Online Stay Safe (BOSS)

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

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

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

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre

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

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

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

Nizamud Din, Project Leader, Hamara Centre.

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

HALO Project

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

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

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

Next Steps

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