Partner profile: The Old Fire Station

Since the start of this year The Old Fire Station in Gipton has worked with 100% Digital Leeds to understand and support the digital inclusion needs of communities in East Leeds. As an organisation offering many services under one roof, in a place where people feel safe and welcome, supported by caring and person-centred staff, The Old Fire Station is an ideal location to offer person-centred digital support.

Fran Etherington, Development Manager, standing outside The Old Fire Station
Fran Etherington, Development Manager, standing outside The Old Fire Station

“It’s about starting a conversation where someone feels safe and welcome, and it might take them a few visits to open that door and have that conversation but, when they do, they feel comfortable doing it”.

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

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 full time member of staff to work with partners across the York Road Local Care Partnership footprint and continue the development of the Digital Health Hub Network.

“100% Digital Leeds has held our hands and supported us throughout our digital inclusion journey, helping us to develop all of our projects. From the conversations we need to have with the people who visit, trying to understand what we need to do, and how we’re going to do it. The support has been fantastic.”

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

Bringing people and services together

The Old Fire Station is a vibrant and well-loved community venue in Gipton. It is a space where local people can come to socialise, access support, and have fun. The Old Fire Station hosts a range of events and activities that bring together local residents, from film nights to car boot sales. 

The building houses a number of charities offering support to people living locally and across Leeds:

  • Space2 is an arts and social change charity supporting health and wellbeing through the arts
  • People in Action supports people who are learning disabled and people who are autistic to live happy, healthy and independent lives
  • Zest offers support and opportunity to people living in disadvantaged areas of Leeds, addressing health inequalities and social isolation through activities which improve physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing
  • GIPSIL works with those in the most disadvantaged communities in Leeds to realise their potential, including supporting access to housing 
  • The centre is home to the popular and affordable Feel Good Café, a social enterprise run by SLATE an organisation that supports people with learning and other difficulties to access employment, training and volunteering opportunities. 

The charities work in close partnership to identify and meet the needs of local people and communities visiting The Old Fire Station and each has partnered with 100% Digital Leeds to support the digital inclusion of the people and communities they support.

“Folk come into the café because it’s a safe, warm space to be. We get a lot of people who are in quite severe difficulties. When the staff notice someone under stress they will go and chat to them and offer them a cup of tea and before you know it, in two weeks time, you’ll see that person at one of the groups, accessing support”.

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

Supporting digital inclusion 

The many staff working across the different services at The Old Fire Station use person-centred conversations to understand the needs of the local residents, building trusted relationships with people over time. As their needs are understood they are signposted and supported to access some of the different services available across the building.

“We have the most amazing team of people here who are mainly local, really open and friendly, and just have that ability to make people feel really comfortable.”

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

Free wifi and 4G data 

For East Leeds residents without access to wifi or struggling with fuel costs The Old Fire Station is a safe, warm, and friendly space to access free wifi, where people are welcome to linger. People with a device but reliant on pay-as-you-go or unable to afford data for connectivity can be gifted six months of free 4G data via the National Databank

Digital skills support

People looking to develop their digital skills can access support at a weekly Tuesday morning Digital Drop-in facilitated by Get Technology Together, a Leeds CIC helping individuals gain expertise, practical skills and confidence in technology.

Access to equipment

Those without the right digital equipment for them can use laptops at the Digital Drop-in. Tablets in fixed stands will soon be available to use in the Feel Good Cafe, supported by funding from Clarion Housing. Staff will be able to remove the tablets from the stands to use with groups meeting in the building.

Creative approaches to digital engagement

An exciting new project facilitated by Space2 and funded by Clarion will see the Old Fire Station harnessing its heritage to encourage those lacking confidence and motivation to take their first steps with digital. Space2 will work with The Old Fire Station’s Heritage Group to record the stories of ex-fire fighters who used to work in the building when it was a working fire station. The recorded audio and video will be used to create an oral history trail throughout the building, accessible via a series of QR codes. 

“It’s a sort of stealth approach to digital inclusion. The heritage group are all ex-fire fighters, they have the technology, but they’re not using it. Working with people to be able to create QR codes will be out of their comfort zone. But what they’re excited to do is to tell the stories they have about the building. We know that using technology in doing that is going to give them so many more skills on their phones and the confidence to do more with digital.”

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

The rich heritage of the Old Fire Station is showcased and celebrated in the design and decoration of the building and their community engagement programme. The venue hosts a number of annual heritage events that engage large numbers of the local community across all ages, including a Fire Engine Day and Heritage Weekend, both of which are supported by the Heritage Group. The oral history trail will enhance this and the aim is that the Heritage Group will help to engage people with the resource, supporting them to use the QR codes and signposting them to the digital inclusion support available across the building.

Becoming a Digital Health Hub

The Old Fire Station started its digital inclusion journey by attending a series of workshops aimed at supporting organisations to become Digital Health Hubs. 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.

“People tell us they feel safe in the building. They don’t feel like they’re going to the council or coming to a Job Centre. And they’re not. They’re just coming into a nice, friendly space but, because there are so many charities in the building, the chances are there is someone who can help them in the building, or they know someone who can.”

Fran Etherington, Development Manager at The Old Fire Station

This was part of the development of a community-based approach to support digital inclusion for improved digital health participation, led by 100% Digital Leeds in partnership with Local Care Partnerships (LCP). The approach was developed with Beeston and Middleton LCP and tested with York Road LCP, which has seen the development of 27 Digital Health Hubs in Leeds to date.

Join the first development wave

The approach will be rolled-out across the city in an ambitious 18-24 month plan. The staged implementation plan will start in late October 2022 with the support of over £200,000 in Health Inequalities funding which will increase third sector capacity for supporting digital inclusion.

Implementation will happen in a series of waves, the first of which will take part with Central, HATCH, Woodsley & Holt Park, and Morley Local Care Partnerships. For an invitation to the kick-off meeting taking place on 22nd October contact