As an organisation focusing on digital inclusion, we are extremely fortunate to receive funding from Good Things Foundation, but we wouldn’t accept that funding if it wasn’t matched by budget holders within the town we are working. Our attitude is that if we are able to bring external money into our borough, that has to be maximised by those who would benefit from the work we are doing. We still have a long way to go but right now we have a strong and successful working model with Stockport Homes, the largest provider of social housing in our borough.
The fact that the person responsible for digital inclusion in Stockport Homes is their social inclusion manager matches our belief that you can’t just do digital. You have to support people as a whole if you are going to support them to get online. Talking about this I asked Tanya King, Stockport Homes Social Inclusion Manager why she believed this might be the case:
“We know many of our customers attend digital sessions because they derive many social benefits.
Digital is an introduction to a wide range of other topics, whether finding out about their local community, linking with support groups or applying for benefits.
The social contact provided through the sessions plays a vital role in customers’ lives, reducing the likelihood of social isolation and with it the risk of mortality, coronary disease, suicide and cognitive decline such as dementia.
It is a platform for them to engage with others, improve self-confidence, retain independence and be part of their local community.”
There are still conversations to be had and inroads to be made about business cost savings of residents being online and some of those cost savings being pooled, but for now I am really encouraged by the work that we do together.
We hear lots about the digital divide, well I have actually found it. This is the Mersey river between Runcorn and Liverpool. Other than swimming, the only way to cross this used to be the Runcorn bridge which closed earlier this year when this new toll bridge opened. Now the fact I have to spend £4 to get to and from Liverpool is something that grates but that’s for another day. The issue that concerns me here is that when you leave the bridge you are faced with a sign saying, “pay online by midnight tomorrow at http://www.merseyflow.co.uk”.
Now because I live where I do, and to give you a little insight into the exciting life I lead; I was sat at home moaning about how now not only are people excluded if they aren’t online, they are now actually trapped. Five minutes later I was told I was wrong. This doesn’t happen often I might add, but I was told by my other half that there are designated places you can go to pay your fee or even a pay by phone option. Five minutes later (because it doesn’t sit well that I was wrong) I asked how he knew about these other options. Obviously through Google!
Now we all, as centres, know that this isn’t just about knowing how to pay. How many of our learners have bank accounts that have more than a cash card, or even a bank account at all; and if they do, do they have the literacy levels to navigate the website?
This is the stuff that Starting Point, like all centres around the country, and nationally now, is faced with every day. Recently, we evaluated some of the work spoke about before that we do with Stockport Homes. We focused on the social outcomes of computer sessions. We now know that 92% of our learners have made friends or connections by attending the courses. We also know that 37% feel safer in their community. But these are just stats. It doesn’t tell you how many people felt safe before or the about the people who didn’t want to make friends.
For this we need to tell the stories, but more recently we have shied away from case studies. We are working with people who have been systematically disempowered and telling their story is wrong. Because this isn’t a story – these are real facts about real people who should be talking for themselves. I am also conscious that Starting Point isn’t unique. These good things happen all the time in this network. So, toying with these personal views I was challenged by one of our team who said that we have a responsibility to inform decision making and talk about the barriers our network and learners face.
I have spoken to Violet and she is happy with me representing her today. This is Violet. Violet first came to our sessions because we had tea and toast and more importantly heating. She’s been attending for 27 months and still isn’t online. Now this makes me wonder what Julie must be doing in these sessions! Seriously though, Violet won a tablet during Get Online Week 2015 and it took her 16 months to have the confidence to take it home. So, this is what Violet would like you to know. She was the victim of a violent attack on the street and as a result now has short term memory loss. She had a job but had a lot of time off and lost her job. She very quickly became isolated. Training Violet to use Universal Job Match is important but helping her understand what her skills are is more important.
We know that more people need to support people live Violet and there are some amazing organisations in Stockport like Alvanley Family Practice, and specifically their champions, who have devised something that never fails to impress me. Their social prescribing model goes so much further than simple sign posting. They work, as we do, in building relationships and helping people to find their own support.
Relationship working when done correctly, as above, should be about support and the avoidance of duplication and replication. It is more critical than ever for community and voluntary organisations to understand the power of what they do. When decision makers are asking for us to share data because data is a big thing, let’s take some time to think about how much value that has; not only for us as organisations but also to the individuals whose data it is. In a time of austerity, when an organisation has external funding you will always get invited to the party but I am done with talking shops. Personally, I don’t go to parties now unless people let me dance.