It’s been a long two plus years of Zoom calls and emails, virtual meet-ups and social media shout outs, so the Good Things team were thrilled to get out and reconnect with people from organisations in our network during Get Online Week 2022.
Visiting real brick-and-mortar places allowed us to meet the wonderful staff and volunteers that keep organisations going, and talk to the people that benefit from the crucial support that our network partners provide. We were lucky enough to join in several events and see how these organisations support people to get online in creative, person-centred, sensitive and inspiring ways.
Skills Enterprise (Hannah / Lou), London
Mala, Karen and the team were incredibly welcoming when we visited them on Monday to film a conversation between our Group CEO Helen and Virgin Media O2. Their new location at Trinity Centre in East Ham is a lovely community space, particularly in October when it’s covered in beautiful red boston ivy.
I saw two simultaneous sessions and was blown away by their approach to using Learn My Way as a tool to support people into employment and to help people to learn English. They were fantastic advocates for Learn My Way and have a team of over 20 brilliant digital champions who are able to give one-to-one support to people who need extra help.
I also heard a really inspiring success story about a volunteer. They had lost their minimum wage hospitality job during the pandemic and after receiving some initial support from Skills Enterprise, they then became a digital champion helping others to learn digital skills. After a few months, they started to apply for jobs again, and were able to get a much higher paid and more fulfilling role at a primary school as a result of their volunteering experience.
Learn for Life (Kirsten), Sheffield
During Get Online Week, I was lucky to visit Learn For Life Enterprise who work in the culturally and ethnically diverse area of Sharrow, Sheffield. They work incredibly hard to engage and support learners from all backgrounds with a range of tasks from digital skills to writing CVs to learning English.
I had the opportunity to walk around the organisation with Hayley, who runs the centre with her mum Gill. We saw at least four different English classes happening in tandem, for different levels (including one featuring a gorgeous dog behaving very well!).
One of the classes in particular sparked our interest, with Gill teaching the verb ‘to get’ with all of the different variations (i.e. to get in, to get out). Only at the end of the class did I realise that they were integrating our Get Online Week campaign into their English classes. The creativity and passion demonstrated here was one of my highlights of the day!
It was also interesting to hear how they have embedded digital inclusion into their services. Learn For Life has set up a scheme where their highest level English speakers go into libraries and help older people with digital skills. This is mutually beneficial as English learners wish to practise the language in a practical sense and already hold existing digital skills. Hearing of the innovative ways that digital skills can be taught and learnt was eye-opening and particularly great to hear on Get Online Week!
Heeley Development Trust (Lou), Sheffield
On a very rainy Thursday morning I popped down the road to visit May at Heeley Development Trust’s headquarters in the historic building of Meersbrook Hall.
Everyone is offered a much-needed cup of tea or (very strong!) coffee on arrival and receives a warm welcome from the team, before heading on to whatever activity they have come to join that day.
Heeley Development Trust offers all kinds of community services across a number of areas in Sheffield, working in partnership with local GPs, the council, volunteer libraries, etc., to improve the lives and wellbeing of local people.
Their digital team provides a range of support services in different locations, from general drop-ins and “Device Doctor” sessions for “tech headaches” to more formal IT courses. They’ve also been busy taking in devices, wiping them and setting them up to be used by other voluntary organisations or learners who need one.
Most importantly, while they do offer some standalone “digital” support, May says that they are seeing the need more and more to weave digital into all of the support they offer people in their community. Digital access is becoming a necessity to access all kinds of things and offering these things holistically has been the most impactful thing.
North Manchester Community Partnership (Tom), Manchester
NMCP offers digital skills sessions across several areas in North Manchester and I visited one of the regular sessions at the No. 93 Wellbeing Centre in Harpurhey. John Curtin, who runs the sessions, had also invited along partners from Manchester City Council and the NHS to observe the session and find out more about the support they offer.
The session involved learners working through modules on Learn My Way, with separate one-to-one support offered to those who needed help with a specific device or issue. Staff were available to support when learners had questions with the content or their devices. It was great that one of the volunteers from NMCP was available to support learners who himself had received support from the centre as well.
It was also inspiring to see all of the learners using Learn My Way as their main route to increasing their digital skills. Some of NMCP’s learners will attend for a short amount of time to get support with specific issues/digital tools, whereas those just starting out with digital will attend for longer. The session I attended included learners at all stages in their ‘digital journey’, including some who had been going along for a while and were undertaking different forms of online learning after completing courses on Learn My Way. The session was really well attended and it was great to see so much appetite for the support NMCP is offering.
Go-Woman Alliance (Michael), Birmingham
I visited Go-Woman Alliance for the open day of their new centre in Birmingham.
The event was a great way to showcase Go-Woman Alliance’s venue, and the valuable work they do, to stakeholders and members of the local community. They were also celebrating the completion of their two European projects: Teach Digital, and Peer Empowerment Programme for Achievement of Migrant Women. The teachdigital.eu website aims to empower women from migrant backgrounds and the educators that teach them. It helps them to use technology to support their work, their study, and other aspects of living in a digital age.
Yasmin and the team shared with me how they offer a wide range of support, including adult education, early years, and health and well-being. It was fantastic hearing how they use Learn My Way and our Learn English resources to increase engagement and confidence. Their holistic approach to learning clearly makes a valuable and positive difference to the people they support.
Some of our key takeaways from a week of visits…
The need for digital inclusion support (amongst other things) is greater than ever, with the cost of living crisis affecting people
Through conversations with staff and volunteers, we were reminded of just how much our network partners do to support their communities, much of which is unfunded, or insufficiently funded.
We saw some fantastically successful examples of organisations embedding digital inclusion into other activities and services, rather than offering a standalone “digital” service, including English lessons, employability and cultural celebrations.
And we heard “from the horse’s mouth” how well respected (and needed) these organisations are by other local organisations that they work in partnership with.
We’d love to see more centres! Let us know if you’d like a visit from a member of the Good Things team by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.