As part of Get Online Week, Peabody’s head of digital Sigal Dwyer discusses how we are helping residents boost their digital skills.

This week, thousands of people across the country are being inspired to get online and see what the internet could do for them – whether that’s finding a job, getting healthy, keeping in touch, saving money, making life a bit easier, or just having fun.

At Peabody we have been working with residents and local London communities for over 14 years on improving their IT, computer and internet skills. As a result of our Digital in the Community programme, over 75% of our residents are now online.

Our Networx project – which helps older people to learn how to use the internet - has significantly expanded its reach and now has regular weekly programmes at 22 locations across London. Networx supports Peabody’s drive to increase digital capability amongst our residents and communities, encouraging social mobility, a sense of purpose, and a strong feeling of belonging. 

It’s been great to hear this week about the achievements of Peabody residents such as 87 year old Tom, who visits his local Networx project to call his grandchildren using Skype, and 84 year old Pam, who can now check what’s on at Sadler’s Wells by going online. These personal tales show the huge difference our volunteer digital champions are making to isolated older people in our communities.

Pam Networx
Pam with a volunteer Digital Champion at our Lomond House sheltered scheme            

The government’s digital inclusion strategy  states that 37% of social housing tenants are likely to be digitally excluded.  This equates to around 1.85 million people.  However, the strategy’s implementation plan does not address this group specifically.  Even if people have the skills to go online, many are still priced out of the market and this is having a serious impact on other social issues, including Universal Credit applications, unemployment and benefits sanctions, social isolation, poor health and financial exclusion.

Housing providers are ideally placed to help residents boost their digital skills, by working in partnership with government and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors. Peabody is part of the Connected Housing Initiative (CHI), a collaboration of 12 Housing Associations representing over 400,000 households, the Greater London Authority and digital skills provider Digital Unite. Together we have invested over a million pounds in training our residents over the past decade, but we estimate that over 110,000 of our residents are unable to access the internet due to a lack of skills or accessible kit and connectivity.

As a group we are offering 25 years of expertise and experience to help emerging and existing IT companies access this market and work with them so everyone living in social housing can access the Internet wherever they live, whatever their income. We also think that government and local authorities could do more to influence telecoms companies to change their tariffs and operating modules to a more flexible approach.

We now live in a digital world and to be excluded digitally in 2014 is to be excluded both socially and financially. There is an urgent need to ensure the most vulnerable are not left behind and housing providers are leading the way in finding innovative solutions to this.