Guest blog: Bridging the digital divide
Head of Digital Sigal Dwyer discusses how Peabody is helping residents and communities to boost their digital skills.
Helping residents to get online and improve their digital skills is a major challenge for the housing sector. Research by Ipsos Mori last year showed that only 64% of housing association tenants have internet access compared with 94% of home owners and 88% of private renters. It is estimated that around 11 million people in the UK still lack basic digital skills and capabilities.
Government Digital Inclusion Strategy
As head of digital at Peabody I am acutely aware of the need to help residents boost their digital skills. But to be really successful we cannot work in isolation. That’s why I warmly welcome today’s publication of the Government Digital Service (GDS) digital inclusion strategy. The strategy has a partnership approach at its heart, with government and partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors working together to reduce digital exclusion. The aim is to reduce the number of people without basic digital skills and capabilities by a quarter over the next two years.
As housing providers we know our communities well, and are uniquely placed to help deliver the strategy, by providing support to those who are unable to digital services independently.
At Peabody we do this by working closely with our residents, communities and partners, to address the main challenges that people face to going online:
Access and Skills
We now live in a digital world and to be excluded digitally in 2014 is to be excluded both socially and financially. Peabody has been working with residents and local London communities for over 14 years on improving their IT, computer and internet skills. Over the years the programme, Net worx has expanded and changed to include new technologies and skills.
Today, our Net Worx programme delivers training in community and learning centres across most of Peabody’s estates and sheltered schemes, as well as via the Digivan – a van kitted with tablets and laptops that reaches our communities in London areas where the learning hubs do not exist.
Digital inclusion is central to many of our community initiatives and is a key building block for our business plan goal to build thriving communities. Users of our digital services report that they feel more connected to local communities, to their families and they frequently report higher than average feelings of satisfaction and well being.
Access to digital technology can also improve education and employment outcomes, by re-engaging residents with learning, increasing their skills and qualifications allowing them to access better paid employment opportunities.
Peabody’s community investment youth team works with young people on digital programmes to address issues such as relationships, online safety and gang culture, where young people gain knowledge of digital production, User Experience design and online content.
Trust, or not knowing where to start to go online
In order to engage and support older people to get online we have installed IT facilities in all of our sheltered schemes and our Net Worx programme recruits young people to provide ongoing training and support to older people.
Net Worx 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. We have intensified our digital support for Peabody residents with a target of getting 80% of our residents online by April 2015.
Digital in the community
Peabody recognises the importance of digital in the way in transacts and interact with our residents and the role we play in ensuring we support our communities to have the digital skills they need to lead better, more independent lives.
Alongside our digital inclusion work, Peabody is also investing in transforming our services online, including our website (launched in Nov 2013) www.peabody.org.uk where residents are able to login to their account to view their rent statements, report issues and update their details. We also publish local digital noticeboards packed with relevant information, updates, activities and events.
As part of this transformation, we are reviewing our channels of communications, our IT systems and our web and mobile presence to continue to deliver more accessible and user friendly digital services to our residents and stakeholders.
There is lots of great work being done by housing associations on this, but as people who are digitally excluded are also more likely to be financially and socially excluded, the sector has to do more to ensure people have the digital skills they need to succeed.