'The Universal Women project began in March 2018, initially as a way to support the women in our service cope with the implementation of Universal Credit (UC).
'When engaging with UC you have to have an e-mail address and access to the internet in order to make an application and maintain your journal. Many of the women we support do not have internet access or an e-mail account, or know how to get these things. Nor do they have the money to pay for an internet provider or a smart phone with internet access. We recognised that this change could have a huge impact, resulting in these women being further socially excluded in a digitally advancing world, and saw an opportunity to encourage them to learn key digital skills in a supportive and welcoming way.
'With the funding from the Digital Participation Charter Fund we were able to purchase the necessary kit to help us run a group where our women could be supported to improve their digital skills. This was a safe place where participants could access the internet, update their online UC journal and search & apply for jobs – even out with the group times if it suited their schedules better. We started to run the class once a week for two hours, with the bonus of a coffee break and hot filled roll in between, supporting the women to work towards learning the five essential digital skills.
'Since the group began there have been a number of women who have come along at various times, for a varying number of sessions and for a variety of different reasons. Some wanted to improve their confidence in using Word and Excel, some used the group to search and apply for jobs, and some used it as a creative outlet, including a lady who typed out meaningful poetry and designed beautiful backgrounds so she could print the finished articles off to frame for friends and family.
'We also have regulars who have attended since the beginning and are up for any challenge, such as taking part in the film making project completed last summer. Some women attended SCVO’s Digital Champion Training, along with a few staff, and found this helped them encourage their friends and family to take the steps to increasing their own skills. Our women also produce the ‘NAWA News’ newsletter where they update on the new skills they have learned, what the different groups are doing and any events coming up. They also share recipes, knitting patterns, poems and self-help guidance. The newsletter is a way for them to be creative, show off their digital skills and be a part of something they feel proud of.
'One woman’s journey:
“I was asked if I would like to join the IT group and I said yes, so I came along to investigate what it was all about. I was given a laptop and was shown how to work it. Now I was none the wiser on how to use this laptop but once I was shown how to put it on and off I was getting stuck-in, doing tables and spreadsheets, and also doing newsletters and blogs. I learned how to use Word so this was helpful when it came to the creating the quarterly NAWA newsletter. I have also learned how to use PowerPoint and made a presentation that myself and another woman delivered at the AGM. I have also helped digitise the North Ayrshire Woman’s Aid history board which comprised of photographs, newspaper articles and information about what the service has achieved since it began in 1980. We put that into a digital timeline that we put into a PowerPoint slide show and this was shown on repeat in the background of the AGM. This digital timeline is saved on a USB stick so it can be shown any time and wherever we go, such as delivering training.
"I have been doing this now for a while and I’ve got the confidence to do anything that I have been asked to do. I went out and bought my own laptop and practice things on my own. It’s funny to sit on my own and do silly things like making mistakes and learn from it but I think I know now what to do when something goes wrong.”
'Going forward, we are working as a group to devise content for the Facebook page, Twitter and website. It will be a challenge but we are excited about it, and about where Universal Women will be in the future. We are having an open day in our office in April to encourage some of our newer women to come along and boost their existing skills or learn something new, and hopefully bring a fresh outlook to what promoting and supporting digital skills means to them.
'Through all if this we continue to support women with applying for benefits online and checking online journals, as well as applying for grants and researching sources of various support for whatever they may need. Without the support of the Charter Fund we may not have able to provide so much additional digital support to our vulnerable women and children.'