What can digital inclusion look like in a small housing association?

 Rory Brown, SCVO
 3rd Apr 2019

Two years ago, I applied for a post in Govan Housing Association as their Digital Inclusion Worker. Coming from a CLD background the advert used all my favourite words; empowerment, inclusion and informal education, but I still remember my first thought being “Why would a landlord be investing in community based Digital Inclusion?”

A week in post and the answer became obvious; Digital Participation is important in every sector, but even more so in Housing. As community anchor organisations we frequently engage with tenants, residents and the wider community, not just on issues around bricks and mortar but also around welfare, community inclusion, education and culture. So why would Digital Inclusion be any different? Whether it’s supporting a tenant to get online and pay their rent, report repairs or connect with friends and family via social media, these are opportunities that Housing Associations can embrace. We need to take time to embed basic digital skills so that our tenants can get the most out of our services.

So how did we go about it? Our Community Inclusion programme had existed for a year before I came into post, offering social groups and learning opportunities such as cooking classes, pensioners clubs and ESOL courses from our Community Hub on 901 Govan Road. We were already engaging with people in various interest groups and had established a positive relationship with the Association, our Senior Management Team and our Management Committee, which was key to our programme’s success.

Our approach to digital inclusion has been holistic and we have tried to embed opportunities for building digital skills into a lot of our Community Inclusion work. For example, our walking group take part in Photography walks and our Pensioners group have iPad workshops. The core to the programme is around creating access to equipment and learning opportunities in an informal environment that is flexible enough to meet the needs of the community as they arise.

To this end we run a Digital Drop In from our Digital Hub at 905 Govan Road where we offer access to Wi-Fi, computers, free printing and informal support around building digital skills. Now that we are in our second year of running, we are able to offer more varied forms of engagement to meet our users’ needs, such as our robust learning library. This allows tenants, community groups and local organisations access to iPads, Laptops and Digital Cameras and has provided people the opportunity to search for work at home, access Netflix or borrow devices to practice what they’ve learned from IT classes. Managing the devices does not take a lot of time but the impact so far has been incredibly positive.

We approach a lot of our project work in partnership with others; for example, our IT class is run in conjunction with Glasgow Clyde College and we organise free cinema screenings with local organisations including NSPCC, Govan HELP and Plantation Production. In the last year we have focused on employability, funding a local social enterprise ‘Unlock Employment’ to run a dedicated Job Club 10 hours a week which offers support in creating CVs, preparing for interviews and linking local people into local work. Our target was 20 local people into employment; Unlock Employment managed over 80.

We have developed a Digital Forum, which brings together organisations on a quarterly basis to discuss gaps in provision, the needs of the local community and the needs of each organisation. This led to some great partnership working and resulted in the creation of organised events such as a Universal Credit Information Day, a Makers Day with local schools and some bespoke Marketing and Social Media training for the third sector.

So what is next for us? We hope to expand our programme and establish new Digital Hubs in different locations that reflect the needs of our tenants. By linking in with our Community Inclusion projects, we hope to offer more workshops and events that support basic digital skills but also create fun and excitement around the topic that can motivate more people to get involved. Our year of workshops would then lead to another community fun day celebrating all things Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

We want to engage with more of our tenants; our recent Tenant Profiling exercise showed that only 22% of tenants had the internet and 43% had access to a laptop or computer. We also want to offer bespoke support for our tenants who are Refugees and Asylum Seekers, linking them in with successful ESOL classes in our community spaces. This is only the beginning for Govan Housing Association’s Digital Inclusion programme and it excites me to think where we can take it in the next couple of years.