Digital Inclusion Programme

Digital Inclusion Programme

People experiencing homelessness are more likely than the wider population to be digitally excluded. Furthermore, digital and social exclusion are interlinked – being left behind digitally often means facing increased disadvantage; Covid-19 brought these issues into focus as face-to-face support services, drop-in centres, libraries and community groups closed, scaled back or moved online.  So much of how we live our lives nowadays means that being digitally-literate is becoming ever more important. Digital know-how is increasingly needed to access essential health services, manage finances and buy food.

SPEAR believes digital inclusion is vital for our clients

SPEAR’s own research in June 2020 highlighted that not enough homeless people had access to the internet or a laptop during the Covid-19 lockdown. Only 12% of this demographic had Wi-Fi and just 4% had access to a laptop. Additionally, we know many homeless people lack the skills and knowledge to navigate their way around the internet and computers.

Launched in early 2021, SPEAR’s Digital Inclusion Programme is designed to address digital exclusion, help people experiencing homelessness to overcome their personal challenges, and gain independence and improved wellbeing.

Equipment provision

The Community Development & Innovations team were able to secure the appropriate equipment to suit a range of clients’ needs and circumstances. They acquired new equipment such as laptops, smartphones and Wi-Fi. They have set up PCs for clients to use in our main Hub and complex needs hostel, with additional laptops and smartphones available to borrow in our HMOs and temporary accommodations across South West London. Clients also have access to a number of laptops to complete pre-employment courses whilst they reside in our first-stage accommodation. SPEAR received a generous donation of laptops, which are going to be used in digital drop-in sessions for clients to attend to learn more digital skills.

The project would not have been possible without the support of a small group of SPEAR volunteers who are technology experts and who participated from the outset by donating their time and IT expertise to re-set the laptops and install Windows10; and deliver digital training and coaching.

Volunteers Helen and David working on resetting donated laptops

Digital training

Funding enabled us to appoint a provisional, part-time Digital Inclusion Worker to provide a programme of support to build independent life skills, employability and wellbeing through the following digital training topics:

  • Basic digital literacy e.g. accessing and using a computer, tablet or smartphone, setting up an email addresses, conducting video calls
  • Managing physical health, mental health and addiction services through online support
  • Communication with friends, family, befrienders and wider support networks
  • Understanding finances, budgeting and salary calculations, paying for bills online, online shopping

SPEAR’s Peer Mentor Worker, Sophea Scott, took on this role with great enthusiasm. Sophea spent one day a week in Sutton to hold a digital workshop with clients. Together they worked on various activities, from learning how to use banking apps to an introduction to online graphic design. Sophea helped one particular client enrol onto an English learning course:

“At the start, he couldn’t speak English very well. The client borrowed a laptop and we downloaded an English language app so that he would be able to practise. His confidence has really developed as a result and he is very excited to start college this year which is amazing! Seeing these kinds of results, and the impact that my own actions are bringing to various individuals, is why I love what I do.”

Successful outcomes and learnings

  • 27 people (against a target of 25) engaged in this project.
  • 20 people (against a target of 15) gained digital access and reported improved basic digital skills such as feeling more confident in using a computer or smartphone.
  • 18 people (against a target of 18) said that the project allowed them to build independent living skills and social networks through improved access to community support, local activities and social networks.
  • 17 people (against a target of 18) said they had improved wellbeing through better access to online wellbeing and mental health services or resources.
  • 17 people (against a target of 18) reported improvements in financial skills and financial management through the support they received on the programme.

Here are some of the clients’ feedback:

  • “I have been looking for jobs with the laptop and also volunteering for things that I could do to help in the community”
  • “Thank you. Because of this [project] I was able to apply for jobs online”
  • “Thank you for your help. Really appreciate it”

We were very grateful to get the opportunity to run a 12-week Digital Inclusion Programme. One of the key learnings for any similar future projects would be to run a programme like this for at least 6 months. The reason for this is that, for some, digital literacy is a longer journey that requires patience and regular training over a longer period of time. Additionally, when working with people who have experienced trauma, it is vital to take the time to build trust to help them build the confidence to believe int themselves.

We would also recommend to any other charity looking to launch a project like this to ensure they have a Digital Safeguarding Policy in place ahead of time and guides on How To Stay Safe Online for participants – we found these two documents very useful throughout the project.

Being digitally literate is such an important skill in daily life, and for some of our clients a requisite to move on from homelessness to independence. More funding and donations are needed to continue this vital work, to repeat the successes achieved in Sutton and to ensure that all SPEAR clients are digitally included.