Supporting digital skills in homelessness services – Learning from Reboot UK
In an increasingly digital age, people are still being left behind. More than 11 million people in the UK* have yet to gain essential digital skills and miss out on opportunities to connect with friends and family, find work, access health services and welfare benefits, manage money and pursue their interests online.
People experiencing homelessness are often digitally excluded. Devices are at risk of being damaged, lost or stolen. Access to charging points and wifi, and the cost of data is a challenge. In many cases people haven’t yet had the opportunity to gain digital skills and may lack the motivation to get started while coping with homelessness.
Helping someone to get online can be life changing. Digital literacy helps grow confidence, independence and wellbeing, giving people greater choice and control. And it needn’t require extra resources. Lots of homelessness organisations are already doing great work - from helping with wifi access, equipment, initial motivation and engagement, to developing more in-depth skills.
The Reboot UK Project
Homeless Link has worked with The Good Things Foundation since 2015 to explore how digital support is offered in the Homelessness sector. It’s been a 'test and learn' project, exploring peer mentoring and a range of digital skills interventions to get people online.
In Reboot’s most recent phase, Homeless Link funded eight homelessness agencies to create a Community Connector role. These Connectors established and supported a network of Digital Champions, both in-house and with external partners, delivering digital support to people experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage, and creating mutual support among partners, staff and volunteers.
Reboot Connectors were based at Co-Lab Exeter, Elim Connect Centre in Wells, Foxton Centre in Preston, Seaview Project in Hastings, Connection at St Martins in London, Inspiring Change Manchester, Evolve Housing & Support in London and St Mungo’s in London.
The Connectors have worked hard to find partner agencies with a shared understanding of, and commitment to, digital support. Huge thanks should go to these agencies that have come on board to develop Digital Champions without any additional funding, including local Citizens Advice, Emmaus, YMCAs, as well as small local groups including day centres and night shelters.
The project has achieved impressive reach – the eight Connectors recruited over 140 Digital Champions in more than 45 organisations. Champions have included volunteers and people with lived experience. Over 1,400 service users have been supported with their digital skills – from Universal Credit claims to researching classic cars, from bidding for flats to publishing their poetry. This has contributed to the wider Reboot UK project supporting over 3,900 people in this phase.
Good Things Foundation’s Learn My Way online resources have helped Connectors and Champions to engage people. Reboot has enabled different approaches - a mix of one-to-one tailored support, structured and flexible group sessions, more traditional skills such as CV writing and job search, and creative routes such as photography, social media and music. Connectors have helped to overcome gaps and barriers, for example by sourcing cheap devices and collating maps of free wifi hotspots.
What have we learned?
While it is clear that many homelessness organisations are already doing so much to develop their digital support offer, others are at an early stage and would benefit from additional funding and support. However, it isn’t all about resources - there is also a need for senior leaders to make digital skills support a priority for everyone in their organisation.
Our Reboot recommendations:
Identify your Digital Champions – it’s a great way to introduce digital skills within existing resources. Champions are staff or volunteers who lead the way in providing and promoting digital support to clients, either through existing services or standalone activities. Often the best Digital Champions are clients with lived experience using a peer support approach. Champions don’t need lots of IT knowledge, but they do need to be enthusiastic about the opportunities for digital in everyday support and engagement.
Embed digital in every activity - there are lots of activities where digital can play a part, whether it’s researching local history, creating a playlist, choosing a film, or finding a recipe. Set your teams a challenge to go online as part of every activity, embedding it in your work.
Learn together – staff don’t need to be experts, as there’ll be a huge mix of digital skills among the people you support. Ask your colleagues, volunteers, residents and guests to help each other by sharing what they know. A culture of continuing development benefits everyone.
Form a networking group of Champions within or across organisations to encourage connections and collaborations around learning tools and sharing what works in digital support. Many organisations won’t have the resource for specialist digital roles, so these networks are invaluable to maximise learning.
Find out more
A simple guide has been developed that features learning from our Reboot UK partners across the country. Good Things Foundation have also set up a specialist network for Homelessness organisations interested in digital inclusion, to enable sharing of good practice and resources and funding opportunities.
Staff and volunteers wanting to explore more about doing digital support and learning from The Reboot UK Project can also take part in one of our Free Regional Workshops in March. These are being held in Sheffield, Bristol and London.
* Lloyds Bank, UK Consumer Digital Index 2019
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Julie is a project manager, currently working in the Homeless Link Grants Team