The Digital Literacy Project, established June 2021, is a joint initiative between 3 anchor organisations working in the Northfield and Edgbaston constituencies in Birmingham: Northfield Community Partnership, Age UK Birmingham and Gateway Family Services, to support people aged 50+ to become more digitally literate to enhance their quality of life. We are a member of West Midlands Coalition for Digital Inclusion.
The project provides opportunities which diminish loneliness and isolation, and increase health and wellbeing. There is still a pressing need to ensure that older people are digitally included – with an estimated 7.9 million people still unable to access the internet (Centre for Economics and Business Research) with 40% of these being over 50. This is compounded by economic factors which allow for ownership of devices and data.
Over 50s can now access internet activities which help to reduce isolation through communicating with family and friends, accessing online activities, and services which will help them to remain independent for longer. They are also able to complete obligations such as job seeking and online form filling for housing and benefit support. Importantly they will also have access to online health services and advice through online consultations. Participants are encouraged to engage with the Learn My Way course which provides basic digital literacy skills.
We run regular Digital Drop In sessions at 10+ venues across the 2 constituencies, including some public libraries. At these sessions, people get assistance with their own devices, or with any query they have about using computers and about getting or being online. We also loan laptops which can be borrow for a 4-week period initially. They come with a dongle which allows the user to have up to 50GB of data for the duration of the loan, so they do not have to have home broadband to get online. We also provide handouts which help people get started on the laptop and stay safer online.
A project worker can visit people in their own home to set up the laptop and provide some basic training, or to help people use their own devices, or they can visit other groups supporting people over 50. We also recommend places where people can buy a device for themselves, or use other devices to be online, and to gain some of the benefits of this – alleviate loneliness, search for work, research family history, increase skills etc Workers can also refer people to other services run by the 3 anchor organisations and the 2 Neighbourhood Network Schemes ensuring added value and ongoing support.
The project also started and runs a Community Digital Skills Network which started in August 2021. The Network helps to develop opportunities for citizens to engage in further digital inclusion across both constituencies and the wider Birmingham and West Midlands area. Network members are all involved in building digital inclusion/literacy skills in communities in the Birmingham area and wider in some way – delivering digital skills training, refurbishing devices, getting devices to those who need them, strategising