Digital inclusion has never been more important!

The Wales Co-operative Centre (WCC) has been delivering digital inclusion programmes for over 15 years. For us it has always been important.

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Sadly, one of the things the pandemic has brought to light is the inequalities faced by people who are digitally excluded, regardless of age.  The issues around lack of access to devices and connectivity, the motivation, skills, and confidence to engage with technology have been exacerbated.  It has brought about a rise in the use of the term ‘Data Poverty’, households having to choose between buying food, paying for gas/electric or paying for broadband.  Whilst some people and businesses have been able to adapt quickly, many have really struggled and some have not adapted at all.

The Digital Communities Wales (DCW): Digital Confidence, Health and Wellbeing programme is about inclusion. It exists to reduce digital exclusion. We want a Wales where everyone has the skills, access and motivation to be a confident user of digital technology.  But how do we achieve this when we are unable to open our doors and deliver face to face services? Together we can do this, so let us start talking!

So, what has DCW been doing during the pandemic?

When the UK went into lockdown on 23 March WCC embarked on a journey to distribute tablet devices on loan to care homes across Wales. Welsh Government (WG) provided £800k of additional funding to ensure residents had the opportunity to engage with GP services through video consultations and were able to stay in contact with family and friends.  Over the following three months WCC set up a project team, procured 1100 tablet devices (Wi-Fi & sim enabled with three months data), contacted every care home across Wales (1071) and distributed 1066 devices to over 590 homes.

In addition, 382 staff from 207 care homes took part in the ‘Attend Anywhere Video Consultation’ training sessions. All the devices were added to a Mobile Device Management system as this allows us to monitor how much data is being used, periods of use/inactivity, preload useful apps and to geo track should devices get lost.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the DCW team and colleagues at WCC for volunteering to distribute the devices. It was a big ask, you rose to the challenge and have made a difference to so many people’s lives.

This work has been vitally important as it has enabled people to stay in contact with family, friends, pets and has supported people to say goodbye to loved ones when they could not be at their side.

“This morning was the funeral of a lovely lady.  She and her husband had lived together at the care home for some time and had been married for over 70 years.  The poor husband could not attend the funeral, so the staff used the iPad to live stream the funeral for him to watch.  The staff and residents joined with him to sing hymns and say goodbye.  They said it was incredibly humbling & very sad, but the iPad meant that the husband could be a part of her farewell. This meant the world to him.”

What lessons did we learn for the Care Homes tablet loan scheme?

  • Have a named contact/digital champion in each care home.
  • Do not assume that staff will be familiar and confident using technology.
  • Find out what devices staff are familiar with, android and IOS
  • Understand how people will use the devices and encourage (multiple) staff to attend and/or watch pre-recorded training sessions
  • Provide a range of training session from very basic, how to set up an email account, Facebook account, through to ‘inspiring through digital’
  • Do not assume that because the devices have been delivered that they will used. Check in after a week or two to see how they are getting on
  • People will need tech support
  • Connectivity varies greatly across Care Homes.

Many of the above lessons will be the same regardless of the setting the devices go to.  We have taken the lessons on board and applied them to the additional device roll outs.

During October and November, we distributed 225 tablets to Sheltered Accommodation schemes and hospices across Wales. We had 23 applications from RSLs and local authorities all of which were successful. If only we had more devices available!

In November and December, we have been distributing 410 Chromebooks to all 22 local authorities across Wales for Young Carers aged 16-18.  In January we will be distributing 550 Chromebooks to Communities for Work and Communities for Work Plus.

Pre Covid-Tech innovation

DCW had been working closely with many health care setting to find ways to support patients/residents using technology. Here are a few examples but to find out more go to www.digitalcommunities.gov.wales.

  • The Google street view bike has been a great way for people with mobility issues to keep physically active, whilst cycling around their childhood homes and reminiscing.
  • Smart speakers to enhance the volume from tablet devices for residents with partial hearing loss. An easy way to interact with technology and find out information, news headlines etc…
  • Our Digital Heroes have paired up with care homes across Wales to support an intergenerational project, with children helping residents get online and use the internet.
  • Virtual Reality headsets have been a powerful intervention for dementia patients. As Louise Blackwell, Community Development Officer, Clwyd Alyn tells us:

“As part of a well-established partnership with Digital Communities Wales, Clwyd Alyn saw an opportunity to combine digital inclusion training with other therapies such as distraction/calming therapy and reminiscence.

“In one of the sessions, we had a woman with dementia who doesn’t communicate very much. But after watching the film she became much more engaged and even had a go on the interactive bike we had from Betsi Cadwallader.”

Digital rises up the political agenda

WG have recently launched a series of blogs that outline the six missions which underpin the Digital Strategy for Wales and are inviting you to feedback your comments. https://digitalanddata.blog.gov.wales/2020/12/01/digital-strategy-for-wales-setting-the-context/

The six missions are:

Data & collaboration, Digital Connectivity, Digital Inclusion, Digital Services, Digital Economy and Digital skills.  I think every housing provider can relate to the importance of some, if not all, of these.

In addition to the strategy WG have published a digital inclusion forward look paper, https://gov.wales/digital-inclusion-forward-look-towards-digitally-confident-wales-html One of the priority groups the forward look focusses on is residents in social housing. Statistics from The National Survey for Wales 2019-20 show that 17% of social housing residents are digitally excluded – estimated 600,000 residents, and an estimated 105,000 residents do not have the have all five basic digital skills to confidently use the internet.

Call to action

The DCW team have been working closely with RSL’s to tailor the service to meet your organisational needs, and that of your tenants.  Let us make 2021 the year we co-operatively rise to the challenge and aim to support every vulnerable/digitally excluded resident who wants to use technology!

Get in-touch digital.communitieswales@wales.coop

We have a range of fully funded and commercial services designed specifically for the housing sector. To find out more contact Jocelle.lovell@wales.coop

Portrait of Jocelle Lovell

Jocelle Lovelle, Director of Inclusive Communities

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