Clwyd Alyn Housing and the Digital Inclusion Charter
By Louise Blackwell, Community Development Officer, Clwyd Alyn Housing
Digital exclusion affecting our residents is of real concern, as Community Housing Cymru research suggests that almost half of social housing tenants still do not have access to the internet and we also know that a staggering 37% of people not online are social housing tenants. This is worrying, as we know that being ‘digitally excluded’ can adversely impact on people’s health, education, skills and employment opportunities. So, the need to engage and include our residents digitally has become a very real priority at Clwyd Alyn Housing Association (CAHA) and we aim to help them:
- Access services (i.e. both landlord services and those in the wider community)
- Alleviate loneliness and isolation (i.e. using social media to enhance social networks)
- Build their skills and employability (i.e. creating CVs, searching/applying for jobs online)
- Save money (i.e. taking advantage of online shopping deals)
- Claim benefits online (i.e. Universal Credit)
We have been working closely with Digital Communities Wales (DCW) and have arranged Digital Champion training for both CAHA staff and residents. We arranged for DCW to deliver both half day sessions and also an accredited, two-day course, which took place at Pennaf Headquarters in January 2016. The purpose of this training was so the attendees could then act as ‘digital champions’ helping others to get online and have the confidence to develop basic digital skills. After attending ‘Digital Champion’ training, several resident volunteers helped us to run a Resident Portal session – where they supported other CAHA residents to get online. As well as improving residents’ skills, confidence and trust in the internet, working with DCW has also improved access to the Internet for many of our residents – as DCW has kindly allocated kit (i.e. tablets, mi-fis and laptops) to some schemes, for residents to use.
We have also;
- Had CAHA officers running digital inclusion sessions ourselves – helping residents with basic ICT queries they have (i.e. how to use social media, Kindles) and helping them to register onto Clwyd Alyn’s new, online Resident Portal.
- Liaised with Communities First teams who have kindly delivered beginners computer courses in areas where our officers have identified that residents want/need to develop their ICT skills (i.e. 2016 basic courses have taken place in Hafan Dirion in Rhyl and Llys Eleanor in Shotton).
- Promoted Vision Support’s ‘RNIB Online Today’ Digital Inclusion project to relevant schemes. This aims to provide digital inclusion support for people with a visual impairment (e.g. demos of iPad, android tablet, Amazon Kindle, iPhone and android smartphone) and we have arranged for their support worker to come and deliver sessions in our Llys Erw sheltered housing scheme – to help ICT become more accessible to residents who have visual impairments.
We have put in place a CAHA ‘Digital Inclusion Strategy & Action Plan (in 2014). This outlines how we aim to address digital exclusion in the communities where we operate and helps to ensure that digital inclusion principles are embedded into our day-to-day activities. Indeed, this has helped to create a ‘channel shift’ at CAHA – where departments across our entire organisation now actively consider how they might bring benefits, both to the Association and our customers, by using digital technologies (i.e. to deliver more efficient, cost effective services). Our Action Plan is monitored quarterly and documents progress made against outlined aims and objectives.
We have launched a new website for Pennaf and CAHA in 2014 and created social media accounts (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter). We have used this to develop new ways of communicating with our stakeholders and to provide residents with more accessible information. Our marketing officer is dedicated to making sure that all of our social media accounts are updated regularly and we promote these sites whenever we can in our day-to-day activities (i.e. at community events we organise) to encourage residents to link in with these. Having these social media accounts has increased our means of engaging with our stakeholders, as we can now use e-channels of communication that are preferred by many.
CAHA has developed an online Resident Portal. We have done this to ensure our residents are able to communicate with us online (and check their rent statements, log repairs, report anti-social behaviour, etc.). We have been running dedicated sessions in the communities we operate in to help residents activate and navigate the portal.
In other developments:
- Our housing officers now have tablets and work on these when they are out and about in communities, so digital inclusion has become integral to their daily activities.
- We have started using e-mail campaigns to meet the wishes of residents who have stated that their preferred way to communicate with us is by e-mail. Our organisation has benefitted through making efficiency savings (i.e. saving on postage) and enabling us to communicate more quickly with our residents. Most importantly, it has meant that residents who prefer to communicate with us by e-mail are now having this choice respected, (which should help improve customer satisfaction rates).
- We signpost residents groups to relevant grant opportunities (helping them with applications where necessary). This aims to make digital technology as inclusive as possible – enabling local groups to secure funding for specialist hardware and software (i.e. Dragon Voice recognition and specialist keyboards for visually impaired people).
- We have liaised with relevant companies in the private sector who are passionate about Corporate Social Responsibility (i.e. Ecosystems; MoneySupermarket.com), who have kindly donated laptops to approximately 16 residents living in our Supported Living schemes to date and a couple of laptops to Sheltered Housing schemes’ communal lounges.
CAHA is involved in Digital Denbighshire’s Partnership meetings and the Digital Inclusion Network, run by Community Housing Cymru Group.
“I would like to thank all involved with the projects of digital inclusion in our scheme … It has opened a new world for me, helping to make my days more interesting. I have bought my own iPad and use it daily. First thing in the morning I read the free tabloid newspapers and check my Facebook page. My friend and neighbour was on holiday in Italy over the Xmas period and she posted photographs of her activities and we were able to correspond on messenger. I use Facetime to contact my sister in Manchester and we can see each other, as we speak and check on our hairdos! My son who lives in the Brighton and Hove area sends me e-mails and photographs so that I feel connected to him. My favourite is shopping online and I have an Amazon account; I look for bargains there and on eBay. Recently I have used a Resident Portal for my Housing Association where I can access my rent account and report repairs. So thanks to all who helped me (I’m not doing bad for a 70 something!!!!)” (Anne Rothwell, CAHA Resident at a Sheltered Housing Scheme).
“I have really appreciated the IT sessions at Pentre Mawr, the new large screen desktop… and the other up-to-date laptop which have, with the encouragement and guidance of the visiting helpers, at last given me some confidence! I had almost given up hope of continuing, as new systems were always changing, I no longer felt I had any capability to navigate the system! There is no doubt that being able to use the modern internet can counteract the limitations of infirmity in many ways, and keep the brain engaged! For this reason, the facility at Pentre Mawr is invaluable, as is the help and support given. We are all trying to learn, it isn’t easy for us, but with guidance and encouragement from patient helpers, we can make progress at last! Without this help, I should probably have sunk into permanent shutdown! Many, many thanks to all the providers.” (Elaine Knowles, Resident at a Sheltered Housing Scheme).