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Innovative project helps housing tenants access IT kit and support

Digital Communities Wales (DCW) works with a range of organisations to support people as they seek to increase their digital skills, some of whom are getting online for the first time.

However, laptops, tablets and smartphones are not always things that people accessing digital inclusion support can afford. Newydd Housing, which has been supported by Digital Communities Wales, has developed an innovative project to help resolve this issue.

Newydd runs IT workshops in the Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf to help its tenants gain new skills or a qualification. They have Digital Champions who are trained to help support their local community through digital drop-in sessions. Newydd also offers a scheme where tenants can loan computers to help prevent them from being digitally excluded. They run “I-Tea and Coffee” mornings in all of their independent living schemes to help older people to get online.

Get Online at Home is part of Newydd’s digital inclusion programme where a loan scheme is used alongside a Microsoft initiative. Newydd purchases laptops as part of the Get the Vale Online consortium and tenants who attend five digital drop-ins, or have completed an accredited course through Newydd, are then eligible to borrow a recycled laptop and dongle for up to three months, with the opportunity to purchase it through a credit union account. This allows tenants to gain confidence in their digital skills and access the internet in an affordable way.

The project has been set up by Scott Tandy, who is a Community Regeneration Officer for Newydd, “We run digital drop-in sessions at thirteen venues in the Vale of Glamorgan, supported by partner organisations and volunteers. The sessions support tenants and the wider community to learn anything they want. We explain the benefits of being online, such as Skype, saving money and shopping online. People can attend the sessions for as long as they want, they can keep coming for a number of years!

We developed the IT Loan scheme so a tenant can borrow a laptop, tablet and wi-fi dongle to take home. People’s development improves when learning at home and complements learning at the drop-in session.

At that point, we can introduce a person to the credit union, where they can open an account. By saving £1-2 each week, added by our incentive of putting £10 into their account, they can soon save enough to buy their own laptop. Every person that’s loaned kit from our project has gone on to buy their own laptop, many through a credit union loan. They are also able to buy the laptop at a discounted rate, making it more affordable.

In terms of other aspects of our work, people who use Universal Jobmatch need support here otherwise they could become sanctioned and lose out on benefits. We can help them apply for jobs, write a CV, search for work etc. We can help people save money by using Skype to make calls. And in terms of online shopping, we helped one woman who had broken her leg, was too frightened to come out, was living alone, and didn’t realise online shopping existed. Since she’s been able to do it, it’s changed her life”.

While at a drop-in session at the Age Connects Café in Barry, we met Trevor who is a learner who has been attending sessions for three months. He told us a bit about his story, “I wanted to learn more about email, to keep in touch with my employers but I wanted to start to learn to use the computer on my own. I had used a phone previously, but just to read emails, I didn’t know how to reply.

I can now search online and browse the internet. The sessions are helping me in a lot of ways. I liked the fact that I could borrow a laptop and try things out at home, in my own time. I like going online to find recipes and improve my cooking skills.

I saved up to buy my own laptop and I want to keep learning. I would definitely suggest that people come to drop-in sessions like this, as they can really help you learn a lot quite quickly. Younger members of my family were using phones and doing lots on there, which made me more curious and wanting to learn”.