Go ON Lewisham launched three months after Go ON Croydon in February 2016 and built on our experiences of trying new approaches to tackle digital exclusion in local communities and increase levels of basic digital skills.
Basic digital skills are like money and electricity – you can’t participate fully in modern life without them. Whether it’s saving money on your bills, finding and applying for jobs or getting the best shopping deals, without basic digital skills you are seriously disadvantaged.
About 67,500 people - around 30% of residents in Lewisham - lack basic digital skills (Gusto research, 2015). More than 1,400 small businesses in the area also lack the ability to take full advantage of modern technology. We wanted to test ways to help these groups gain the basic digital skills that would improve their lives. But we wanted to make sure our experiences would be useful to other local authorities across the UK.
Many of the issues Lewisham face will be familiar in other parts of the country. In terms of London, Lewisham is in the bottom eight boroughs of the London Poverty Profile. It is also amongst the four lowest-ranked boroughs for educational achievement and low pay, with a high proportion of people dependent on benefits.
Lewisham has a concentrated and diverse population – there are over 130 languages spoken in the borough. This and the Council’s enthusiasm for the project made Lewisham a clear choice for the pilot.
In February 2016, we set up a range of projects to identify and test the best ways of helping groups most likely to be digitally excluded to gain basic digital skills.
With our partners, we created Digital Zones available in branches of Lloyds Bank, Job Centre Plus, Lewisham libraries and local Argos and EE stores. All Lewisham residents are welcome to drop in and learn how to improve their digital skills from volunteer digital champions in a relaxed and friendly environment.
We also set up Deep Dives aimed at addressing the needs of specific groups. For example, the Digital Connect pilot worked with young people and small businesses. It set out to improve the digital skills of small businesses while supporting young people to gain workplace skills.
We also worked with local community groups, businesses and charities who developed their own Community Engagement projects to improve residents' basic digital skills. For example, Phoenix Community Housing hosted a Techy Tea Party where volunteers supported older residents to get online.
Before coming to these events, technology was like this other world that I just didn’t have a window into. These sessions have given me a doorway into that other world and I’m not going to look back.
We kicked off the pilot with a launch event on 29 February 2016. The event was attended by the Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock, Chief Executive of Lewisham Council Barry Quirk and his team, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, and a range of partner organisations including Argos, E.ON, Lloyds Bank, TalkTalk, the Post Office, and a range of local community groups and businesses. The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir performed to a packed room.
We worked closely under the leadership of Ralph Wilkinson, Head of Public Services, Lewisham Council, and Liam Barnes, Go ON Lewisham co-ordinator.
We were supported by our Principal Partners including Lloyds Bank, EE / BT, Argos, and the BBC, as well as Age UK, Job Centre Plus, Phoenix Housing, Sentab, RNIB, Business in the Community, Accenture and the Post Office.
Many of these organisations provided volunteers to work as digital champions - sharing their digital skills with others and supporting the projects.
In Lewisham by February 2017 we had reached more than 3,500 people across the different projects.
Our pilot projects in Lewisham completed in February 2017. Lewisham Council and our partners will build upon the pilots to continue to improve basic digital skills in the local area. Ongoing activities are taking place in libraries, with social housing providers and other community groups.