Digital communities

Community Engagement

Community Engagement projects were community based and managed, with a focus on grassroots engagement. By ensuring these projects were owned by the local community, the activities will be more sustainable after the pilots have ended.

These projects involve community groups as well as charities and even some local businesses.

We offered these groups a framework and guidance about how to help people get basic digital skills - but we know that activities need to be owned by and embedded in the local community to ensure their long-term sustainability.

We found there was a lot of local enthusiasm for being involved in these activities. Before launching our Go ON Lewisham pilot we held an engagement event at Lewisham Town Hall to raise awareness of basic digital skills and encourage charities to set up community engagement projects. We also found Lewisham housing associations particularly helpful in getting community groups involved.

A photo showing digital champion and Go ON Lewisham coordinator, Liam Barnes, showing a promotional flyer
Image: Liam Barnes, Go ON Lewisham coordinator, shows a promotional flyer on his device at a community engagement event

But it was sometimes hard to persuade groups to take ownership of the activities. They often expected us to plan, manage, co-ordinate and run events on their behalf, but it was important that groups took ownership of the events otherwise there was a risk they would not continue after our involvement ended.

Dozens of groups have got involved across the boroughs ranging from social housing tenant groups, to faith groups, older people’s forums and many more. Here are a couple of examples of what they have done.

Examples of Community Engagement

A photo showing a flyer for a community engagement event to learn basic digital skills
Image: A flyer used to publicise an event held by Phoenix Community Housing

Phoenix Community Housing

Phoenix Community Housing in Lewisham hosted a Techy Tea Party to help older residents get online. Volunteers ‘buddied up’ with residents to offer friendly advice on digital issues over a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Issues ranged from migrating contacts, setting up emails, advice on energy-saving websites, and ways to stay connected.

I loved the idea of a tea party and couldn’t resist coming along. It was great. I’ve come to a number of the sessions now and I learn something new every time.

I have been shocked by how much I was missing out on – it’s been a real education. My daughter lives in New Zealand and I haven’t seen her face-to-face for over ten years. I came to a Techy Tea Party and they did a demonstration of a young girl speaking to her family face-to-face in America – I just thought wow! I have now set up my own Skype account and sent a contact request to my daughter so it shouldn’t be too long until we are seeing each other.

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.

- Maxine Hart, Lewisham resident
A photo showing collective learning at the Phoenix Community Housing zone at the Green Man in Lewisham
Image: Collective learning at the Phoenix Community Housing zone at the Green Man in Lewisham

St Philip's Church, Norbury

In Croydon, St Philip’s Church in Norbury set up its own Digital Zone, providing equipment and drop-in sessions staffed by local volunteers. They are now running a regular basic digital skills group with members of the congregation and friends.

In this age it is really, really important for people to get online because it opens up a whole new world for them. It helps build up social relationships and make friends and learn something new as well.

- Father Francis Younis, St Philip’s Church, Norbury

To someone who was thinking of volunteering to become a digital champion I would say, don’t hesitate just go along and try and you’ll probably find you really enjoy it and that you’ve got a lot more to give than you think.