Andy Stocker explained that digital inclusion meant helping people to benefit from the internet, through access to information, better deals and increased contact with friends and family. It was estimated that 12% of the borough’s population could not access the internet; for residents living in Council houses this figure rose to 30% and so schemes to improve digital inclusion on housing estates had been set up.
Digital inclusion schemes had been piloted on the Queen Caroline Estate and at Waterhouse Close Sheltered Accommodation. These schemes involved grants being provided for a broadband connection and IT equipment and training sessions then being offered in residents’ halls. Training sessions had been delivered by Council officers, volunteers, staff of Bishop Creighton House and even school children as part of the Council’s youth takeover day. The support offered was tailored to each person attending, although everyone left the session with an email address. So far more than 40 residents had been given training on how to use the internet.
Andy Stocker said that there was significant demand for digital inclusion services in sheltered accommodation. He explained that the current service model was not able to deliver training in all 47 of the residents halls in the borough, but that a model based on hub venues in each area of the borough would be possible. This idea would be dependent on both additional funding being identified, possibly through crowdfunding on Spacehive, and on more volunteers being recruited.
Jaya Lalwani explained that Citizens Advice Hammersmith and Fulham delivered training at Avonmore Library and at the Advice Centre in Shepherds Bush through its TechTalk scheme. Digitally themed coffee mornings were also arranged which helped people to improve their skills. The service had 30 digital champions and also promoted online training through learnmyway.com. Some learners were now so confident using computers that they were training others.
A resident said that they were pleased to hear that digital inclusion was being promoted but that the service needed to be rolled out further as many, especially those living in the south of the borough, couldn’t access the training. Andy Stocker explained that a trial had been planned on an estate in Fulham but that the TRA had not been able to commit to doing what was needed of it to launch the scheme. He said that he hoped that the service could benefit all residents in time.
A resident said that the knowledge and attitude of the member of staff giving the training was important to the scheme’s success; an early trainer at one of the schemes had not been well liked by learners and this had led to people not wanting to attend. Andy Stocker said that a lot had been learned from pilots, including the need for friendly trainers.
Councillor Connell said that he was surprised by the high proportion of people who did not access the internet and asked what was done to help those who did not live in council housing. Andy Stocker explained that residents not able to access the housing run schemes were signposted to voluntary sector organisations which the council funded to provide this type of training. Councillor Fennimore explained that improving digital inclusion was an important part of tackling loneliness and isolation and that the Health, Adult Social Care and Social Inclusion Policy and Accountability Committee had already reviewed the Council’s progress on the issue. The Poverty and Worklessness Commission recommendations would also help the Council to promote digital inclusion.
A resident said that digital inclusion needed to be addressed by national government. The Chair suggested that the Council could lobby the government to ask them to focus on improving digital inclusion. Councillor Fennimore said that it was already a government priority but that more pressure might persuade the government to fund more schemes.
Nilavra Mukerji explained that government was already doing some work to encourage businesses to help people to use the internet. Councillor Jones said that the Council also felt that getting businesses to engage residents in the digital world was an important way to increase digital inclusion. A resident said that businesses would always be interested in how they could profit from providing such training but that so long as residents remembered this their help in learning about computers and the internet could be very useful.
The Chair noted that many parents might be concerned about their children’s ability to access inappropriate material online and asked whether this fear was used to help make residents more digitally aware. Jaya Lalwani said that talks were run in conjunction with primary schools which covered online safety. Councillor Fennimore said that Age UK ran very good intergenerational digital inclusion projects elsewhere in the country which could be looked at for delivery in Hammersmith and Fulham.
A resident said that the TRA at Waterhouse Close wanted to install wifi across the building at a low cost per resident. He explained that the Council had prevented the work from going ahead and asked why this was. Andy Stocker said that in principle the Council supported the scheme, however, permission from the Council as the owner of the building had not been sought for the works and so their potential impact had not been assessed. The works had been stopped pending that assessment which was ongoing, and consultation with residents to check that they were happy with the proposal. Councillor Ivimy said that it was also important that a shared network was properly secured.
The Chair thanked residents for sharing their experiences and officers and others for their work to help people use technology to their advantage.