Supporting Access to Digital

Initiatives explore how digital inclusion can be delivered

There’s a long-standing commitment to inclusion throughout Scotland’s digital health and care work, with a focus on ensuring that digital options are made available to people who need them and that no-one is left behind. That’s a key motivator for a local housing provider keen to see digital skills and access developed for people to get the services and support that they need.

Queen’s Cross Housing Association (QCHA) is a community-based housing provider of nearly 4,500 homes in an area that stretches north from Glasgow city centre along either side of the Forth and Clyde Canal. Its housing stock includes flats, deck access properties, and traditional tenements. For nearly 10 years, QCHA has delivered digital support and inclusion for its residents, seeing this as a key aspect of individual access and community cohesion.

‘We’ve long recognised digital as a fundamental need for people, but there’s a real issue for many in having the necessary skills or even getting hold of the equipment that can get them connected,’ says Ross Rankin, Queen’s Cross Digital Inclusion Coordinator.

‘As public services such as benefits applications increasingly move online, and facilities such as bank branches and libraries close or limit their hours, there’s a pressing need for supporting people to get access to ensure that they get the benefit of these services.  That’s also true for health and care as digital services develop,’ he adds.

In 2023, Queen’s Cross became a ‘Digital Pioneer’ organisation through the Scottish Government’s Digital Inclusion Programme, a £2 million initiative that aims to develop, test and implement models of digital inclusion to support people to access mental health and housing services.  The Programme to date has funded 20 projects across Scotland supporting local initiatives with a focus on housing and mental health – two areas that are intimately linked to the wider health and social care landscape.

QCHA proved a natural fit given its track record of digital support and strong focus on mental health and wellbeing, and younger and older people’s services.  Following the pandemic, QCHA set up regular drop-in sessions in its community offices with a stock of laptops and an open invitation for people to use the facilities in a convenient local setting.  Staff were on hand to provide support, for example filling in online forms, and to answer questions about online services and how to access them.

This quickly developed into encouraging older residents to get more experienced in using digital, initially exploring their ancestry in structured sessions in the community hubs, and younger people meeting regularly around Minecraft sessions to encourage the development of coding skills in partnership with Glasgow’s Kelvin College.  As well as opening up digital experience and confidence, the sessions gave an added boost to the community hubs, with up to 80 people attending local drop-in sessions and enabling the community to successfully campaign to keep the spaces open.

The work through the Digital Pioneers fund has a strong focus on wellbeing through upskilling and supporting employability.  Digital drop-ins provide support from dedicated staff to help people get online, filling out Universal Credit journals, training on employment application skills, and digital access to housing applications and services.  QCHA now offers a 12-week digital skills course for 12 people at a time with training on basics such as Excel, emails and letters as well as how to stay safe online.  Through the course of the year 130 people have been supported.

‘Work in this area has been of huge benefit to individual people’s confidence, wellbeing and belonging,’ says Ross.  ‘We’ve seen people really taking on the opportunities from digital to develop their prospects, while the sessions and the sense of community that brings has given a real boost to people’s participation and wellbeing.’

‘Digital has been a real facilitator for personal wellbeing and wider community cohesion,’ he adds.  ‘It’s encouraged people to come into the community hubs, meet their neighbours and discuss their shared experiences and challenges.  We’ve set up gardening clubs, a What’s On guide, and an expanded online presence that more and more people use.  It goes much wider than a health or care service offer, to really supporting community participation and engagement, breaking down barriers, and helping people to realise their potential.’

You can read more about the Digital Inclusion Programme here.

Ross Rankin, Queen’s Cross Digital Inclusion Coordinator