My late mother was fascinated by the digital age even though at that time it hadn’t gained the public consumption traction that it has today. We were all just dipping our toes in, googly-eyed with awe at all the shiny new technology that promised a life of ease and connectivity.
At her grandson’s first day of school she remarked on how “the wean’s bum had’nae warmed his seat but his photo was on the other side of the Atlantic” and, with the characteristic laser-like insight of a mother, she stated that “those that can’t work computers (sic) these days are like those that didn’t get the chance to learn to read and write in my day.” Now those comments weren’t made yesterday but she was the first person to point out to me both the impact and possible isolation to be felt through a digitally advancing society.
A mere 15 years ago we bought tickets from actual people and went in person to the job centre and the bank. Our mobile phones looked and acted like phones, not mini computers, and – get this – if we were lucky enough to be going on holiday the airlines printed out our boarding passes. I kid you not! You did not have to be a digitally savvy individual to go about everyday tasks.
Now think about trying to do all those tasks online, often where an ‘offline’ alternative no longer exists. At the same time imagine being scared of failure. Imagine not knowing how, or being able to afford, to get online. Imagine the isolation – the geographical, social, professional and financial isolation – that a lack of digital skills creates for so many in society today.
People without the essential digital skills necessary to survive, and I use the word survive intentionally, find it hard to leave the ‘safety’ of their comfort zone and therefore face a life lived continually on the periphery of society.
At The Ridge, we knew that there were members of our community that would benefit from dedicated support. Again and again we were coming across a deficit in digital skills; people that were toiling with the newly over-hauled benefit system, unable to access important information online resulting in delays and the almost certain, and hugely demeaning risk, of being sanctioned, thereby worsening an already dire situation.
We were aware that there were individuals that perhaps just needed a bit of ‘digital fine-tuning’ but lacked the access to a 1:1 session where they could ask the questions that mattered to them in an environment that they were comfortable in.
What we wanted to achieve when designing Digital You was a hyper-local, easily identifiable and accessible provision that bolted on to our existing services. We were not looking to re-invent the wheel; our time and resources, like everyone’s, are precious commodities and we knew embedding digital in our work could help maximise how we deploy both.
The Ridge is a trusted and recognised local organisation with real reach into the communities that need our services. We knew that we could leverage that local knowledge to maximum effect, identifying and supporting those that stood to benefit from digital skills training. It became apparent that we had the local need, the va-va-voom and the knowledge, but what we didn’t have was the kit or the additional capacity to make it fly.
Enter stage right the Digital Participation Charter Fund, and thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for being accessible, for believing in us (and others), for being at the end of email or phone, and for including us all on this journey. Mostly, thank you for trusting us to do our job.
Thank you for recognising that no wheels were in need of re-invention and for providing access to limitless good quality resources, meaning that we can spend more time supporting people and less time hunting down materials.
Our work continues, and more importantly self-perpetuates, as we provide an accessible junction where people can see that they have the ‘right’ to be digital citizens with a valued place in that world of today.