Oh, hello there! Quick stat for you: you’re amongst the 92% of people in the UK who have access to the internet. But you know that already, you’ve found me through your LinkedIn page, or browsing our website – I don’t need to point out the obvious. The question is: what would life be like if you were amongst the 4.3 million people in the UK who haven’t got the basic skills needed to use the internet?

Consider how you interact with the digital world every day. Do you work online – perhaps remotely? Do you use online banking, or have an app to book your GP appointments? You may even scan a barcode to order food when you go to a restaurant. We were always heading there, but we are now firmly in the digital age.

Let’s consider the facts.

We know that people are unable to access the internet because they either don’t have the data, the device or the skills to get online. This is causing a digital divide that is undermining efforts to tackle existing socioeconomic inequalities, and the current cost of living challenges are only making these inequalities worse.

Taking urgent action

Community Clicks is a digital skills and social inclusion programme for Newham residents aged 50+. With twice-weekly sessions delivered over six weeks, it builds participants’ everyday digital skills; making online medical appointments, online banking and shopping, navigating online benefit claims, and connecting with family and friends. Participants also receive their own tablet.

Last year, more than 1,500 Newham residents accessed our Welfare Benefits advice service last year.  Our staff quickly realised that many older people simply weren’t claiming Universal Credit and other benefits, because they were unable to access, or navigate, the online forms.

In one particularly extreme case, an elderly resident had £23,000 of unclaimed benefit.

There were also residents accessing other services within our wider Community Links provision who told us they struggled to make contact with their GP because appointments were increasingly moving online. One elderly lady said how during the pandemic lockdowns she’d struggled to keep in touch with her sister in America because she couldn’t work out how to use Skype properly. Others told us they wanted to do their grocery shopping online because of mobility issues but were unsure of how to go about it.

We realised that a lack of digital skills was fundamentally affecting the quality of life for many of the older people we worked with.  Older people needed to be connected and digitally literate not only to do the basic things like shopping and banking online, but also to connect with family. We also saw how the lack of social interaction during the pandemic had resulted in increased loneliness and isolation.

We knew that by delivering such a course, we would be able to drastically improve the lives of people – and allow them to participate in the day-to-day activities that are increasingly reliant on being digitally literate.

The need for investment is clear

We were taken aback by the high demand for the course. Within a week of the programme being advertised locally, 40 people had signed up. With each programme cohort only being able to accommodate 15 people, we took the decision to change the delivery plan and deliver multiple cohorts simultaneously.

The course saw a retention rate of 88% across the 6 weeks – with 115 people starting the course and 101 completing it.  Due to the enthusiasm of participants, we introduced an additional higher-level course for those interested in developing their digital skills further. 70% of participants went on to complete that course.

On average, participant’s evaluation of how confident they are in using digital skills rose from 24% in week 1 to 76% by week 6, indicating a significant improvement in digital literacy.

Beyond this, the programme has provided us with a wealth of anecdotal evidence regarding the link between digital exclusion and social isolation. By improving their basic digital literacy, participants can stay in touch with family and friends, access local services and lead fuller lives.

Holistic support

Many of the participants on the programme were referrals from other Community Links services – such as those using our foodbank service or the parents of young people attending the Links Media College. Community Clicks has been the missing piece in the jigsaw for many of those taking part.

At Community Links, we are proud to develop programmes for the people of Newham, based on observation and direct feedback from the community.