WCHG at the forefront in tackling digital exclusion in Manchester

These days it often seems as if the whole world is online, with everything from banking and government services, to shopping and paying household bills having migrated to the digital realm.

For many of us this is immensely convenient and has opened up whole new worlds to explore, but for others the relentless march to ‘online only’ has had the opposite effect, leading to feelings of increased isolation and reduced access to opportunities and services. Paradoxically, the more digitally connected our world becomes, the more digital exclusion becomes a problem.

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG) is playing a leading role in efforts to tackle digital exclusion in Manchester. In December last year a new digital inclusion pilot was launched at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre, which sees WCHG partnering with Virgin Media O2 to help local people get online by accessing unlimited broadband through affordable social tariffs.

Digital pilot launch
Digital pilot launch at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre

The pilot scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, has been organised by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and it sees five internet service companies and five social housing providers working together to provide more accessible offers for customers, such as discounted and more flexible rates for high-speed internet, with a view to creating a blueprint that can be used across the rest of the UK.

To this end WCHG has been successfully working with volunteers from Virgin Media O2 to deliver Get Online at Home drop-in sessions for our customers, at our sites in Wythenshawe.

In addition to this WCHG runs IT courses and drop-in sessions in our community centres all year round to help tackle digital exclusion. Jordon Greenwood has been running IT classes and drop-in sessions, at Benchill Community Centre for the last 11 years.

Jordan said: “All sorts of people come, with most being local residents from across the community, buy we also see other groups such as Afghan refugees seeking help, and everyone is made to feel welcome.

“Skills levels, and specific needs vary. Some people simply have no experience with computers at all and they need to learn from scratch. Others have a bit of experience, but they need to build their confidence. Some want to know how to book a holiday, or learn how to shop online safely, in a place, an environment, they can trust.

“But the sessions aren’t just about training in the purpose-built IT suite, it’s about providing help and assistance too. We’ve always run the sessions on a drop-in basis we also provide help to those who need it, such as those who haven’t got access to a scanner or wi-fi at home, or those who are getting to grips with IT technology for the first time.

Most of the classes are free but for those who find they’re progressing there’s a charge for those wishing to register for the internationally recognised ICDL qualification.

One such person is local resident Margaret, who ran her own business before she retired: “I first heard about the sessions from a leaflet through the door.

“I knew nothing about computers at all when I first started coming to the sessions but the trainers are so helpful and patient I soon found I was picking it up in no time. Now I’ve worked my way through Word, Excel, and lots of other packages and I’ve even passed me ICDL, and I never thought I’d do that. It’s opened up lot of things for me and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done!”

In fact, Margaret was so impressed she convinced her husband Geoff to go to the sessions. Geoff said: “I’ve been coming here for a few weeks now and they’ve been helping me get to grips with Apple Mac’s and their software and I’ve learned a lot about the design side of things.

“I used to run my own print business before I retired so you could say I’ve come full circle in the print trade before I retired. I’ve honestly found the sessions absolutely brilliant and without a doubt I’d recommend them to others.”

IT at Benchill Community Centre
IT class at Benchill Community Centre:
IT at Benchill Community Centre: