Innovation Exchange

Midlothian Digital Support Hub

Introduction

Key activities

Benefits and impacts

Learning

Further Information

Midlothian Digital Support Hub project aimed to transform digital access for vulnerable individuals in Midlothian by piloting a digital access service at a local library in Midlothian. Our overall aspiration was to develop a workable model to be rolled out to other premises and inform the Council and Third Sector about the various challenges posed by the digitisation of services, especially those related to jobseeking and benefit applications.

 

The project stems from the need to support those who are likely to be affected by the increased requirement to access government services online.  The pilot focused on setting up a digital access point that addresses the issues including identifying needs and concerns of potential users and partner agencies and working to mitigate them.

Theme: Digital

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The pilot proposed to develop an innovative workable model that can be rolled out to Libraries and public buildings across Midlothian. By identifying data security issues such as public computers catching information, and addressing this; piloting the use of Skype technology to interact with Council staff; addressing the training needs of front-line staff; working in partnership with Volunteer Midlothian regarding volunteer input.

 

Partnership working has been an intrinsic feature of the project, with Midlothian Council hosting the scheme and a number of local organisations participating in key project activities. Our main partners included: Volunteer Midlothian; Forward Mid, Enable, Grapevine, Scottish Accessible Information Forum (SAIF) and other regional and national disability organisations; Jobcentre Plus (JCP)/ DWP; Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB); Midlothian Financial Inclusion Network (MFIN) members; and Midlothian Adult Learning Partnership (MALP) members. In addition, a number of local and regional organisations are connected to the Digital Support Hub through the project’s referral pathways.

 

 Additionally the MARCH project team collaborated with a similar project based in the Western Isles, also funded by the Scottish Government HWRDF, in order to share learning, compare project priorities, methods and outcomes and gain greater understanding of how similar approaches might be implemented across other areas of Scotland.

The core project activity has been to create a user-friendly computing environment in Midlothian libraries; offering support with online jobseeking and services, as well as accessing online benefit claim forms such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and, in recent months, UC. We also refer users to a range of organisations if required, a service that is not currently available in other libraries. Beyond this provision, the Digital Support Hub also provides an array of helpful informational resources to library users, outlining useful job websites, benefits information, and local hardship support.

 

Other activities were carried out over the course of the project and sought to identify the needs of disabled users, staff and volunteers, as well as security and privacy issues related to online jobseeking and benefits.

 

The project achieved the following outcomes through the piloting of the Digital Support Hub service and associated work on digital access provision for vulnerable people:

 

  • Outcome 1: Vulnerable people affected by Welfare Reform in Midlothian will be better able to access advice and support in a secure, local setting;

  • Outcome 2: Disabled people in Midlothian and their carers will be better able to access support locally and in a way that suits their needs;

  • Outcome 3: Midlothian Council will be better able to respond to the challenges of Universal Credit (UC), online job searching and other digital Welfare Reform initiatives;

  • Outcome 4: Partnership working around digital aspects of Welfare Reform will be improved

Over the course of the initial pilot period and its extension, jobseekers have been the main beneficiaries of support provision, accounting for the 34 of the 55 instances of support provided up to 29 June 2015. Many of these users had poor IT skills upon presenting to the project, and would have struggled to carry out tasks - such as using Universal Jobmatch, uploading CVs and covering letters and using Google to find local training courses - had our service not been available.

 

  • A number of our repeat users have improved their computing skills since first accessing the service indicating that our service has led to personal development in some cases. Negative attitudes towards computing also softened over time.

  • The project highlighted and responded to computing accessibility gaps in Midlothian’s libraries. At Gorebridge, new accessibility hardware and software was installed and is now available to all library users with additional support needs.

  • An additional unexpected benefit for disabled library users was the creation of the ‘Libraries Environment.

  • Group’ following our accessibility audit. This group considers library environments in relation to visual information provision, accessibility and comfort. The group has already acted on the co-production panel’s concerns about excessive informational clutter in Gorebridge Library and its impact on users with visual impairments.

  • In addition, two of the project’s most engaged volunteers have additional support needs and gained skills and confidence to supporting vulnerable people through our Universal Jobmatch and induction training and their own experience of providing computing support over the course of the pilot.

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:

 

Kevin Anderson

Head of Customer and Housing Services

Midlothian Council

0131 271 3225

Case study added to site: June 2016

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