Issue 8: January 2014

CONNECTING THE UNCONNECTED

By Graeme Hamilton, Innovation and Online Services Manager, The Wheatley Group

Getting online has never been more important.

Being able to access the internet can open up a whole world of opportunities.

Many of us take it for granted that we can click on the web and shop cheaply, check out the latest job sites, discover key information for our studies or work, book a cut-price holiday or fill in an online government form.

However, for many people in Glasgow this isn’t an option.
    
Large numbers of tenants at Glasgow Housing Association, which is part of Wheatley Group, simply don’t have regular access to the internet. GHA’s 2013 customer satisfaction survey showed almost two-thirds of GHA’s 43,000 tenants were not online.

The Carnegie UK Trust’s 2013 study* into internet usage within Glasgow reinforced these findings, adding that 59 per cent of Glasgow citizens were ‘hard-pressed’. This means they could neither afford to go on the internet and, even if they could, didn’t see the benefits of doing so. To put this in context, only 22 per cent of UK citizens are described as ‘hard-pressed’.

The Scottish average percentage of social housing tenants accessing the internet is 68 per cent - almost double that of GHA.

So, in Glasgow, digital inclusion is a huge challenge - and one which GHA, and the other partner organisations within Wheatley Group, are determined to face head-on as part of our vision to make homes and lives better.

That’s why we’ve embarked – in partnership with others in the public and private sectors - on a year-long project to develop the right technology and support, which we hope, long-term, will give every tenant affordable internet access in their homes.

The first stage of our digital inclusion project has seen GHA, BT and Power Ethernet carry out a study in Pollok, in the South Side of Glasgow, in which 12 families in three tenements are testing three technical options: hardwire broadband, wi-fi and Ethernet over the power line.

This study was quickly followed by the launch of a bigger pilot, in partnership with the Scottish Government and BT, in Knightswood which is allowing us to check wi-fi connectivity in a multi-storey building.

It’s the first large-scale Scottish project of its kind and is believed to be among the first in Europe.
The trial has seen each of the 138 homes in the GHA block offered a new tablet to connect to high speed wi-fi access points throughout the building, linked back into the main BT network via a single fibre cable.

The digital inclusion project, which is backed by over £70,000 of funding from the Scottish Government, was launched by Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop.

The aim of our year-long study, part of Wheatley’s wider digital strategy, is to find the best bandwidth at the most affordable price. We’ve asked our partners to find a way of providing an internet service in GHA’s homes at the cheapest possible price. Our aim is to keep costs to under £5 per home each month.

Why are we doing this now? There are a number of drivers for pushing ahead with our digital strategy. The Scottish and UK Governments are looking to provide more services online and the welfare reforms brought in by the UK Government, including Universal Credit, will mean more people need to be online.

Being online brings many benefits for our customers. It makes it easier to create a CV and search for jobs. And many of the best food, clothing, energy and travel offers are also only available to internet users so it can play a big role in helping them make their money go further.

It’s the first large-scale Scottish project of its kind and is believed to be among the first in Europe.

For us as a business, internet access in the home makes it easier for tenants to get online, access our services and engage with us at a time and a place that suits them. This will allow us to increase our range of online services in future. And in turn this will free up Housing Officers and other frontline services to offer more personal support to customers in their own communities and homes. 
The benefits from the early digital projects are already clear. More than 77 per cent of tenants taking part in the Pollok programme have rated the project as ‘good’ and 89 per cent of people in the Pollok flats now use the internet and emails every day. Our early studies also show 78 per cent of tenants are much more confident now in using the internet.

And although it is early days at Knightswood, tenant feedback is positive.

GHA tenant Ian Kemp, who lives at the Kirkton Avenue flats in Knightswood, said: “The concept behind it is excellent. It will benefit a lot of tenants, including myself. It allows me to use the broadband at home without having to go to the library, which is restrictive in this area. Having this facility in the flat allows me to carry out more job searches.”

We realise we can’t get all our tenants online in their homes overnight. That’s why we are also working in partnership with Glasgow Kelvin College, Glasgow Life and other partners to develop and fund an assisted digital programme which provides tenants with supported learning and drop-in surgeries.

We’re supporting 23 ‘Click & Connect’ learning centres across the city which offer tenants free internet access and expert advice.

By working closely with our partners we will get more tenants online and provide them with the online opportunities they deserve.

Graeme Hamilton is Innovation and Online Services Manager with The Wheatley Group

* Across the digital divide - Carnegie UK Trust 2013

Wheatley Group, which is regulated by the Scottish Housing Regulator, currently comprises a number of Registered Social Landlords and two commercial subsidiaries:
o    GHA, Scotland’s largest social landlord, with 43,000 affordable homes for rent in Glasgow
o    Cube Housing Association with 3300 homes for rent across the West of Scotland
o    West Lothian Housing Partnership with 380 affordable homes for rent
o    Scotland’s “Feel Good Factor”, YourPlace Property Management, with 25,000 factored homeowners in Central Scotland
o    and Lowther Homes with 346 full and mid-market homes to rent from Glasgow’s West End to Leith
o    Loretto Housing, with 1089 affordable homes for rent across West and Central Scotland, and Loretto Care, with 1000 service users, are also joining the Group



By Graeme Hamilton, Innovation and Online Services Manager, The Wheatley Group

Issue 8: January 2014

Issue 8: January 2014

SMART CITIES: SMART SERVICES: SMART WORKING

Smart Cities: Smart Services: Smart Working Editorial

In focusing on 'Smart Cities' let's start with a few teaser questions (answers at the foot of this column)...

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