As both national and local governments increasingly make their services Digital by Default @digital_default, Citizens Advice Manchester recognises the importance of supporting individuals to access online services, as well as helping them to gain the skills they need to do this independently when possible in the future.

To ensure we are providing support to empower our clients, we will be running Digital Smart sessions across Manchester. Our Bite Size sessions are flexible to meeting the needs and interest of the people that we are helping, as well as connecting them to services which could further support them in developing the relevant computer Money Skills, further details of these sessions are available on this link; https://www.citizensadvicemanchester.org.uk/moneysmart/

Our Digital Smart sessions have been made possible by working in partnership with the @goodthingsfdn, @MancLibraries ‏and @ManAdultEd, using the Learn My Way online program to help people to improve their Digital Smart skills. We wanted to take the opportunity, during @getonlineweek, led by the Good Things Foundation, to communicate how this has developed and why we think this is important for residents of Manchester.

It is great to be working with Manchester Adult Education Services to support residents of Manchester, as, learning from our experiences, we have found that by inviting and encouraging people to use these services, we could help more people to deal with their problems in the future, as well as creating more resilience within local communities in the face of an increasingly digital world.

We feel this is important to do as ‘in Greater Manchester, just 42% of adult residents use all five of the basic skills online.’

These skills are communicating, creating, transacting, problem solving and managing information when online. Having these skills can mean individuals can access a wide range of services; from being able to use government services and applying for jobs, to safely shopping online or speaking face to face with a relative who are in another part of the country, or the world. As well as the social benefits of having access to these services, individuals can save time and money that can help them to cut their household costs and increase their spending power. For example, the average saving is £774 a year by being online, through online shopping, discounts, savings on utility bills or reducing costs.

A brief history of our Digital Journey

In October 2016, we set up our first Digital Hub at North City Library. From this location, we provided a face to face drop in session for residents to access information about their rights or to access essential services, such as housing applications, benefit forms and school admissions, online. We found that most of the people we were helping did not know that these services were available online, or were unable to access these services due to their level of skill or confidence.

Louise from our North City Library drop in said;

Getting support through the materials online's helped me to gain confidence to find out more options with life choices and take action, also addressing key security concerns that affect me trusting online services.’

Since our initial success at North City Library @MCCHarpurhey, we have now expanded our partnership working in Manchester Libraries,  the Yes Centres @yesMCR and Trinity House Community Resource Centre to provide a city wide digital hub service, which has 12 drop in locations which helps people to deal with over 13,000 enquiries each year @ManchesterCAB. We have also helped 1300 people through our Facebook Messenger chat Citizens Advice Manchester

How Digital Smart got its start

In June 2017, we worked with the Good Things Foundation to deliver an 8 weeks course to 40 individuals at both HARPURHEY NEIGHBOURHOOD PROJECT and the Mustard Tree @MustardTreeMCR to help individuals to gain the digital and money skills they would need to gain independence online. After the course was finished, we were keen to get feedback from the participants on their experiences.

John, a participant of our 8 week course, delivered through the Harpurhey Neighbourhood project said;

The course has been delivered excellent and has helped me with numerous services on the internet it's been very insightful and helpful on a lot of areas i wasn't aware of and also enjoyed working in a group as a team.’

Moving forward, we are keen to work with community centres to deliver our Digital Smart sessions across Manchester. Recently, we visited the computer session at the Booths Centre @BoothCentre to provide our first outreach session and found it was great to work within their existing services to help support homelessness people in Manchester become empowered through the digital and money skills that they learn. We have a group of carers from the Manchester Carers Centre @McrCarers coming to our city based office for a session on how to save money online. We will also be visiting the Tree of Life Centre in Wythenshawe @Treeoflifecentr on Wednesday 31st October 1.30-3.30pm to see how their participants could be helped to accessing the benefits of being online.

From now we are looking to expand our reach, and public awareness, of our Digital Smart drop in sessions and visit as many community centres as possible to spread the word and allow access to the many benefits of being online.