Thursday, 2 April 2009

Solihull: digital inclusion and quality of life

Social media - and indeed the internet as a whole - has huge potential to make a difference to the quality of social housing tenants' lives. But digital exclusion is a barrier to engagement. Recent figures produced by the National Housing Federation show:

  • 46% of housing association tenants have a computer at home
  • 35% have access to the internet at home

That don't take into account residents who have access to the internet at work, through a mobile phone or library - but even so, the percentages are low.

Digital exclusion presents a set of challenges for communication professionals working with housing associations. Conversely digital inclusion presents an opportunity to engage with tenants - and make a genuine difference to their quality of life.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (my local authority) is taking great steps to combat digital exclusion. It has been awarded Beacon Status for its innovative approach through a project managed by Solihull Community Housing (SCH).

Working with charity ReCOM and Solihull-based social enterprise the Colebridge Trust, the project provided tenants in 42 high rise blocks in north Solihull (where only 26% residents were on-line) with PCs and access to the internet.

This means tenants can access training, use local services, search for employment opportunities, send and receive emails, transfer their home, pay bills and their rent - as well as visiting news, entertainment and social media websites. I'm looking forward to see how the project progresses and I'll be particularly interested to see how SCH uses social media to connect and collaborate with tenants.

Are you one of the tenants who has benefitted from this project? What do you think about it? What do you think SCH should do now to keep the momentum going?

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