Closing the ‘digital divide’

Kim Stanway, Parent Champions Co-ordinator, explains how LEAP’s ‘Digital champions’ help families in Lambeth access digital information and support.

Kim Stanway

Our ‘Digital Champions’ are parent volunteers who are trained by LEAP (Lambeth Early Action Partnership) to help ensure that local families are not excluded from the digital society. They help parents access early years information online and connect to local family services. This initiative started in April 2022 and has been well received.

As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, parents in our LEAP community are experiencing digital exclusion. We know that factors such as low income and literacy levels, a lack of physical access to technology, and digital illiteracy all contribute to the ‘digital divide’.

Our Digital Champions support parents to increase their digital skills and confidence, build connections with early years services, receive free devices for their homes and improve their wellbeing. This all makes a positive impact, enabling young children to have a better start in life.

How does the ‘Digi champs’ initiative work?

All LEAP Parent Champions can train to be Digital Champions. We currently have a team of 11 trained Digital Champions. They regularly attend children’s centre family sessions and LEAP community events. The approach is friendly and inclusive. Parents can come and let their little ones play in a familiar warm and relaxed environment while we support them to find help online.

The online signposting that volunteers offer focuses on supporting families through the cost-of-living crisis. This includes applying for free Early Learning for two-year-olds, NHS Healthy Start cards, broadband social tariffs, home energy assessments, discounted utility bills and library memberships. Digital Champion volunteers play a central role in co-producing the programme design and delivery. They use their initiative and experiences to suggest and share websites that would be useful for other parents.

Abosede, a LEAP Digital Champion, says:

“We’re helping parents to overcome fears, gain confidence and feel connected. Some parents come feeling helpless but after gaining new information, they have hope. I helped a mum to access a discount on her water bill, she came back to see me at the next session and her joy was visible – it had really helped her. I’ve learnt that being there for someone who needs help goes a long way.”

Volunteers also benefit from being Digital Champions. Aminat, another LEAP Digital Champion, explained:

“It provides a sense of community – it’s helped me feel connected to others and makes me want to get more involved in my community. I’ve made new friends and through talking to new people I have certainly developed my social skills, self-esteem, and confidence. Doing something I feel is so worthwhile and valuable gives me a sense of accomplishment.”

Through our work with a local partner, parents have been able to receive a free laptop/desktop for them and their children to use at home. Most of these families previously had no means of accessing the internet at home, other than sometimes on a parent’s phone.

Parents are also introduced to LEAP’s services and supported to register online to attend free LEAP events. It’s great when we then see those parents and their children at future events or hear that their new free laptop has been delivered – we know the positive difference it makes to them and their child’s development.

What outcomes have been achieved?

So far there have been 159 separate counts of digital support by our Digital Champions, helping parents to access early years information and support online.

For example, with the support of LEAP Digital Champions, parents have:

  • Secured a two-year old Early Learning place at a local nursery, which we know benefits children's social, physical and mental development and helps them to prepare for school.
  • Been given free laptops and desktops for their home – helping improve digital literacy and opening up further opportunities for education and employment.
  • Registered for NHS Healthy Start cards, giving them access to over £220 of free fruit, vegetables, and milk a year.

Mary, a local parent with a toddler, explains how the initiative has helped her:

“I came to a Stay and Play session at a local children’s centre with my daughter and was approached by a LEAP Digital Champion. They explained more about LEAP and helped me sign up through the website to a LEAP event in the following week. I had not heard of LEAP before and was grateful to learn more. I enjoyed attending the LEAP event with my daughter and spoke to the Digital Champions again there, this time to check if I was eligible for the two-year-old Early Learning offer. I also found out more about the LEAP Parent Champion programme and was inspired to sign up to the upcoming training course. I am now proud to be a LEAP Parent Champion myself.”

Next steps

Our Digital Champions continue to support parents through the cost-of-living crisis, attending Stay and Play sessions and community events.

Having built links with other community organisations, we now signpost parents who lack basic digital skills to partners who offer free local practical ICT training. We have learnt that our Digital Champions offer the most value through friendly parent-to-parent signposting to beneficial online information and support.

I’d like to give a big shout out to all the LEAP Digital Champions who offer their time and energy to tackle the issue of digital exclusion among families in our community. We see the positive changes you make!

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.