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Stories from the community: operating during a pandemic

With the spread of the coronavirus around the UK and much of the world, we’re facing challenging times ahead. We’re supporting our network partners, who are often a vital lifeline for socially and digitally excluded people. These organisations are using innovative techniques to support people, playing a crucial role in helping people to access the digital tools and resources they need.

One of these centres, Being Woman in Northumberland, partners with schools, local authorities and education services to deliver workshops and educational programmes. It has needed to be as flexible as possible in order to deal with the crisis.

We’re ready. Our team at the Being Woman Centre is already delivering uninterrupted digital services to our members and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help. Here’s how we’re doing it.

To keep our staff and volunteers safe, we have allowed them to work from home with flexible timings and we all keep a check on response times sure our service users are assisted as soon as possible.

We’re being contacted by our users via phone, text, email and social media. Once we get a query our volunteers quickly get back to them and schedule an appointment over their desired channel.

Our partnership with Good Things Foundation has been key. We’ve used many of their resources, including Learn My Way to teach people about video calling and encourage them to socialise online.

Thanks to, we have access to teaching resources like how to identify and avoid online scams and using smart devices safely in your home.

Since affording digital devices and WiFi is difficult for many of our learners, we are working with Good Things Foundation to provide laptops, iPads or Android Tablets with Integrated WiFi Sims or Routers so the financial constraints don’t come in their way of learning either.

We’re also excited about how we can eventually empower even more people through a new initiative called DevicesDotNow, supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It’s asking businesses to donate digital devices to help the UK serve the 1.7 million households who don’t have access to the internet as we face the socially distanced world created by coronavirus.

The benefits of this are huge. One of the people we are supporting here is 48 year old Fodie, who lives and works in Northumberland. She is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 2 years. She has been referred to us by to mental health services several times and is classed as vulnerable and high risk. She also has a learning disability, worsening the challenges she faces in learning digital skills.

Last week she was sent home by her employer with an expectation that she could manage her workload from home. Fodie did not have a laptop. She referred herself to Being Woman through the official phone number, where the digital skills advisor not only guided her over the phone through the Make It Click – "Working from home" resources, but also helped her to borrow a Google Chromebook - which was delivered by a centre volunteer, so she has something that allows her to work at home. The centre was able to customise the laptop settings to suit her learning disability.

She has also been added to a Whatsapp group and a support list for a follow up appointment in two weeks in order to reduce the risk of social isolation. Who knows where she would be without the support she deserves? There’s lots more like Fodie and we’re going all out to make sure their needs are met - whatever their needs may be.

We’ve started online English My Way classes for asylum seekers on Tuesday every week using Zoom. The learners are provided 1-1 support sessions if required.

Many families are finding limited options to find food. Being Woman has put forward the Food Project; collaborating with YMCA Northumberland, Full Food Circle and Fareshare Northeast to provide food parcels, meals and packed lunches to those most in need - including asylum seekers and refugee families. This is on a referral basis operating remotely so the safety measures are in place for all our staff and volunteers.

In these complicated times we must work in unity to make sure that our communities remain calm, safe and healthy. Empowering people with digital technology is key. It is still not too late to turn this around quickly. Working together and with resilience will make us all rise above this difficult time.

You can find out more about DevicesDotNow, from FutureDotNow, here. FutureDotNow is a coalition of leading companies and civil society groups working in collaboration with government to boost the UK’s digital skills.

Find out more about Good Things Foundation’s work to support digitally and socially excluded people during the coronavirus outbreak here, and if you’re an Online Centre and would like to share how you’re supporting your community, please get in touch at

The work of Being Woman in Northumberland is possible thanks to the support of our funder, Google.


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