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News from Lemos&Crane

Lemos&Crane speak at Thames Reach Digital Empowerment seminar

Digital Empowerment: Lemos&Crane working with Thames Reach

Katherine Vaughan

On Friday 18th October Carwyn and Katherine from Lemos&Crane spoke at Thames Reach's "Working for Thames Reach" conference at Kia Oval. The pair presented preliminary findings from the Digital Empowerment research project to a packed room of Thames Reach staff, volunteers and service users. The Lemos&Crane presentation was prefaced by stimulating interviews with service users and providers, and discussion from Ben and Lara from Thames Reach. The seminar also included an interactive aspect in which service providers from various branches worked with each other to give feedback on the findings, suggest their own ideas and convey their own experiences to the group.

Lemos&Crane's Digital Empowerment project seeks to understand the way in which homeless and vulnerable people use new and emerging digital technologies. The research focuses on how charities, social housing organisations and other groups can tap the potential of new technologies to provide homeless and vulnerable people with better services. A fundamental aspect of this is how homeless people and vulnerable people themselves use new technologies to improve their own lives and connect with others.

Carwyn and Katherine's presentation summarised preliminary findings from the research on the different uses and degrees of access to technologies as well as education that is offered to help homeless and vulnerable people make the most of these resources.

Many homeless and vulnerable people have mobile phones and access to the internet, but how do they use this technology? Contrary to popular belief, homeless and vulnerable people are often well connected to friends and family both on and off the street through the use of phones, email and online social networks. The internet is also an invaluable resource in looking for practical information about jobs, transport, shelter and food. The types of technology owned, and the ways in which it is used, tend to vary not only with age but with gender. 

Access to technology is a real issue for homeless people who often don't have a regular place to charge their phone or to log onto a wi-fi network. In some places, access to technology is limited, and must be improved. In those institutions where resources are already in place, the role of libraries and councils is to ensure homeless and vulnerable people are confident in accessing the resources that are provided especially for them.

Lastly, problems with digital literacy was a barrier to many homeless and vulnerable people in using digital technologies. Workshops and classes are currently provided, and tend to cover a broad range of skills such as CV writing, film production and website design. Those projects which tapped into leaners' creativity tended to be the most popular. Projects which ensured learning styles were as far as possible from that of a classroom which also much more likely to draw in students. 

The Working for Thames Reach seminar produced some thought provoking comments and well as original and exciting ideas. The Digital Empowerment Awards will open for entries later this month. A total of £2,500 prize money will be offered to projects which utilize the growing potential of digital technologies such as the internet, social media, apps and SMS for the improvement of the lives of homeless people, giving them a voice, enhancing and expressing their capabilities, facilitating peer-to-peer support and making the services they receive more personalised and enabling.

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