A county charity is to lead the way in using digital tenchology. Fiona Finch learns how other organisations will also benefit nationally after Lancashire Women was awarded a special Lottery grant to help extend and develop its services.
Pioneering Lancashire Women are getting a digital boost.
A network of women’s centres across the county, rebranded last year as Lancashire Women, is set to lead the way in the use of digital tools.
The aim is to to help improve their charity’s reach and efficiency, so they can help more women.
In the process they will be sharing lessons learned.
The initiative comes thanks to a £300,000 grant from the National Lottery. The charity, which runs a network of women’s centres across the county, including ones in Preston and Blackpool, is a smaller player in a big project.
It is one of just eight charities in the UK to be awarded a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund’s new Digital Fund. The £15m programme aims to help charities and community organisations to use digital tools to both support people and enable communities to thrive.
Liz Islam ,who prepared the bid and is Project manager at the Blackburn centre, said: “In the last year or two as an organisation we’ve been really looking at what role digital in every sense of the word should have in our organisation...about how we work, how we could be more effective using better digital tools, how we can make better use of our data and understand that and how women who use services might expect to be using digital with us.
“When we saw the Fund was open it came at a really good time for us in terms of our journey digital.”
The project will start at grass roots level – finding out what clients need and want, making small changes to see if they work and sharing knowledge gained about what works best.
Amber Wells, Project Support Officer and Marketing Officer said: “In particular Lancashire Women will be exploring how the use of digital tools can allow women to get the help they need as soon as possible before problems become entrenched, deepen or multiply. We will also be exploring how to use digital methods to help women who have already accessed the services to have access to ongoing support from both staff and other women, using digital tools to continue to progress.”
Securing the funding was a significant achievement for the charity. Hundreds of organisations made initial expressions of interest. Two new roles, a digital products manager and a user researcher, are being created to help drive this work.
Existing staff already know small changes can make big differences, for example amicrosite has also been created for service users.
Amanda Greenwood, Chief Executive Officer said: “Lancashire Women recognise the potential that digital - in all its forms – has in helping us to adapt to the changing world and to radically rethink how our organisation works and operates in the internet era. ”
Liz said of clients: “They’ll often say I’ve walked past 20 times before I felt able to come and ask for help. We know women come when things have got quite bad. We think digital can really help them access support sooner. With their money advice service she notes: “ Often the first time someone will come to ask for help is when bailiffs are knocking at the door of they are getting their 30th reminder letter. With all our services we know the sooner somebody asks for help the sooner it can be resolved.”
In order to ensure their new knowledge will be shared the charity will work in partnership with Agenda, an alliance for women and girls at risk, enabling insights to be shared with Agenda’s network and to learn from others working to improve the lives of women and girls facing many disadvantages.
Agenda Chief Executive Jemima Olchawski said:“Digital tools and platforms could be a real game-changer – unlocking new ways of reaching and supporting women and girls in a way that works for them.”
*The charity’s major annual fundraiser is a Burnley to Blackpool sponsored walk which takes in all the towns where it has centres. The walk covers 40 miles in two days and participants can join the walk for as long a distance as they wish. This year’s walk is on September 21/22. To register see www.lancashirewomen.org
* To contact Lancashire Women call 0300 330 1354, see the website or emailTalk ToUs@lancashirewomen.org
* Lancashire Women offers support in four areas: mental health and emotional wellbeing; money advice and guidance; building employment skills and helping those who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The latter group includes women who may have had a caution from police or need support in or when returning to Lancashire from Styal prison in Cheshire.
* There are five Lancashire Women’s Centres including one at 7, Lune St, Preston and at 255, Church Street in Blackpool. There are also centres in Accrington, Blackburn and Burnley. To contact them call 0300 330 135.
*The organisation celebrates its 35th anniversary next year. The organisation evolved from former well women centres and the first centre opened in Blackburn in 1985.
* In all 6,500 people accessed Lancashire Women's services in 2018.