internetA new research project that aims to improve the engagement of people with mental health problems, families living in poverty and the homeless with digital skills training has been launched by The Tinder Foundation alongside Mind, Family Fund and Homeless Link.

More than 12 million people in the UK don’t possess the basic know-how to use the internet, according to recent research, which means they are missing out on the many health, employment and financial benefits of being online.

The 12-month project, called Reboot UK, will provide an evidence-based model of training interventions to counter a lack of self-confidence, motivation and other barriers to internet use that may be preventing people with mental health issues from gaining vital digital skills.

Funded with £329,958 from the Big Lottery Fund, 21 specialist local partners have been recruited from within Tinder Foundation’s network of UK online centres to provide training and in-depth support for hard-to-reach groups.

Gavin Atkins, head of community programmes at project supporters Mind, said: "Having the skills and confidence to be able to access health services online, as well as opportunities to volunteer and apply for jobs, are essential in this day and age. Our involvement in Reboot UK reflects our commitment to helping people who may face barriers to accessing conventional training gain the necessary digital skills in order to manage their own health and wellbeing more proactively."

Reboot UK is evaluating the effectiveness of three particular approaches:
• Peer support – engaging service users who have experienced similar challenges to the trainees, providing motivation and training, often in unconventional learning environments
• Home access – lending devices for people to access the internet at home, focusing on those who may have caring responsibilities and be less able to attend regular training sessions as well as people who may feel less able to attend a local organisation
• Shared practice – matching digital skills experts to local services to provide training to people with moderate mental health problems and homeless people.

Workplace Leeds is one of the specialist local partners helping to test the peer mentoring model. It sits within Leeds Mind, and provides employment and job retention support to people who experience mental health difficulties. For their first Reboot UK session the trainees will be asked to bring in their mobile phones and other devices and to chat about the technology over a coffee, before taking part in simple tasks such as bidding for a cheap item on eBay.

Peter Reffell, lead tutor at Workplace Leeds, said: “We know that taking an informal peer mentoring approach is far more effective than teaching in a conventional environment, where people feel less confident asking questions. Also the peers are people’s friends, so it’s less daunting than a stranger telling them what to do.”