Shelter’s digital inclusion project – easy access website

Shelter’s groundbreaking ‘Social inclusion in the digital age’ project addresses one of the fundamental issues for public legal education – how can we help people identify a problem, know where to get help and act on information. Shelter recognised that many people have been left behind in the digital revolution and that while there is an increasing number of websites offering information and advice, many people – including hard to reach groups – are unable to access and make use of the information.

Read about the project:  Social inclusion in the digital age (1.5 MB)

The project created a new portal to Shelter’s ‘Get Advice’ website. The ‘easy access pages’ called ‘Housing advice for everyone’ encourages web novices and anyone easily overwhelmed by too much information to use the site and benefit from the information. Engaging the community in its development has been key to its success.


The purpose of the project was to bridge the digital divide by working in partnership with the community in supporting people to help themselves. This was done by:

  • training and supporting people to act as web buddies to people who wouldn’t normally use the web to sort out their housing issues
  • working flexibly with a range of partners to maximise appropriate and achievable delivery
  • making electronic communication accessible
  • building links between community networks and the delivery of housing e-advice
  • using community mentoring and volunteers to build local knowledge and expertise
  • being the web port of call for housing advice, linking with other forms of advice delivery and supporting better referral and signposting
  • helping to reduce the ‘crisis approach’ of many advice seekers
  • highlighting that advice exists for everyone.

Supporting people to help themselves and each other is a pioneering new area for housing advice. Most people are affected at some point in their life by an issue to do with where they live. However, there is a huge lack of awareness that help is available and that people don’t need to be in crisis before they seek assistance.

Social Inclusion in the digital age report p. 10

Digital inclusion aims to reduce the new divide that is emerging as our ability to make life-affirming choices becomes more and more dependent on being able to make full use of the world-wide-web.

The Pilot

Shelter’s digital inclusion project aimed to bring community engagement and empowerment to the delivery of web-based advice. This involved moving beyond a traditional top-down model where the service is devised by professionals and delivered to users in a one-way direction, and moving towards a genuine two-way system with a feedback loop that would enable continuous improvement.

The pilot started in 2007 and ran until early 2009. It began by looking at ways of offering hands-on support to people who needed it so that they could access and interpret online information.

‘I found it extremely eye-opening and interesting to see how people at the Lodging House Mission use this website. It was heartening to see people get to grips with the site so quickly, and also extremely useful for highlighting usability problems and finding ways to fix them.’

Get advice writer

Shelter worked in partnership with several agencies. For example, a community cafe, a library, a computer skills training provider, resettlement support for people experiencing homelessness, community colleges, disability advice, and a multicultural festival. Each partner was encouraged to develop a way of providing ‘assisted access’ that was compatible with its normal way of working and that would bring benefits to, and achieve the specific objectives of the organisation or service.

Project partners helped to create a cohesive identity for the project – ‘Housing advice for everyone’ to reflect the project’s focus on prevention, education, early intervention and self-help.

The live phase of the project ran from summer 2008 to the end of March 2009.

Advice Map

To represent the ‘advice continuum’, an ‘advice map’ was created to alert those seeking assistance that there are many types of advice on offer and that people can access services at different points and in different ways.

The advice map helps users to make informed decisions about what sort of assistance they wanted in the first instance, and highlights that it is possible to progress from one to another.

Web buddies

Web buddies are volunteers who have helped people get started using Shelter’s advice website. They don’t give advice and information about housing issues. However, they offer support and guidance to help people find the information they need to start dealing with their situation and how to make the most of the site.

Shelter produced a web buddy handbook and developed both online and offline protocols to support and guide web buddy sessions. An analysis by Shelter showed that the digital inclusion initiative reached a whole new group of users who would have not normally accessed Shelter’s online advice.

Easy access web pages

The newly created easy access pages help people find relevant information by offering:

  • a general orientation to the website and what it offers through real-life stories and tasters about the sorts of information available in both audio visual and text formats
  • information about what to do in emergency situations
  • guidance about the advice-seeking process – how to access advice, how to prepare, what to expect
  • an introduction to the idea of web buddying and where to find a web buddy.

The page includes a link to a short film produced in collaboration with one of the project partners, the Gorgie-Dalry project, run by EverybodyOnline in Edinburgh. View the You Tube film.

There are number of different portals such as a portal for young people and another for people with disabilities.

Project report

The final report for this project was released in February 2010. Entitled ‘Social inclusion in the digital age: Housing advice for everyone project report’, it is in three parts:

The Social inclusion in the digital age report was written by Jen Clark, Shelter’s Project Manager.

The ‘Housing advice for everyone’ project represents an important step in bringing community engagement to the delivery of web-based advice.

Published: 10 March 2010

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