In this new segment we highlight some of the community groups and organisations that we have the pleasure of working with.

New Europeans UK has been supporting Shpresa, a charity which does valuable work, supporting over 2,000 Albanian-speaking refugees and migrants, fostering integration, enabling them to contribute to the communities in which they now live and work. Currently, the Shpresa Programme runs projects to empower women, champion the voice of young people, as well as a volunteering programme. We have been exploring how Shpresa has successfully overcome COVID-19 challenges, working online with vulnerable communities.

Here is what Luljeta Nuzi from Shpresa had to share:

When the lockdown was introduced in March, many of us had to move our work, learning, recreation, shopping and support services online. We were faced with a decision to put our staff on furlough, cease operating, or find a way to continue helping our members. We knew the negative impact that ceasing to operate would have on the people we were working with, as we were the only institution that really understood their needs. Shpresa’s team was not set up to work from home. Many people didn’t have a quiet space at home to work or lacked the devices, skills and digital connectivity to get online. Our initial priority was to get the means and be compliant with rules, safeguarding and consent mechanisms, so our staff can understand how to operate online, how to monitor and evaluate safely, at the same time as helping our users.

We tested a few approaches and decided to use the easiest and safest platform, which was ZOOM. We then trained the team, developed online forms registers, membership and evaluation. We needed to ensure we built and maintained close relationships with all the team members so we set up WhatsApp groups and developed a working-from-home policy. We also put in place a weekly meeting to boost morale.

The first few weeks were fast paced and we all felt bombarded with new, very often confusing, information. It was intense and stressful at times. We were struggling to stop thinking about work and worried that we had taken on too much. However, over time, as we started to understand the different elements of this period, we could see some of the opportunities. It was inspiring to see how strong our community was and how able we were to do things differently, moving all our services online: youth work, support groups, training, sport, heritage, events and award ceremonies.

It was clear from our work that now, more than ever, we have a role to play in terms of narrowing the IT gap. The Shpresa CEO and Board saw an opportunity to build our professional community. We started to think about how we could work together more closely, learn from each other and build relationships outside of our community and make use of the digital. We HAve now set up our first ever digital steering group and are reviewing our strategy, hoping to harness the power and importance of performance analytics in developing tools that really improve our ability to provide support to our users. We want to share and grow that passion as much as possible within Shpresa and beyond.

It is forecast that in the next 20 years, 90% of all jobs will require some form of digital knowledge. However, 18% of Londoners lack one or more basic digital skills, and large areas of London currently do not have full fibre connections to homes. Shpresa has to play its role in this and help our users prepare.