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23 April 2020    |    General

Innovating with digital youth work into isolated young people’s homes

Thousands of youth work settings across the country are closed in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, and YMCA is responding with innovative solutions. Keeping young people engaged in a meaningful way, whilst also providing support to those in isolated households and communities, has proved a challenge for many youth work professionals.

Understanding the digital landscape in Scotland presents further challenges when trying to ensure that no one gets left behind. In Scotland, 23% of households don’t have access to the internet at home and 2% of the population exclusively access the internet through their mobile phones, many rural community connections can be unreliable, and in deprived areas, the access gap is considerably widened.

Rising to tackle these inequalities, one local YMCA in Paisley considered a range of options that would enable them to work with young people known to them; support the wider community and find accessible platforms whilst tackling digital inclusion and managing online safety.

For the YMCA Paisley team, simply setting up weekly Zoom call sessions didn’t go far enough to connect those who may otherwise be unconnectable. In a normal week, YMCA Paisley sees more than 250 eight to twenty-four-year-olds coming through its doors to engage in youth services. More than 50% of those young people have low to no internet connectivity at home.

Providing an already unique setting, YMCA sessions are designed to act as a digital youth incubation hub, called Makerspace, not just targeting ‘screenagers’ but recognising that young people are among some of the highest consumers of digital content, but aren’t always its makers.

Makerspace is a DIY environment where young people come together to develop and learn how to use hardware and other digital technologies to further their understanding of Science, Technology Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM).

Thanks to STV Children’s Appeal and Foundation Scotland, YMCA Paisley’s team went about creating the Makerspace @Home Kit, enabling a close replication of the experience and informal learning young people undertake in its physical settings.

Consisting of a microcontroller such as a BBC micro: bit, Raspberry Pi, or Arduino board (types of mini-computer), activity sheets, electronic components and other maker materials, the Home Kits can be used with no internet connectivity at all.

Cameron (age 15) from Paisley only has access to the internet through his limited phone data and is one of the thousands of young people in Scotland who face connectivity challenges at home. He said:

The Makerspace @Home Kit is a great idea for young people like me who have no internet at home. Receiving a Raspberry Pi and peripherals enables me to develop my coding and programming skills learnt at the Makerspace before lockdown.

I have missed working with my friends on STEAM projects at YMCA Paisley’s Makerspace. This home kit has allowed me to connect online, but also to connect with friends I have not seen in four weeks

Initially, 150 of YMCA Paisley’s Makerspace @Home Kits will be distributed to young people’s homes with connectivity issues in Renfrewshire, with plans to upscale its response in the future.

Darren Gillan, Youth & Programme Development Manager, YMCA Paisley said:

During isolation, there is a risk that the digital literacy gap among young people will widen. We’ve been presented with a unique set of challenges and opportunities to understand how we can provide a home provision where we would usually address STEAM education in our physical settings, and out Makerspace @Home Kits do just that

YMCA Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), ScotlandIS, and YouthLink Scotland all express that addressing digitally excluded young people.


Internet usage and the effect of deprivation on internet access
Scottish Government, Housing and Social Justice Directorate, 2018
Scottish Household Survey 2018: Annual Report

Internet use at home
OfCom, 2017
Communications Market Report Scotland

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