How Barclays’ “digital natives” are helping one community thrive
Designed to help the community become more digitally innovative, Barclays’ Digital Eagles partnership with Salford City Council changed gears during the pandemic. We find out how the network and the local authority are boosting the skills of thousands of colleagues and residents as digital know-how becomes ever more vital to everyday life.
When Steven Roberts launched the Barclays Digital Eagles programme in 2013, the idea was for the bank’s “digital natives” to help familiarise branch workers with mobile technology. “We thought that we could use the younger people in the organisation as the equivalent of the grandchildren who show their grandparents how to use a phone,” said Roberts, who is Barclays’ Head of Culture and Transformation.
From a relatively humble beginning, with 20 volunteers travelling to branches around the country, the Digital Eagles idea grew within the bank, leading to the digital literacy initiative, Code Playground and the startup network, Eagle Labs. Those trained by Eagles can become trainers themselves, creating a virtuous circle of tech knowledge – and more than 14,000 current and former Barclays colleagues have been trained since launch.
It also led to public and private sector partnerships, with Salford, in Greater Manchester, UK, becoming the first local authority to partner with the bank in 2017. As part of the programme, Barclays recruited 55 Digital Eagles to upskill Salford staff and educate residents about the practical benefits of emerging digital technologies. This number has since tripled, with the programme now supporting over 1,000 colleagues and 5,000 residents.
People who have been on the training programme have got these newfound skills, and they start using them with friends and family as well as with residents.
Head of Digital Eagle Partnerships, Barclays UK
When COVID-19 struck, the difference the Digital Eagles made to local people’s access to essential services only increased – but the thinking behind the partnership is long-term.
“We’re thinking about future industries and future sectors that will define the city of Salford,” says the council’s City Mayor, Paul Dennett. “Digital inclusion is clearly something that’s going to be really important. People who have digital skills have a better standard of living.”
Salford is home to MediaCityUK, one of the largest and most sophisticated technology hubs in the UK, but there are also pockets of the city where people have no access to digital devices. The council is determined to bridge this divide, and worked with the Digital Eagles to set up a Spirit of Salford (SOS) Centre for over 1,000 shielding locals, who needed help with everything from food shopping to support for bills and benefits during the pandemic.
Passing on “newfound skills”
For Debbie Brown, Strategic Director of Service Reform at Salford City Council, encouraging people to use online channels in place of more traditional methods like phone and face-to-face conversations was crucial to making access to services easier and more efficient.
But for this to work, citizens had to be digitally confident. “One of the concerns was whether people within Salford have the skills or the kit or the capability to do that,” explains Brown. “We have a big digital inclusion programme in the city so that no matter where you are in Salford, you're able to have access and support to get online. And that's where the Eagles programme has been a key element. Barclays brought their teams in to do work for us – but then they offered to support us in creating our own Digital Eagle network instead of coming in and doing sessions for us. We absolutely snatched that opportunity.”
It's having an impact right here, right now on disadvantaged communities and more vulnerable people in our communities. We're able to keep them engaged, keep them accessing services, and making sure that they're getting everything they're eligible for.
Strategic Director of Service Reform, Salford City Council
The fact that Digital Eagles are able to go on to train others is key to the programme’s success, says Alison Peacock, Head of Digital Eagle Partnerships for Barclays UK, as it allows the project to “snowball”.
“We’ve trained the council’s cohorts,” she says, “and they've now gone out and trained others within their organisation.
“People who have been on the training programme have got these newfound skills, and they start using them with friends and family as well as with residents. It's brilliant, because they're learning their new skills and they're passing them on.”
Champions of champions
As well as all the small triumphs that are hugely meaningful for the people involved – the online invoice sent, the insurance claim logged, the job application submitted – Peacock says that “if people are more digitally savvy it actually saves them money. A person can save on average over £400 a year by using online comparison sites. If you are vulnerable or don't have the means to travel, to go to various places to shop around, you can do that online. That has a huge impact on people’s lives.”
Continuing to support foster carers remotely and offering virtual youth clubs and elderly services have been other focuses for the programme.
“It's having an impact right here, right now on disadvantaged communities and more vulnerable people in our communities,” says Brown. “We're able to keep them engaged, keep them accessing services and making sure that they're getting everything they're eligible for, as well as that human contact.”
The partnership has been recognised externally, with Barclays and Salford winning a joint award for Best Learning and Development Initiative in the UK at the 2020 PPMA Excellence in People Management Awards.
And as the scheme continues, the Digital Eagles breed more Eagles who can continue to grow skills in a region where, Brown says, “there are fantastic opportunities for people to get into the digital media and creative sectors. Some residents in the city weren’t easily making that journey without those basic skills, and Barclays, again, have been hugely helpful in giving us a presence at MediaCity, for example.”
For Mayor Dennett, “It’s fantastic to have a corporate partner on board with the City Council running these programmes – it’s phenomenal for the city. Hopefully the cumulative effect of people becoming ‘champions of champions’ starts to reverberate and transform what’s happening in the city, which is really exciting.”