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Case Study – WiFi: Blackwood Homes & Care

/ / Digital Inclusion, Framework


The Customer

Founded in 1972 by Dr Margaret Blackwood, Blackwood is now a leading housing and care provider specialising in accessible, modern, attractive and bespoke housing and care services for people with disabilities.

It currently has over 1,500 social housing tenants, just over 400 care-at-home customers, 60 residential care home residents and 17-night support service customers across 29 out of 32 local authorities across Scotland.

Only around 30% of the people Blackwood serves are ‘general needs’ customers without some form of care and support need. While Blackwood predominantly works with those with a physical disability, its customers also include older people and people with a learning disability.

Blackwood has embraced the challenges of taking housing and care into innovative areas at a time when funding is increasingly limited, by being at the forefront of investing in digital solutions to help people manage their own lives at home.

The Challenge

As a result of disabilities, age, or complex care needs, Blackwood’s customers are traditionally among the most digitally excluded people in Scotland.
Internet access has been found to improve the quality of life of older people and people with disabilities. Being digitally included improves measures of psychological well-being and reduces feelings of social isolation or loneliness as well as improving cognitive performance in later life. However, in Scotland, as with other areas of the UK, people with disabilities and older people are two of the most digitally excluded groups in society.

The housing and care sectors are facing some of the toughest challenges we’ve ever seen. However, at the same time the leap forward we are seeing in technology is giving us tools to meet these challenges, while greatly improving how people can live life to the full.”

Fanchea Kelly; Chief Executive, Blackwood Homes & Care

In a survey carried out with 174 of their properties; Social Telecoms found only 30% already had a home broadband service.  The figure for the general population of Scotland is 84%.  Already aware of this divide following their own surveys in previous years, Blackwood began to develop its CleverCogs system – a touchscreen home hub installed in customers’ properties.  The purpose of CleverCogs is to keep people independent, in control and in their homes and its current features include care, safety, housing, home automation, information, digital inclusion, and health and well-being; a carefully designed system with IT training could increase the levels of digitally included residents in their communities.

Being an online, mobile system for residents and staff to utilise, CleverCogs requires a WiFi service to be designed, installed and maintained to a high level.  All internal and external areas within the respective location are to have no black spots and a network strength required to support video and VoIP at all times.  The project would comprise over 1,500 properties across 118 sites within a 2-year timeframe.

The solution

Following a formal tender exercise in late 2017 for a pilot site, Social Telecoms were commissioned to deliver their Community WiFi service to a large, modern housing complex in Aberdeen to support the CleverCogs system.  As with many of Blackwood’s locations which make up the project, include homes developed for wheelchair users and people who have limited mobility, as well as flats for non-disabled people, all within an integrated community setting.   Our Community WiFi service, with CleverCogs would ensure constant connectivity between residents and their relatives and carers, building and bringing together neighbourhoods by enabling customers to live as independently as possible.

The successful delivery of the pilot and the monitored uptake of the CleverCogs system led to Social Telecoms being awarded the contract to deliver Community WiFi to the rest of the locations specified.  Social Telecoms also exceeded procurements requirements and compliance by their status as no.1 ranked supplier to Procurement for Housing’s telecommunications framework.  This meant a direct award to ST using lot 1 – Network Communications.  PfH is a buying consortium for housing associations that ensures its members not only get the benefits of combined purchasing power but also that suppliers pass stringent quality and service standards. By overseeing the whole process, PfH also ensures that any agreements are fully compliant with EU procurement standards.

Community WiFi

Social Telecoms’ Community WiFi is a digital inclusion product that brings affordable and flexible internet access to tenants of social housing, tenants of sheltered schemes, apartment blocks, high-rise flats and housing estates. By designing and installing a network of wireless access points throughout Trust’s sites, tenants are able to access the internet in the privacy of their own homes without being tied into a long-term contract or paying for more than they need.

Whereas various systems from other providers include greater upfront capital expenditure and annual licencing costs, Social Telecoms’ Community WiFi solution is provided for a relatively low installation cost and can have an unlimited number of network locations and access points added and would avoid additional recurring licencing costs.

Each of our Community WiFi sites installed for Blackwood allows their customers to enjoy the benefits others take for granted, including entertainment, access to services and real-time communication with family and friends, even video chatting with them.  Used with the CleverCogs system, it also strives to make Blackwood’s services more accessible and efficient to their residents, allowing them to access the information they want and receive convenient reminders of any appointments, care visits or medication they need to take.

My new WiFi is absolutely marvellous. I’m really impressed with the guys that installed it and I was finally able to get rid of the ethernet cables that used to have across my living room. This system certainly adds value to my tenancy.

Blackwood resident

A typical Community WiFi network will comprise numerous wireless Access Points installed around the interior of an apartment complex. These APs would present several WiFi networks for devices to connect to for online operation. One of these networks would be provided to residents to connect their own devices, such as phones, tablets, computers, games consoles and televisions and Social Telecoms would ensure there was enough data capacity for even intensive activities to function without flaw; such as online Video-on-Demand services.
In the case of Blackwood’s networks, other WiFi networks have been enabled for CleverCogs devices such as the touchscreen home hub and the sensors installed around the properties; and their staff’s corporate network access. By having these networks set up separately, Social Telecoms would be able to meet the primary criteria to meet the specification requirements of the CleverCogs system.

The benefits

Blackwood personalises each and every CleverCogs device so that regardless of whether a customer is into gardening, history, music, football or anything else, they can have easy access to the interests they enjoy. The boost in confidence that comes from using CleverCogs and Community WiFi can be huge, opening up people’s horizons to a whole new world. This includes activities like browsing the web, doing online shopping and using email, as well as connecting with family and friends.

CleverCogs™ allows customers to:

  • have help at hand if they need it
  • receive automatic reminders to take medication
  • shop online and use other internet resources
  • automate heating and lighting.

An added advantage is that the Community WiFi network used by customers is safe and secure. This means that only the people they want to connect with are on their personalised CleverCogs system, and other connected devices cannot access their own files, folders and apps.

An essential part of the success of CleverCogs is recognising that everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds. For many of its customers, this will be their first time using any kind of computer. For this reason, they tailor training sessions to a level that each customer is comfortable with.  Our WiFi networks have been set up so that residents only need to connect once per device, and we’ve made doing so as easy as possible with simple yet secure passwords and user guides for everyone.  CleverCogs too is designed to be extremely easy to use and, very importantly, it’s the customer who decides which features go on their device. Blackwood’s Digital Skills team works with users to ensure they get the training and support they need.

Since rolling out the system an impressive 75% of users moved from being extremely digitally excluded to being more confident, and less lonely with increased high levels of user engagement

An analysis of the home networks already present at seven Blackwood locations, showed that 53 out of 174 properties (30.46%) already had a home broadband service before Social Telecoms began installation of Community WiFi.

Of these, 31% subscribed Sky/NowTV broadband, 19% were BT customers, 19% TalkTalk and 9% Virgin Media. Contracted subscriptions to these ISPs begin at £20 per month so significant savings can be achieved immediately upon cancelling these services.

Figures for Community WiFi usage three months after installation to these sites show that 718 devices use the service each month totalling 4.7TB of usage.  Focusing just on digital participation without CleverCogs related devices and sensors, 342 devices use the network, totalling 3.2TB.

At the time of this study, the Blackwood Community WiFi project totals 31 completed networks supporting 7,581 devices using 20.6TB of data.

47% of online usage is for streaming Video-on-Demand services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer, adding up to approximately 3,238 hours of video per month; 28% of online usage is used on general websites, 12% on gaming, 6% on Social Media such as Facebook & Twitter and 3% on audio streaming services such as Spotify and Audible.