Women are amazing. And every day here at Simon Community, we support women who have experienced homelessness, women who use substances, and women who unfortunately have had to navigate through gender-based barriers to services for many years. Today, we launch our report for our double award winning project A Digital Approach to Harm Reduction, which brings together harm reduction and digital inclusion to break down these barriers to support and develop resources for women.
Having access to an increasingly digital world is something that so many of us take for granted. Immediate access to health and education information and support service resources is a privilege that is not equally experienced by everyone. In fact, this lack of connectivity was proving to be a real obstacle that people experiencing homelessness or people using substances were facing, and we wanted to ensure that no one was left behind in the digital world.
Through our Get Connected 100 and 500 projects, we set out to ensure that everyone is given the same access to online support through digital connection. Through these projects, people that we support have been provided with a digital device, unlimited data, and digital champion support to access the digital world.
Three years ago, Simon Community Scotland began moving to a Safer Services model, which put an emphasis on harm reduction, connection, and safety. We welcomed women to share their voices and their experiences in navigating services that had not been designed to meet the specific needs of women.
It was through these conversations that we were given more insight into the depths of the impact felt from the lack of available, gendered support. Although many of the women that we spoke to had been accessing services for many years, information on safety while using substances was not widely known or easily accessible. The resources that were available weren’t necessarily reflective of women’s lived experiences, and women’s voices had not been a part of the development of these resources.
To combat this, two and a half years ago, we implemented our A Digital Approach to Harm Reduction project, which aims to tackle the difficulties that women face in accessing the support that they need, when they need it. This project is rooted in the ethos of harm reduction, digital inclusion, and taking a gendered approach to ensure women access support that is right for them.
The people that we support are at the heart and forefront of everything we do at Simon Community Scotland. Central to this, we have proactively adopted a co-production approach in the development of this project. By creating a Safe Space for women to share their expertise and their experiences, we brought together an amazing community and encouraged the opportunity to be a part of meaningful change for our wider community of other women.
The development of our By My Side app has been a significant and rewarding result of this project. By My Side has been designed by women, for women, and serves as a one-stop-shop for harm reduction, sexual health and mental health support. By My Side offers a safe online space for women to access information and advice without having to face the additional stigma associated with accessing in-person services.
Our A Digital Approach to Harm Reduction project has truly been developed by the work of the amazing women that we have supported over the years. Without their expertise, their voices, their skills, and their willingness to share their experiences, we would not have been able to make the meaningful changes that we have through this project.
We are thrilled to share that A Digital Approach to Harm Reduction has been the recipient of two awards, winning both the Digital Inclusion Award at the Digital Health and Care Awards 2023 and the Digital Citizen Award at the Scottish Charity Awards 2023.
Our A Digital Approach to Harm Reduction report outlines the development of the project, the outcomes that we’ve seen, and shares the stories of women that we have worked alongside in this project. The report captures our journey so far from that first conversation women had with us, to the connections made through this project and the meaningful impact we’ve had. To finally, our next steps going forward to ensure that we continue learning, growing and getting support right for women.
By Brenna Kyle, Harm Reduction Support Officer