News & Stories

PlaceShapers communications lead Joanna Charlton blogs about today's Fix the Digital Divide session

Over lockdown, I spent a lot more time in my home city of Birmingham, staying with a spritely but elderly relative. They'd never wanted or needed internet. But I did, not least to be able to work.  After the challenges of finding a supplier and contract (not as easy as I'd thought) there was a 6 week wait for connection.

Needing to rely on mobile data meant making choices. Joining a zoom call with friends and family meant checking I had enough data. Streaming a film just ate up too much. I lost the 'easiness' that comes with the unlimited supply that I took for granted.  

It was a tiny insight into how unsettling and isolating even limited digital access can feel.

So today's session today was sobering and heartening. 

First to learn from Emma Stone of the Good Things Foundation of the impact. I was shocked to see the link between digital exclusion and lower levels of health. And surprised at how widespread some form is. 2.6m people are offline and 1.5m households have no access. It's not just an age thing; 10% of those offline are under 50. Plus it's not always simply a question of being on or offline. Many use it for only limited reasons, such as social media, rather than to its full advantage. 

I learned one of the biggest providers (think Buzby) offers an at-cost 'social tariff' - great but I wonder how you find out.

The heartening part was the many solutions that Good Things Foundation has created.  And, dotted around the country, PlaceShapers doing good things and keen to learn.  The positive stories started to filter through...

Community Gateway already working with Good Things Foundation and using its Digital College. Cross Keys Homes working with their tenant scrutiny panel on how to be digitally inclusive. Soha providing equipment and access. 

There'd have been so many we decided this session would be simply a start. We'll meet again when members can share what they are doing and its impact, and look at ways to do more with the Good Things Foundation. 

Emma shared 7 things all members can do (and alot are doing already):

1. Show leadership – develop place-based strategies for change
2. Embed digital inclusion in your own services and plans
3. Ensure your online services are inclusive by design
4. Provide free basic digital skills support and access where you can
5. Think holistically and take a person-centred approach
6. Harness the power of peers and invest in upskilling your workforce
7. Join Good Things Foundation and help grow and national network of local support

And what stays with me most was 'trust' - faced with a problem, we all respond best to people and organisations we trust. That, thankfully, is often a social landlord Knowing someone cares, wants to and will help, and will fight your corner a bit if needed can make all the difference.