A group of organisations in Stoke on Trent have launched a new project to provide targeted support to boost digital inclusion within local communities.
The “Discover: Boosting Digital Inclusion in Stoke-on-Trent” project, led by Staffordshire University in partnership with VAST and 10 other organisations, is funded by the Government’s Community Renewal Fund and has been created by the network to address digital exclusion across Stoke-on-Trent.
The project builds on recent research by Stoke-on-Trent’s Collaborative Network which identified that digital exclusion affects different people in different ways. Using national data and local knowledge, the project has identified three primary at-risk groups: young people, parents, and older people.
Discover will identify specific needs to provide tailored support—including access to equipment and connectivity, digital skills, and online safety — matching people with the programmes best suited to them.
The focus for Discover’s activities will spread across five key areas of delivery –
Engagement with the most digitally excluded members of the community, supporting people to increase their digital capability and helping them to address underlying issues that prevent them from accessing digital services.
A programme of free digital skills training for Stoke-on-Trent residents to support people to develop online skills and confidence.
Discover’s grants scheme — made up of three streams — to provide financial support for community organisations with innovative ideas for local projects to address digital exclusion, for individuals to access equipment and get connected, and to help tackle barriers that prevent people from accessing the project, such as transport and childcare.
Specially recruited and trained Digital Champions will share their knowledge and skills to provide accurate guidance and targeted support for increasing digital skills.
Active participation and peer research will identify specific needs around digital inclusion to ensure that the most digitally excluded communities can play an active role in how the project responds to their needs.
Lisa Healings, Chief Executive of VAST said: “The COVID pandemic has massively accelerated the move to an online world. Practically everything people need is now accessed online, from school work to medical help and from shopping to claiming benefits, without digital access people can easily become marginalised and excluded.
“We want to work together to ensure that no one is left behind and everyone has fair access to the services they need.”
Nicola Gratton, Associate Professor of Community and Civic Engagement at Staffordshire University said: “We have been ambitious in our plans for Discover and have built a programme of digital support from the ground up. We are working with a broad range of partners who have the skills and networks that will enable us to reach out to people most digitally excluded in our city and provide targeted skills and support.
“Our programme of peer research will allow us to be responsive to the needs of those most affected by issues of digital exclusion, by involving them in planning throughout the programme.”
Training and support will be delivered in a number of ways including groups sessions, one-to-one, face-to-face, and online. By using a flexible approach, Discover partners will work together to meet the needs of each individual at each stage of their digital journey.
Residents of Stoke-on-Trent can view and apply to join the training programmes on offer by visiting https://vast.org.uk/discover-digital-training/
Anyone interested in taking part will be asked to complete a contact form to register their interest.
A Peer Researcher and Digital Champion volunteer role event will be taking place on 18 January 2022 at The Dudson Centre, Hanley. Please register calling 01782 683030 or by going to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/discover-project-tickets-224633162837
To find out more about Discover, please visit https://vast.org.uk/discover-digital/ or email T.Houghton@staffs.ac.uk