Digital Digital inclusion

CASE STUDY: Using infrastructure to tackle digital exclusion

Deeplish Community Centre provides a safe and welcoming environment for the local community and user groups, enabling them to participate in educational, social and learning activities. The centre is a registered charity and a valued and integral part of the local community.

Deeplish Community Centre is situated within the 10% most deprived areas in the country. Digital Exclusion Risk Index also suggests the area has a higher-than-average likelihood of people within the community being digitally excluded

The community centre is within Rochdale, a borough where, according to the 2011 census, over 90 different spoken and written languages are used. The majority of people in the borough speak English but around 10% of Rochdale residents don't speak English as their first or main language. This includes people whose main or only language is British Sign Language. 

As part of the roll out of a Local Full Fibre Network across Greater Manchester, delivery partner Virgin Media O2 Business committed to setting up a mixture of homeless shelters, charities and community centres with free connectivity for five years. Deeplish Community Centre was identified as one of those sites.

The centre had existing connectivity, but the connection was poor and couldn’t support the volume of required use. Post-pandemic and with the current cost of living crisis, as with other community sites, costs came into play and affording connectivity seen as a “nice to have” rather than an essential part of the site’s day to day offer. Operations Manager, Sohail Ahmad, described the community centre as “struggling to survive” post-lockdown.

So, in summer 2021 the community centre was setup with free connectivity for 5-years. This has allowed the centre to pivot their offer and keep up with today’s digital society.

Digital skills sessions are now hosted at the community centre, with tutors working with local residents on cyber security and online safety, online banking and financial management, using digital tools to support the language barriers and have even seen the connectivity used to help local children complete their homework.

Some of those sessions are being ran by Talk English who work with community organisations, schools, children's centres and libraries to help people learn English, access services and get more involved in the community. Talk English recently secured donated devices and data from national digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation, so when learners completed their digital skills training at the centre they could continue their digital journey at home too. Something Sohail believes is just as important as getting people through the door.

Sohail estimates over 500 residents have been supported since the connectivity was installed “improving our peoples prospective and ensuring a community not without its existing challenges aren’t further locked out by the digital age”

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In July 2022, ITV featured the story on their evening news programme - Granada Reports

Sohail is clear this isn’t just a flash in the pan and will remain the way forward for the community centre “we have the security of this connectivity for the next five years at least, which means we can offer consistency and a sustained approach to digital for our people. It’s really pleasing to the positive impact the connectivity is having on not only the way people live their day to day lives but their wellbeing too”

The centre use the rise of video calls and new tools such as online COVID-19 guidance and the NHS App as examples of the digital challenges the community faced during the Pandemic, with the community at risk of being locked out of outside communication and medical support. Even knowing these resources existing, in a community where English isn’t always first language was challenging enough but that community then understanding how to download apps or having the connectivity to check the latest government advice online exasperated the issue.

“Such a simple improvement, has made such a huge impact to our community” says Sohail “We’re seeing digital skills training happen here, where one member of the family is now upskilled and is going back into their family home and teaching their elders. So we’re addressing a generational gap too – opening up a world of possibilities for an otherwise locked out community”

  • In March 2020 Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) secured world-class digital infrastructure through biggest government full-fibre investment in the UK, through the appointment of Virgin Media Business. The deal also included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that supported the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint.
  • Get Online Greater Manchester helps residents and professionals supporting residents to access local, regional and national support to get online. Get Online GM brings together the support available to get online from across all ten Greater Manchester Local Authority Area's and across the UK, into one place to help you find the right support for you. This includes working with Good Things Foundation to deliver the National Databank locally. The Greater Manchester Databank will help support residents on low incomes from becoming at further disadvantage by being unable to access the opportunities digital access brings. 

Article Published: 01/08/2022 09:45 AM