Partners behind project to boost digital inclusion vow to do more

A project designed to help more people in Stoke-on-Trent to get to grips with digital technologies is concluding with a commitment to do more.

Male explains VR controls to another man who is wearing VR headset

The Discover Digital pop-up event encouraged people to experience virtual reality.

By ensuring we had teams of highly skilled and friendly digital champions and trainers right in the heart of communities, Discover has supported some of the most digitally excluded people in our city to access to the equipment and skills they need to keep up with digital advancements.

Nic Gratton, Staffordshire University Associate Professor of Community and Civic Engagement

Discover Digital was a project funded by the UK Government as part of Stoke-on-Trent's Community Renewal Fund allocation which aimed to boost digital engagement in Stoke-on-Trent.

Led by Staffordshire University in partnership with VAST, Keele University and eight other education and community partners, the project has consulted more than 150 people to learn more about the barriers to digital engagement in the city.

Staffordshire University Associate Professor of Community and Civic Engagement, Nic Gratton said: “There were many reasons why some people in Stoke-on-Trent were unable to get online, including not having appropriate equipment, lacking in confidence and safety concerns. We were all shocked by the extent of the challenge that lay ahead of us at the start of the project.

“By ensuring we had teams of highly skilled and friendly digital champions and trainers right in the heart of communities, Discover has supported some of the most digitally excluded people in our city to access to the equipment and skills they need to keep up with digital advancements. We are extremely proud of what Discover has achieved.”

Discover Digital will be celebrated at a special event to be held in The Catalyst at Staffordshire University on Thursday 13 October between 9.30am and 3pm. The event will share learning from the partnership and describe how face to face engagement and bite-sized learning were used to attract people who were either fearful or sceptical about the use of digital technologies. It will also report on how 167 people were able to access equipment including pc’s, tablets and printers to help them in their day to day lives.

People attending the event will hear first-hand from digital learners, partners, digital champions and programme evaluators as well as having an opportunity over lunch to meet some of the people involved.

Dr Aneta Hayes, senior lecturer in Education at Keele University, said: “The evaluation from the project has shown huge impact in many areas of digital life. Beneficiaries reported great improvements in their employability, social skills, reducing loneliness, improving mental health and staying safe online. We were delighted to be part of the project with such a significant personal and social impact, and it was great to hear the stories about how the project has changed people's lives in the long term.”

The event will end with partners signing a pledge to continue working to address issues of digital exclusion in the city and inviting attendees to make their own commitments to moving the agenda forward.

Lisa Healings, Chief Executive of VAST, added: “It is fantastic to have been able to be a part of a project where a diverse range of partners have worked together to understand and improve digital inclusion in our city. Having the availability of grants to provide equipment and connectivity to individuals as well as funding small community-based organisations to develop their own projects to combat the problems faced has made a huge difference. This, coupled with bespoke training and support from digital champions, has enabled even the most excluded to participate.”

The project is led by Staffordshire University in partnership with VAST, Keele University, Wavemaker, Stoke North Big Local, YMCA North Staffordshire, Caudwell Children, Stoke-on-Trent College, The Community Foundation for Staffordshire, Beth Johnson Foundation and The Dove Service.

To find out more about Discover or to request a copy of the evaluation please, contact Nicola Gratton at n.gratton@staffs.ac.uk.

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