Cross-sector partnership receives funding to boost digital inclusion across Stoke-on-Trent
A Keele University researcher is lending her expertise to a new project that will help increase digital inclusion and reduce isolation within local communities in Stoke-on-Trent.
Dr Aneta Hayes is one of several partners on the “Discover: Boosting Digital Inclusion in Stoke-on-Trent” project, led by Staffordshire University in partnership with VAST and the support of four Keele University students as part of the Student Knowledge Exchange scheme, as well as10 other organisations, which is funded by the Government’s Community Renewal Fund.
The project will address digital exclusion across the city by ensuring that the most digitally excluded members of the city are engaged and supported, and have the means and confidence to use digital equipment and access services online.
It builds on recent research by by Keele students Dominic Harrop Pender and Kareena Punj as part of the Student Knowledge Exchange scheme who interned with Stoke-on-Trent’s Collaborative Network, which identified that digital exclusion affects different groups in different ways, with young people, parents, and older people identified as three key at-risk groups.
"Discover” will identify participants’ 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 project will also provide money to organisations working to provide people with equipment and broadband connection so they can engage digitally within the community and access training and other online services - with a view to building knowledge and skills so that they feel confident.
Helping young people to stay safe online is another big part of the project, which includes a training programme for to parents so they can help their children to stay safe online.
Keele’s Dr Aneta Hayes said: “This project takes a collaborative approach, by engaging peer researchers and digital champions, in supporting those most digitally excluded in Stoke-on-Trent. It will help to increase their digital engagement and allow them to address some of the underlying issues that digital exclusion may be causing them - for example, loneliness which may be the impact of recent lockdowns, or increased vulnerability to criminal behaviour. The project will also help young people to stay safe online and offer training to parents on how to support their children towards online safety.”
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 added: “We have been ambitious in our plans for Discover and have built a programme of digital support from the ground up. We are work 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 really responsive to the needs of those most affected by issues of digital exclusion, by involving them in planning throughout the programme.”
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