Working Together to Get Cambridgeshire Online: Digital Inclusion for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

On Thursday Oct 26, 2023, Will Plant, Digital Inclusion Lead for Connecting Cambridgeshire, gave us a fascinating presentation on his role in the Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme and what he’s learnt.

Will explained that one of his tasks as Digital Inclusion Lead was to compile a digital inclusion report and he expressed an interest in working with others to develop a strategy for digital inclusion across Cambridgeshire.

He is open to a collaborative partnership, working together so work isn’t duplicated and that everyone can be included in tackling the digital divide.

The webinar is available on YouTube

Will stated that Connecting Cambridgeshire has four work streams:

  • Broadband
  • Mobile
  • Smart
  • Access and Inclusion

Will’s role sits in Access and Inclusion, and he wants to ensure that people feel digitally included so they have the right kind of access to connectivity, tech and skills.

He is aware how much digital benefits lives and wants to make sure everyone has the same opportunities.

Will found it staggering that The Good Thing Foundation reported that one in 14 households have no home internet access. He highlights how last year, it was one in 20, so it shows how the cost-of-living crisis has had an effect.

  • 1 million households lost broadband access as a direct result of the cost-of-living crisis.
  • You are 12 times more likely to be a non-user of the internet if you are over 65.
  • If you have a health condition or disability, you are twice as likely not to use the internet.
  • If you have a low income, then your chances of being a limited user are also high.

So poorer households then miss out on the benefits of being online such as better shopping deals and accessing reduced-cost online services.

People with high digital engagement could save up to £659 more a year, which is much needed in the cost-of-living crisis.

Moreover, over three quarters of people claim to be happier and healthier because of using the internet. It supports their well-being.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 12% of the adult population are classed as non-users. Will worries that these people are missing out financial and educational benefits, as well as not being connected to friends and relatives, which supports their well-being.

In Cambridgeshire, again, there is a higher portion of older residents not using the internet. He would like people that are entering the over 65+ age bracket in the next decade to be more confident using digital skills.

Will knows that the internet doesn’t replace human contact and would like to maintain a strong balance between digital contact and socialisation.

He reports that there are concentrated areas around Cambridgeshire where deprivation is high, and education is low, such as around Fenland and in Central and East Peterborough. In these areas there certainly are many digitally excluded people.

In more positive news, he reports that 98.3% of Cambridgeshire residents can access super-fast broadband. This is higher than the UK average. So, the availability is there, we need to find a way to get people more digitally included.

Will is excited that there is already great work going on to tackle this such as our work at Cambridge Digital Partnership! Will hopes that we can work together to fill in the gaps in provision, supporting and resourcing what is happening already so it can be sustainable and have a form of longevity and run efficiently.

Sharing knowledge and best practice is essential to mitigate challenges, duplication of effort and maximise opportunities.

When it comes to local services, Will hopes that people will embrace digital apps so that it makes life easier for them, such as:

  • The NHS app: so things like video GP appointments, which would be more convenient and save time and travel.
  • A parking app: so not having to deal with machines and using coins or a card.
  • Online shopping: for example, if people feel unwell and don’t want a trip to the shops.
  • Council app: reporting needed repairs quickly so they don’t need to use the helpline.

He hopes a social prescription model will bring everyone together and maximise partnership working. A triage team can signpost people to the right organisation to help them with a specific digital skill.

Will would like digital inclusion to be embedded into everything that the combined authority do to save time and money. He also wants to find out why people aren’t using their digital platform, and if it needs to be more user friendly or accessible.

Will states again it’s not digital for the sake of it, he doesn’t want to force people, it’s digital where it makes sense.

He follows by mentioning that the council staff are also trying to embrace digital skills, to make sure they are digitally included. So, for example, utilising apps such as Office 365 and tools which make their working lives much easier and efficient.

Will is looking forward to working with others to maximise productivity and fix the digital divide. He plans an impact report in 2025 to reflect on what has been learnt in the first year.

Will welcomes people to get in touch with any questions or ideas.

Email: Will.plant@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

This blog was written by Karen Cann, CCVS Communications and Development Worker.

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