Ten community groups in Cumbria have received grants to help vulnerable people access the internet and digital technology.
The funding has come from Full Fibre broadband company Fibrus, which launched the Fibrus Community Fund Cumbria in April in partnership with Cumbria Community Foundation.
Fibrus is donating £60,000 this year, across Cumbria, to tackle digital poverty, with a particular focus on those aged 18 and under and the over-60s. This coincides with Fibrus rolling out high-speed broadband connections to homes across the county.
Carlisle Sight Support is a charity supporting the visually impaired across north Cumbria with satellite groups in Brampton, Dalston and Longtown.
The group received funding to buy Echo Dot smart speakers and run training and awareness-raising sessions, helping the visually impaired make the most of the technology.
Manager Mark Costello said: “We were looking at technological solutions and the Fibrus Community Fund gave us the impetus and the money to go ahead and purchase the items.
“These speakers make such a difference. Visually impaired people can use them to listen to music, turn lights and appliances on and off and to access talking books and newspapers and it can be vital in helping them stay connected to family and friends.”
Dean Jooste, Stakeholder Director at Fibrus, visited the group for its monthly lunchtime social get together and helped demonstrate the smart speakers.
“They soon got the knack of asking questions and were quizzing Alexa about the weekend’s weather, Carlisle United and rugby internationals.
Michelle Lynam enjoyed her first chat with Alexa. “It was quite daunting at first but I’ll get used to it. I like rugby so it was good to be able to get information quickly about the world cup.”
Dean said: “We saw a real need in Cumbria to address digital poverty, and through the Fibrus Community Fund, we heard from some fantastic organisations. By enabling those in need to access computers and online services, we can boost the opportunities of youngsters and improve the quality of life for older people.
“It is important to us that while we’re bringing the people of Cumbria high speed connections, we continue to invest money to support our communities.”
Jenny Benson, director of programmes and partnerships at Cumbria Community Foundation, added: “The grants provided by the Fibrus Community Fund can be life changing.
“They can pay for devices that help young people with schoolwork or to apply for their first job, for example, and enable older people to access online services and stay connected with family and friends through Skype or Zoom.”
The Fibrus Fund has given to 10 organisations in its first round of grants including Friends of Shap School; Drop Zone Youth Projects in Barrow; Hallbankgate Hub and the Carnegie Theatre Trust.
Fibrus is transforming digital infrastructure by investing more than £700 million to bring full-fibre broadband to towns and villages across Northern England and Northern Ireland.
The company recently announced two new connectable locations in the local area as part of its ongoing rollout; Aspatria and Workington, on top of the first homes in Staveley connected under the Government’s Project Gigabit contract earlier this year.
Fibrus has demonstrated its support for Cumbrian communities this year by launching a fund for grassroots clubs across the regions it serves, which invests over £30,000 in boys’ and girls’ sport.
The company also sponsored the new Fibrus 100 girls’ cricket league in partnership with Cumbria Cricket and announced a sponsorship with Workington Town Rugby League in July, with the team’s home ground renamed to the Fibrus Community Stadium.
The second round of funding for the Fibrus Community Fund has opened for applications today, Monday, August 21, closing on November 10, and organisations from across Cumbria are encouraged to apply.