Tackling digital exclusion

23rd February 2023

Digital technology has transformed how we work, communicate, shop, learn, entertain, and access information and services. However, many people remain digitally excluded.

‘Digital by default’ means that today, most services are principally online. This is leading to a digital divide between those who have access to information and communications technology and those who do not, giving rise to inequalities in access to opportunities, knowledge, services and goods.

Marcella from Eden is in her early 70’s and lives alone in a social housing flat in Kirkby Stephen. In her working life she had no need to use computers and has become isolated due to being digitally excluded.
The issue of digital exclusion in later life has become starkly apparent. Research by the Centre for Aging Better (2021) emphasised the significant digital divide among 50–70-year-olds.

Marcella had begun to appreciate the need to use a digital device and the internet to access basic public services but had a general fear of technology and didn’t know where to begin in finding help.

Originally set up in Bradford, The Neighbourhood Project CIC recently expanded its reach into Cumbria thanks to a grant of £9,371 from the Westmorland Family Community Fund, the Out of Eden Fund, and the Abbeyfield Carlisle Society Over 55 Community First Fund.

The ‘Digital Upper Eden Programme’ is delivered with the support of volunteers to help reduce digital exclusion in Appleby, Kirkby Stephen and Tebay.

A mixture of weekly digital support groups in community venues were delivered where people could either bring their own devices for support or borrow one, alongside one-to-one support for people in their own homes. Over the course of the year, five ‘techy tea parties’ introduced people to using a digital device over refreshments.

Marcella participated in the programme and her confidence in using computers and the internet has increased as a result of the training, and she can now access crucial services.

People attending the programme have been able to gain a basic understanding of the internet and are now able to use comparison websites to save money on their bills, order their shopping to be home delivered, get in touch with old friends through social media and talk to friends and family who are a distance away using video calling such as Skype.

Jonathan Crewdson, Director, said: “More than 120 older people accessed our digital support services, either as part of a group or on a one-to-one basis. All reported an improvement in both their basic skills and self-confidence in using devices such as computers, smart phones and the internet. This has dramatically improved their independence to use IT without needing regular help from others. As well as being able to master fundamental digital skills such as using an email account, instant messengers, search engines and Google Maps, most have also accessed services such as booking GP appointments online and ordering home shopping deliveries using the internet. The sessions also helped to develop new friendships and a sense of belonging in the community.”