On the 26th April, iNetwork hosted its regular digital inclusion partnership meeting. The digital inclusion partnership provides member organisations the platform to showcase innovative projects related to digital inclusion and learn about best practice in the field. The session brought together over 40 members to hear presentations from Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), Stockport Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Helen Johnson, digital inclusion lead at Stockport Council supported by Clara Jones, head of Digital Inclusion at partner organisation Starting Point. Helen began by giving an overview of Stockport’s digital inclusion strategy, which has aimed to ensure no one is digitally left behind. When looking to tackle digital exclusion, Helen highlighted Stockport decided to work with local partners and experts to strengthen their approach, forming the digiknow alliance. Initially starting with 4 partners, the digiknow alliance now has 65 different partners involved supporting the council’s aims. Helen stated the aim of cross sector alliance is ‘trusted faces in local places’ to continue to develop digital skills and knowledge throughout Stockport.

Clara then proceeded to provide details of the work carried out by Starting Point, a social enterprise and key partner. Starting Point lead on digital skills support through the digiknow project in collaboration with Stockport council. Clara explained that Starting Point trains Digital Champions to help run digital skills sessions or provide one-to-one support. The social enterprise has trained over 30 digital champions who now provide support to digitally upskill other residents. Additionally, with the council’s support, starting point have set up a successful device loaning support, lending hundreds of devices to those who need them. The digiknow scheme has supported more than 36,000 residents since the project began in 2018.

Following Helen and Clara, John Duncan, Digital Inclusion Manager at GMCA spoke to delegates about their pilot project which explored how to tackle digital exclusion in social housing. The Pilot was intended to determine what a sustainable model for digital inclusion for social housing providers might look like. John presented stats highlighting some of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable residents live in social housing, with many of them digitally excluded.

John outlined the pilot programme explaining that GMCA facilitated partnerships between social housing providers and telecommunications companies to provide significantly reduced rates for digital connectivity. The offers from the telecommunications companies varied from Wi-Fi from £12 a month with no contract to free data sim cards, the offers were piloted on 14,000 residents in social housing.

The pilot has been a huge success, with a strong research output, improved digital inclusion across Greater Manchester and strengthened relationships between councils and telecommunications companies. As a result GMCA intends a full scale roll out of the programme later this year.

Although a success, John shared some learning points highlighting the market needs to be incentivised to provide affordable tariffs with social tariffs still unaffordable for some residents. Beena Puri, Digital Innovation and Partnerships Lead at GMCA also input to the conversation, stating the importance of partnerships and Greater Manchester borough councils working locally to tackle digital exclusion.

Sarah Mackey, digital facilitator at East Riding of Yorkshire Council concluded the session. She delivered a presentation discussing their digital inclusion network and a digital triage tool they are in the process of developing. Sarah explained East Riding’s Digital Inclusion group, formed in 2022, is a network of community and third sector organisations working collaboratively to identify and maximise opportunities around digital inclusion. The Network was formed in partnership with the newly formed ICS and has strong links to health.

The group has been focussing on the development of a digital triage tool, to understand the digital needs across East Yorkshire and help residents get the digital support they need. The Local Association (LGA) digital pathfinder project led London Borough of Havering developed an alpha phase of a triage tool. Following a beta phase led by Salford Council, the LGA opened up the opportunity for further councils to get involved. East Riding of Yorkshire successfully bid for funding from their local care partnership to become involved and become associate partners in the project. Sarah explained the council are now in the early stages of developing their own bespoke triage tool, which they plan to use in local GPs.

The event finished with a short Q&A with all the speakers centred around identifying and working with vulnerable families to ensure children have internet access available for online learning. The Go ON Digital Inclusion partnership is a regular forum, which convenes at least 2 twice a year, iNetwork will look to host another partnership meeting in the summer.