In 2020 Lifeshare founded the Manchester Digital Collective, an organisation to promote digital inclusion across Greater Manchester. We work with our existing clients and engage with anyone else in need of support in an increasingly digital world.
Digital inclusion, we hear this phrase a lot but what does it mean?
A multifaceted definition of this comes from the NHS –
1) Connectivity- Having the appropriate devices to access the internet
2) Skills – Being able to, and have the confidence to use digital devices
3) Accessibility – Designing services to be inclusive to all users needs
We at Manchester Digital Collective – powered by Lifeshare experience this first-hand.
Clients present to us with no access to a device, very few means to contact a support worker, and little guidance on where to seek support. Situations like these were relatively common before 2020, however they were exacerbated by the pandemic. When offices and businesses shut down, the most vulnerable of society were left in the lurch.
Digital exclusion came to the forefront of many discussions, highlighting stark facts such as the 1.5m households or approximately 6% of the UK population who live without internet access, and that up to a fifth of UK households have struggled to pay their TV, phone and internet bills in the last year, with some having to cancel services or cut back on essential spending such as food and clothing.
Imagine a scenario in which you didn’t have a device to understand what was going on around the world. You couldn’t access essential services and support, you couldn’t check in with your friends and family to know whether they were safe or not, you couldn’t order groceries to your home when many of us were hesitant to go out.
This was the experience for many of our clients.
That’s where we come in, we’re building a collective approach to bridge the digital divide with three tangible elements:
We’re building our Device Bank, which relies on donations from the general public. We refurbish any devices kindly donated to us and distribute them to people who experience digital poverty across Greater Manchester. These devices can be smartphones, tablets, laptops, or sometime even PCs which we can use to set up digital suites in the temporary accommodations we support.
In collaboration with Good Things Foundation, the MDC is part of the National Databank. The National Databank allows the MDC to provide free data via SIM cards or vouchers which we share with those who are digitally excluded and may require support. We have also worked with O2 and Vodafone to issue short term data packages. Additionally, we continue to develop a map of free Wi-Fi points around the city.
We offer a range of online and in person support to help individuals at whatever stage of their online journey they are on. This helps them to develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital world. If you want to take a look at our online course you can click here.
These three elements combined with our awareness raising allows Manchester Digital Collective to provide a holistic offer of devices, internet access and learning opportunities to empower individuals. To learn what our Digital Inclusion coordinator does, check out this blog post from last week explaining how these elements are put into action to promote digital inclusion in Manchester.
If you want to find out more information on what we’re doing to tackle the #DigitalDivide and how you can get involved, head to our website or our social media. You can help us to raise awareness of the need for Digital Inclusion by sharing our posts.