Citizens Online has been working in Gwynedd since 2011, commencing with one of 11 BT funded “Get IT Together” projects and continuing from 2015 onwards with our “One Digital” programme supported by the Big Lottery Fund.
Digital Gwynedd has developed significantly over this time and today our hugely successful project and the value of the work has been recognised by both Gwynedd Council, who have provided match funding and an award nomination and runner up prize in the WCVA 2018 Third Sector Awards. Digital Gwynedd is one of our flagship projects, and really shows what our Switch model can achieve.
In Gwynedd, between January 2016 and February 2018 we:
- Produced a Switch Baseline report and digital inclusion action plan
- Recruited 162 Digital Champions
- Helped at least 1,124 unique individuals with digital skills since January 2016, on top of 2,670 prior to this – and probably many more…
- Brought 50 organisations together in a digital inclusion partnership
- Set up and maintained a ‘signposting’ website which lists 41 locations in the county providing free internet access, and 84 different forms of digital skills support, from drop-in sessions to courses.
- Helped prepare local organisations for the ‘digital-by-default’ Universal Credit benefit system.
Our analysis of the Gwynedd population suggested that as many as one in three households could be at risk of digital exclusion, with the majority of these classified either as older people or those living in remote rural areas. The Digital Gwynedd partnership – which also includes Digital Communities Wales as a core partner has agreed on a work programme that focuses on two key priorities:
- using digital opportunities to reduce poverty in the county,
- improving digital skills in rural communities.
Our extensive Baseline Research, conducted in 2015 had identified:
- That one in three households in Gwynedd were at risk of digital exclusion
- Relevant strategies and plans from partners existed but often lacked an explicit link to Digital Inclusion work
- Scope to draw funding linked to economic development into the project area to promote skills development and connectivity for local businesses, linked to the issues of rural poverty and economic development.
- An opportunity to engage with the superfast programme and local broadband providers to exploit any marketing activities funded by the superfast programme
Dylan Griffiths, Economic Development Programmes Manager at Gwynedd Council explains the value of our baseline process:
“Citizens Online used their Baseline Evaluation process to help us find where our real digital inclusion issues were in the county. This made all the difference in our being able to target help to where it was needed. We’ve used the process to inform and help deliver our Tackling Poverty Action Plan”.
The project has worked to ensure frontline staff in Benefits/Revenues teams, Jobcentre Plus offices and housing teams, have basic digital skills and can sign-post claimants to access and support, with a particular focus on preparing for the roll-out of Universal Credit. Figure 1 shows an example of the baseline mapping work we conducted in order to identify areas where more people would be likely to receive Universal Credit, and hence where digital inclusion activity and marketing might be targeted.
Councillor Mandy Williams-Davies, Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy said:
“For those who are out of work, the internet is an invaluable tool for job hunting, and computer literacy becoming more important by the day as a key skill. It is anticipated that there will be changes to benefits by introducing universal credit that affects a number of people in Gwynedd, access to a computer or tablet device as well as having digital skills are essential in order to make claims for universal credit.”
Originally a partnership between Citizens Online, BT, Gwynedd Council, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd and Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Gwynedd Ddigidol project has undertaken work with Age UK Gwynedd a Mon, Citizens Advice, Job Centre Plus, Bangor University and local Housing Associations Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd and Grwp Cynefin among others (see a 2016 partnership diagram in figure 2 below).
The project has also had a successful relationship with regional newspaper, the Daily Post, which has a large circulation. Every fortnight, the paper runs a column with IT questions answered by the project coordinator on topical issues including, for example: which tablets to buy for Christmas, security and accessing Government Services online.
After the project helped set up IT classes for older people in local schools and at Age Well Centres, Maldwyn Roberts, Project Development Officer at Age Cymru told us:
“On behalf of Age Cymru Gwynedd a Mon I would like to thank you for the tremendous work you have undertaken during the course of your project. You have been available for consultation whenever we have needed help and advice.”
Digital skills support sessions have been run in village halls, chapel vestries, public houses, and golf clubs. Figure 3 shows an example of one of Citizens Online’s maps used in monitoring and evaluation of the project – End Learners by Lower Super Output Area or LSOA.
Participants in a focus group that formed part of our evaluation of Phase One of the project were pleased with the support offered. One said:
“Since coming [to the courses] I have learnt quite a few things that I feel confident to do when before I was hesitant”, and another remarked “It was a super session and my confidence is beginning to build up”.