Research by the Office for National Statistics suggests over 11% of adults in North Yorkshire don’t use the internet. Coronavirus has highlighted the need to tackle digital exclusion in the region and ensure residents can reach essential services as well as stay connected to loved ones.

The North Yorkshire town of Whitby. The photo shows a set of steps leading down past some houses, to the harbour.
Whitby, North Yorkshire

Citizens Online has been working in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council, and all seven district councils in the county, to support as many people as possible with digital skills and access to technology. We have conducted research to find out where people in need are in North Yorkshire — England’s largest county — and started connecting a local network of organisations working on digital inclusion. By recruiting and training Digital Champions who can offer one to one support, we are helping residents build the confidence and motivation needed to use technology and the Internet.

Building a community of support

We know that working with local organisations makes the difference in digital inclusion work. So far, we have connected with over 50 organisations, charities and community groups to facilitate sharing of expertise and resources. This also ensures learning from innovative approaches is shared, such as the project trialled by Beyond Housing in Scarborough, where access to free smart speaker devices is helping vulnerable residents connect with others.

Providing vital access to technology

older man uses a tablet

We know that lack of access to devices and data is a barrier for people. There are several organisations, including Reboot North Yorkshire, that are encouraging residents to donate old technology so it can be refurbished and distributed to those in need. Anyone who would like to donate can find out more by visiting the Reboot North Yorkshire website.

Citizens Online is also running a tablet loan scheme for local residents, enabling them to keep in touch with friends and family and access essential services.

Support with digital skills

Access to devices and data is only part of the solution. It’s essential that people are supported to build confidence, motivation and skills as well to get the most of technology to improve their lives. We’re training Digital Champions in North Yorkshire to provide this support.

So far, over 90 Digital Champions have been recruited that are working within organisations. We call these ‘embedded’ Digital Champions. We also have 10 volunteer Digital Champions who have been providing support remotely, via our free digital support helpline. The patient and friendly DCs have helped people to set up email addresses, access digital services and local history archives, and use Zoom to video call loved ones.

What’s next

We want to hear from more organisations who are already supporting, or are interested in supporting, their clients to do more online. We want to grow the Network and create a simple referral system across the county, making it easy for residents to know where to get digital help and for organisations to know where to signpost support.

We look forward to sharing more updates as the project continues.

Organisations interested in joining the digital inclusion network in North Yorkshire can contact catherine.dearden@citizensonline.org.uk to find out more.

Any North Yorkshire residents who need help to get started using technology or building confidence to do more online can call our free digital support helpline on 0808 196 5883.