In 2019, 13% of residents in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had never used the internet, and a quarter of adults lacked basic digital skills. As training, healthcare, and other services are increasingly going online, it’s vital they are not left behind. A deep dive supported by the Digital Skills Partnership into the issue showed there was a correlation between digital exclusion, poor health, and underemployment in Cornwall, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. It also identified a three-pronged approach which could be used to tackle the challenge: kit, connectivity and skills. When the Digital Inclusion strategy was written in 2019, 13% of adults in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had never used the internet (compared with 8% nationally). Through engagement work across the county with those experiencing digital exclusion this number is now 9% (compared to 6.3% nationally).
Cornwall Council’s Digital Inclusion team was brought together two years ago to tackle digital exclusion. Their device lending scheme will see hundreds of laptops, tablets, and MiFi connectivity units lent to those most at risk of digital exclusion. The devices are loaned through partner organisations in return for data about how the new kit is helping.
St Petrocs are the first organisation to benefit from the scheme. Their new European funded project has 125 clients living in 20 houses across Cornwall. Their aim is to get them clients into training, and the long-term aim is to get them back into work and towards homes of their own.
St Petrocs new team focusses on addressing the root causes of homelessness, developing a sustainable approach to ending homelessness in Cornwall, and encouraging people they currently provide with accommodation to participate in training and work opportunities.
St Petrocs will lend devices to those they are supporting so they can take part in online training and access work opportunities as well as healthcare and other services. Having access to devices and developing digital skills are a barrier for many of the residents.
Melissa Winstanley, Vocational Development Administrator at St Petrocs said: “A lot of our clients don’t have access to IT. They want to be able to enhance their skills, which going forward will help them find suitable courses and progress into suitable work.”
It’s not just the devices – the scheme is also helping build the skills needed to access online services and training. Cornwall Council trained six members of the St Petrocs team to be Digital Champions Kym went on, “we support them and they support the clients. It works so well”. Melissa said the training is “fab. Really good and really useful”.
Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for customers, Richard Pears, said: “We are committed to helping people gain skills and access opportunities and we want to work with more partners. Any organisation can apply, and we can loan devices out. We need a monthly feedback report in return and their clients can have those laptops or tablets for as long as they need”.
Despite St Petrocs being one of the first to take advantage of this new scheme it is not limited to this charity, other participants for the device lending scheme include Pentreath who will use laptops for a Mental Health Wellbeing Course, and a Social Prescriber from Newquay working with young mums. If you’re interested in becoming a lending organisation and accessing the Digital Champion training or you are an organisation interested in accessing devices and connectivity to support those you work with, contact the Digital Inclusion team by emailing [email protected]