Today the Big Lottery Fund has announced four new grants to Digital Unite, Age UK, Citizens Online and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) totalling just under £2 million. This test and learn initiative aims to help around 9,500 new people gain the Basic Digital Skills they need to survive in today's digital society.
What is the UK digital skills crisis?
10.5million adults, 1.2million small businesses, and over half of all charities in the UK lack the Basic Digital Skills they need to succeed in today's digital society. This represents tens of billions of pounds in losses to the economy; billions more in efficiency savings for government and businesses; and the loss of financial, employment, health and social benefits for individuals.
This is affecting 1.8million unemployed people looking for jobs in a market where 90 per cent of vacancies require digital skills - and many jobs are only advertised online. Without action, this skills crisis will continue to restrain economic growth, productivity and social mobility.
The role of the digital champion
At Go ON UK, we firmly believe that everyone in the UK should have the opportunity to participate in today's digital-driven society. But, in our the ever-changing digital inclusion landscape it is becoming increasingly hard to reach, engage and inspire those who aren't online or do not have the Basic Digital Skills they need to complete even the simplest of tasks online.
We know from experience that helping those most in need of basic digital skills - the young, disabled, elderly and third sector - requires a personal and long-term support approach. Through Go ON UK's regional programmes in the North West and North East of England, we have seen first hand the incredible work and reach that digital champions can achieve. We find that learners often go on to become digital champions themselves, having been so inspired and appreciative at the difference digital skills has made to their own lives.
John Davies, Age UK's 2015 Digital Champion, is a great example of this. Fifty-nine-year-old John had never touched a computer before he entered an internet cafe after deciding that he wanted to learn digital skills. A year later he was confidently using the internet and helping others too as well. John had become a digital champion and wanted to show and share with others the joy he had found online.
How the Big Lottery Funding will help
A consortium led by Digital Unite called One Digital will develop 'digital champions' within disability, youth and support organisations. Digital champions will, for example, demonstrate the use of Skype to an older person to help them stay in touch with grandchildren and family, or help a young person search for work and complete an online CV. Digital Unite will work with partners AbilityNet and Affinity Sutton to identify, train and develop digital champions who will support 1,000 disabled in their own homes and young people overcome the issues they face.
Other members of the One Digital consortium are Age UK, Citizens Online and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) which all have independent projects that share the same test and learn objectives.
Age UK will recruit digital champions and engage with 2,000 older people to promote the benefits of skills in digital technology. Local branches will connect with organisations and businesses in the community to engage with older people including health and social services, care homes, clubs, hairdressers and taxi drivers. Community work will include pop-up taster sessions in local shops, GP surgeries and hospitals. Work will take place in Oxfordshire, Leicestershire and Rutland.
Citizens Online will seek to create a sustainable and holistic approach to the provision of digital champions as an underpinning feature of digital skills development. They will work in four local authority areas - Brighton, Plymouth, Gwynedd and Highlands Council. Citizens Online aim to train, recruit and deploy digital champions to improve the online skills of 4,000 people.
SCVO will develop and assess the contribution that existing frontline third sector organisations can make. It will improve the skills of up to 2,000 people, develop digital champions and improve the online skills of 250 voluntary and community sector organisations.
Test and learn
The Big Lottery Fund's investment will help a vast number of people and organisations develop vital digital skills whilst acting as a platform to test established metrics, and develop new ones, to measure each partner's specific outcomes as well as those of One Digital as a whole. We will then be able to reflect on the impact and benefits for both digital champions and learners, and use these learnings to help us ensure everyone in the UK has the basic digital skills they need to benefit from the internet.
I believe that everyone can benefit from the internet. In the UK, we have the opportunity to be one of the world's greatest digital nations but we cannot achieve that whilst more than ten million adults lack Basic Digital Skills. That is why I am so pleased that further funding for digital skills has been released. I can't wait to hear the inspirational stories that will no doubt come out as a result of it.