Spotlight: Increasing digital inclusion and social connectedness in rural areas

The 38 Rural Community Council charities across England, along with our national body, Action with Communities in Rural England, work towards helping communities to identify connectivity challenges and establish community broadband and other solutions. We also aim to tackle digital exclusion and help stimulate digital inclusion initiatives.

During the last year, CCB met with the DiG Digital Infrastructure Programme Manager to discuss rural broadband, especially at village halls. We described the challenges that people in rural areas face with digital connectivity and outlined some potential solutions that could involve well-connected village halls. We have identified ways we can collaborate to support rural communities that need services more quickly than the commercial roll-out of Gigabit broadband will provide.

Over in Cambridgeshire, the Cambridgeshire ACRE has also been liaising between the partnership ‘Connecting Cambridgeshire’ and the network of village halls. This activity has resulted in Wi-Fi connectivity being rolled out to another 26 village halls during the year. More than three-quarters of halls in the county are now able to offer Wi-Fi to their users.

Down in Dorset a series of webinars were delivered by Dorset Community Action on digital skills issues, aimed at voluntary and community sector groups. Their webinar offering has enabled learners to be more aware of common scams, improve their online & social media marketing, and use IT to better budget/fundraise.

Up in Humberside, Humber and Wolds Rural Action has been seeking to improve access to online consultations with local GP practices and the area’s acute hospital. They worked with GP practices to identify people who would benefit from digital skills training, so they could order prescriptions and book health appointments online.

In Cornwall the Cornwall Rural Community Charity has built a free telephone service that advises people how to get online and helps them use electronic devices. They have also provided digital skills home visits and group IT sessions.

We are very proud of the services we are able to offer as a network, tailored to meet our specific county residents’ needs and take inspiration from our counterparts in other parts of England.

In 2021 we held a small focus group with representatives from rural communities in Berkshire to find out where the need we can help improve digital inclusion. The event identified three key barriers that people can face in benefitting from the online world in rural areas: access to affordable devices, access to a reliable and affordable connection and the skills and confidence to use online services.

Out of this, it is our ambition to hold some workshops in village halls in rural areas where we use loaned tablets/hardware to help people with things that some of us find easy but many don’t, such as online banking, shopping, communications and access to health apps. We would like to deliver this in partnership with other agencies and are making inroads with setting this up. If you are able to provide support with gifting hardware or providing skilled volunteers, or would like to share your ideas with us we would love to hear from you. Please contact Tim.Parry@ccberks.org.uk

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