31 Jul

£300k LLEP inclusion grants help hundreds build digital skills

Highfield computer

Hundreds of people have been helped to improve their IT skills as part of LLEP-funded support for digital inclusion.

The LLEP Digital Skills Partnership approved grants worth £300,000 to seven local projects in early 2022. Funding came from the Growing Places Fund.

The investment has since supported a range of innovative projects, including recycling of devices, skills support, and digital access training. 

Among the recipients was adult education charity WEA, which is running a community-based training programme to build digital skills to enhance employment prospects among disadvantaged low-income workers.

Its project runs through to December and has so far supported the career progression of 95 learners through basic digital skills classes, with many going on to further IT studies and working towards qualifications.

Elsewhere, Reaching People, which brings together frontline voluntary and community organisations in Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland, established a Leicester-based community business.

This promotes better use of pre-owned IT equipment through a more sustainable circular economy, with its Refurb, Reuse, Include project acquiring and formatting dozens of pieces of obsolete IT equipment from local businesses.

The devices are then gifted to local charitable groups for use by people who would otherwise be digitally excluded.

Meanwhile, people were helped with basic digital skills through digital hubs managed by Acorn Training in Coalville and Loughborough. The project started with basic digital skills, such as using email and accessing online banking, before moving on to employment searching or further learning.

A fourth project has seen 180 learners so far access services at the new Highfields Digital Hub (pictured above).

It was established by Highfields Community Association in April 2022 to provide free digital access, training, and access to computer equipment.

The centre also offers English classes, CV and job search help, support for young people with online homework and employability, and sessions for older people wanting to use mobile phones, social media, and basic digital tools. 

In 2022, the centre used Kickstart to employ four young people. All four secured jobs after using the facilities for training courses and job search.

The other three digital inclusion projects provided:

  • Free community wifi and printer access at Christ Church Community Hub in Thurnby Lodge, with planned sessions with Age UK to help vulnerable people access online council services
  • Internet access at Breward’s Hub, with plans for Homefield College students with learning disabilities use its Mountsorrel coffee shop to provide access to the internet, devices and IT support for the elderly, jobseekers and disadvantaged.
  • Eighty devices loaned through Leicester Connected, a Leicester City Council scheme which operated through libraries to help individuals with digital access, before being withdrawn recently.

Phoebe Dawson, LLEP Chief Executive, said:

“Supporting local people to be more digitally confident is incredibly important. 

“Without access to digital technology it can be extremely challenging for individuals to  access key services, grow skills, draft a CV and apply for jobs.

“With our investment in these local projects, creating new digital hubs, personalised training, and increasing access to equipment, the LLEP is working to create a region which is more inclusive, productive, and innovative.”

Digital poverty is the term used to describe challenges faced by people when trying to access online services, such as applying for a job, making an appointment, doing homework or keeping in touch with family and friends. This may be due to a lack of devices, connectivity, or basic skills. 

The shift to online during the Pandemic demonstrated the importance in day-to-day life of being able to use a smartphone or computer to access work and services.