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Funding boost helps more people get online

Published on Thursday, August 4, 2022

An image showing a laptop and tablet

A PROJECT that helps people to get online is being rolled out across Leicester thanks to a boost in funding.

The Leicester Connected initiative - which is run by Leicester City Council – has been awarded a £44,000 grant to tackle digital poverty by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP).

It means that eligible residents from across the city will be referred to a scheme where they can benefit from a free loan of a laptop or a tablet, along with free digital skills training and support to use their device.

Leicester Connected began as a pilot project last year, and has so far loaned out 73 digital devices to people via Belgrave, Highfields and St Barnabas libraries and through the Adult Education College. Its aim is to help people improve their digital skills, especially those who are vulnerable, unemployed and/or in temporary housing.

Now 160 digital devices will be available for loan to people who are referred to the scheme. Eligible residents can collect the devices from one of the city’s 16 libraries, and then return them at the end of the loan. The scheme will also be supported by the council’s adult education service.

Loans usually last for around three months, or for the duration of an adult education course, if the borrower is enrolled on a course with the city council’s adult education service. Equipment can also be delivered to people who are housebound.

Cllr Danny Myers, assistant city mayor for jobs and skills, said: “We know the pandemic dramatically changed how people access services and that around one third of our households in the city struggle with digital skills and access. This could be because people lack the confidence or skills to use technology, do not have sufficient connectivity or do not have access to suitable devices. It means they can miss out on opportunities to socialise, learn, shop and work online.

“As the cost of living crisis hits, it’s even more important that we help people to get online, as a way of accessing helpful services and support.

“Access to the internet is an essential skill and an important part of everyday life these days, but we know that many of our students at the Adult Education College have struggled to participate online if they don’t have a device. Sometimes they may be using a mobile phone or sharing a device with other family members, which is not ideal. That’s why it’s great news that we can now extend this scheme and support more people to develop their digital skills.”

The extra funding from the LLEP will mean Leicester Connected can now run until March 2023.

Verity Hancock, Further Education Representative on the LLEP Board and Principal and CEO of Leicester College, said: "Thousands of people are joining our educational institutions and training organisations every year. 

"We provide people with skills they need to succeed but we must also consider how they gain access to devices needed for education and work.

"Inclusivity is a core aim of the LLEP's economic growth strategy and investment in projects such as Leicester Connected helps residents access the opportunities, skills and career progression needed to address economic disadvantage."

Eligible residents who are referred to the scheme because they are not online can apply to borrow a device. Referrals can come from a range of agencies supporting Leicester residents who may have limited access to IT devices, including the council’s customer services, the Supporting Tenants and Residents (STAR) service and Leicester Libraries, as well as from community and charitable organisations in the city.  Applicants must be over 18 and not have access to their own digital device, with priority given to those most in need.

Everyone borrowing a device receives one-to-one support to make sure they can use it, with telephone or email support and access to free basic digital skills training through the adult education service. 

Libraries have been chosen as the ideal access point for the scheme, as they are often the first port of call for city residents who do not have access to computers and the internet at home.  As well as free access to computers and wifi, libraries also offer wifi printing facilities for a small charge, and beginners’ courses to help customers feel confident to get online.

To find out more about the scheme, visit www.leicester.gov.uk/libraries and click on the  ‘computers, internet and wifi’ button.