Digital inclusion project takes flight across County Durham

Thursday, 25th May 2017

A project aimed at helping residents of County Durham to access the internet and become more digitally included has been expanded thanks to a new community grant.

Online Owls, which aims to improve residents’ ability to use computers and access services online, has been expanded into County Durham to complement the service which has already been successfully operated by Karbon Homes in Chester-le-Street since 2014.

Citizens Advice County Durham has been awarded a £15,000 grant by Karbon to take the Online Owls digital engagement programme into local communities where Karbon operates.

The project teaches adults and young people basic IT skills to help them explore the benefits that using the internet can bring. Whether they are searching and applying for jobs, shopping online for products and groceries, renewing their car and home insurance or shopping around for the best utilities deals, this project will help them become more internet savvy.

John Martindale, 83 of The Elms in Chester-le-Street is attending the Online Owls session to learn how to use his iPad and access the internet. He said: “I find these sessions really helpful and it gives me the confidence to access information from my device. I have also learnt how to use FaceTime so I can regularly keep in touch with my son who lives in Scotland.”

Citizens Advice County Durham helps over 17,000 residents with debt and financial inclusion issues and in 2015/16, helped residents to generate additional income of over £31 million.

Neil Bradbury, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice County Durham, said: “According to the UK Digital Exclusion ‘heatmap’, the highest level of digital exclusion as a whole was in our county. 16% of adults have never been online, 27% lacked basic IT skills and 64% had not used basic digital skills in the past year.

“This grant enables us to expand the service into new areas targeting a wider range of residents including 4,500 Karbon Homes’ properties in Durham and Chester-le-Street and helps to address the large digital divide between owner occupiers and social housing tenants across the county.

“The lack of ability to utilise and engage digitally leads to higher utility bills, problems with banking and benefits, a lack of knowledge about community events and lower employment and health outcomes.”

A targeted campaign will be launched to improve residents’ ability to become digitally included, which will maximise their opportunities to gain access to employment, financial products, state benefits, savings and social media.

The project will continue its strong links with New College Durham, which involves students working with residents to access the internet.

Neil said: “Our aim is to build on the successful Online Owls programme and add links with employability projects and our team of dedicated specialist workers in debt management to ensure clients with complicated issues can get the right help fast.”

Paul Hadden, Community Involvement Officer at Karbon Homes, said: “Most jobs these days require at least very basic IT skills and this project will help residents to learn how to use a computer and get online.

“Learning new IT skills will not only benefit those actively looking for jobs in an already competitive market but also gives them the ability to pay their rent online, maximise their household income and improve awareness of help and advice to sustain their tenancy.

“We hope that by enabling our communities to engage digitally, it will reduce social exclusion as more residents become actively engaged with the wider community through social media.”

For more information, please contact Online Owls on 0191 385 1436 or visit www.onlineowls.co.uk