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Comments and opinions19 October 2023

Tackling the digital divide - how Clarion Futures is helping to shrink the gap

This Get Online Week, Kenne Amissah, Digital Support and Skills Manager, shines a spotlight on how we are working to fix the digital divide - which has been further widened by the cost of living crisis - ensuring everyone has access and the confidence to thrive in the digital era.
Grandad and grandchildren

“At Clarion we believe passionately that the internet is for all and that everyone should be adequately equipped, connected and confident using technology. ”

Kenne Amissah, Digital Support and Skills Manager

By Kenne Amissah, Digital Support and Skills Manager

In recent years, we have seen a sharp acceleration in our reliance on the digital world as more services move online, leaving those who cannot access or do not have the skills to use the internet at a stark disadvantage. This also includes those who may not be able to afford the cost of the internet or who do not own a digital device.

For people on the wrong side of the digital divide, not having the skills or easy access to the internet can have a significantly negative impact on their lives. It can mean they are at greater risk of loneliness and social isolation, and have reduced access to basic services, such as virtual GP appointments, banking, shopping, and the ability to find the best deals on utilities.

Furthermore, digitally excluded people have less access to job, training, and education opportunities, thereby increasing the social inequality gap.

Latest figures from the Clarion Index show that 17% of Clarion residents remain digitally excluded. Complicating matters further, even once we have supported people to get online, due to the soaring cost of living, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to stay online. Around one million people have disconnected their broadband due to affordability in the past year, with Universal Credit recipients six times more likely to be cut off.

How can Clarion help?

At Clarion we believe passionately that the internet is for all and that everyone should be adequately equipped, connected and confident using technology.

The Digital Support team offers skills training and access to devices and immediate connectivity for residents with low digital skills and confidence and those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. A total of 552 digital devices have been deployed to customers this year to enable them to get online, including 80 tablets and smartphones, 195 data SIM cards and 145 laptops, which are mostly used by customers seeking employment. Having access to the internet is vital, which we believe all our residents should be able to access.

The Digital Skills team have developed more than 20 free digital skills modules for residents, many of which equip residents with low digital confidence and skills to use Clarion's digital platform. From getting to grips with the basics to sharpening their skills, accessing services and support to using their Clarion online account, there is something for everyone.

Around 2,500 people have already been supported with our training, with one participant, who attended the My Clarion Housing session now registered with a Clarion online account, saying it was: “Easy to understand and follow. Very helpful and gave me peace of mind over payments and financial details. It is an easier way to log repairs and I look forward to using the site more often.”

We are delighted that this month we have introduced two new modules to our offer: ‘Reporting a repair online’ and ‘Using your smart meter’.

Community-based digital grant partners play a vital role in creating awareness about our offer to residents across the country. This year alone, we have made 14 grant awards to our partners, who continue to drive our ability to reach a broader range of residents. They contribute 77% of our digital volunteering hours, 38% of our digital skills learning hours supporting 723 people and have supported 36% of people to get online.

Strong relationships built by our Digital Support Officers with digital grant partners have enabled Clarion to extend our reach by working in partnership with trusted local intermediaries. By focussing on building a stronger local community based digital support presence via the establishment of digital hubs, working in partnership with Housing and Jobs and Training colleagues, we have supported 4,352 people to get online.

How do we support our grant partners?

As well as providing grants, we have developed a pilot Business Mentoring project and are delighted that supply chain partners have opted to offer business mentoring support to our digital grantees.

So far, nine sessions have been successfully delivered covering HR, bid writing, financial management, and marketing, with positive feedback from beneficiary organisations. Nine grantees have attended five sessions on Bid Writing skills delivered by Alana, Head of Bids at Equans. Alana provided a great presentation, shared templates and learning materials with our grantees, and covered topics, such as choosing the right opportunities, planning, writing and submitting bids and follow-up resources. We hope this support will help to sustain our grant funded community partners.

Get Online Week 2023

We are supporting this year’s #getonlineweek (16-22 October) by highlighting our Digital Device scheme, which allows eligible residents to borrow a digital device for free if they need it to support their individual journey. These include laptops with MS Office, Android tablets, and smartphones with built-in Wi-Fi.

We can even provide basic technical support to help get residents set up and help with meeting broadband costs if they are struggling, including providing free mobile data bundles or pre-paid data plans, enabling access to the internet, calls and texts.

If you know any residents who need digital support, please get in touch.