Providing digital skills for those in greatest need

The Covid-19 pandemic has left us all in no doubt that digital technology is fundamental to our future. But it has highlighted the continuing digital divide in the UK, and made the case for action on digital inclusion even more urgent.

BT Skills for Tomorrow was launched with the aim of helping 10 million people make the most of life in the digital world. As part of the programme, BT partnered with Good Things Foundation to provide face-to-face digital skills training in communities, delivered through the Online Centres Network.

When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, centres needed to adapt to the unprecedented impact of social restrictions: people were unable to use physical learning spaces, and the community sector faced the challenge of reaching and helping those without access to the internet or the digital skills to use internet communication. Across the country, during the most challenging time in living memory, we saw a determination, creativity and resilience from our community partners that was humbling and inspiring.

Within Skills for Tomorrow, BT responded to the shock by adapting their work with Good Things Foundation. They provided expertise and support that helped us ensure the Online Centres Network could continue to deliver, providing digital skills for those in greatest need through a blend of face-to-face and remote support. The flexibility of BT’s partnership allowed Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network the freedom to adapt and innovate, at a time when this was essential both for beneficiaries and for the community sector.

BT also donated generously to DevicesDotNow, the emergency initiative mobilised by Good Things Foundation and FutureDotNow to distribute devices and data packages to people sheltering in their homes without access to the internet.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, 4,752 people have gained digital skills through support from BT Skills for Tomorrow centres, and we have been able to collect and share many inspiring stories that show the courage and ingenuity of the community champions supported by the partnership.

As lockdown hit, Samantha, a Digital Inclusion Worker at the Crossgates Good Neighbours scheme in Leeds, trained 40 people on Zoom and developed a virtual activity offer for members. Virtual IT lessons became the norm, with a variety of lessons being taught to members using Good Things Foundation’s Learn My Way platform, enabled by screen sharing. The funding and support provided through BT Skills for Tomorrow was key in enabling this critical work to happen.

Being Woman is a charity based in Northumberland providing educational programmes to young girls and women. Many of their service users faced crisis at the start of the pandemic, not only struggling to deal with the new social restrictions, but unable to access essential online services. BT Skills for Tomorrow played a vital role in keeping the charity’s doors open during these difficult months, allowing them to provide digital skills support that proved crucial in helping their community manage through the first stage of the pandemic. 

Our partnership with BT has also enabled some excellent collaboration to take root between BT and EE staff and members of the Online Centres Network, increasing the support available to those facing digital exclusion. For example, Age Concern Tyneside South worked with their local EE contact centre during the 2020 lockdowns, with 94 members of EE staff making calls to isolated people each week as part of a wellbeing service. This was a lifeline for the vulnerable people who relied on ACTS for support and companionship.

"The course has helped me to learn skills that are very essential to lead my life during Covid-19. Learning skills for home and work life online has helped me to survive during these tough times. I gained confidence and learning these new skills has changed my life."

Working together, BT and Good Things Foundation have continued to champion digital inclusion, at a time when fixing the digital divide has never been more important. Alongside this, BT have continued to make important interventions to drive forward digital skills: the Stand Out Skills campaign in January 2021 helped 468,204 jobseekers develop the skills needed to stand out in a competitive market.

The BT Skills for Tomorrow programme continues to evolve, and this year we’re pleased to be collaborating with BT to create a suite of accessible digital skills resources that enable more digitally excluded people to get online. The Covid-19 pandemic has raised the stakes again on digital inclusion: and as we look ahead and move forward, it’s vital we harness the power of partnerships with organisations like BT to create a truly digital recovery in which everyone can be included.

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Adam Micklethwaite

Director of Digital Social Inclusion

With responsibility for Good Things Foundation’s programmes in the UK, Adam builds ambitious and innovative partnerships with Government, charitable foundations and the private sector to address society’s biggest challenges using digital.