Leading the digital response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 world is a fast moving one and digital government is on the frontline of the pandemic response.

As well as working to maintain vital council services, our digital team have launched a number of digital solutions to ensure continued access to services, provide welfare support and digitally upskill residents to help bridge the digital divide.

Shifting to Digital First

Shifts in how people work and what people are working on have enabled us to respond rapidly and flexibly to meet urgent needs.

Among these shifts in work has been an adoption of digital technologies, mindsets and approaches. This includes virtual tech to support meetings and collaboration, the use of data for informed decision-making, deployment of staff to priority services, and the use of online information and applications to ensure digital access to critical council services.

Almost overnight, we faced the challenge of shifting to remote working. This was essential to maintaining basic council services, so we ensured laptops and other digital devices and tools were available to those that needed them most.

Microsoft Teams, a virtual meeting tool, has been instrumental in facilitating remote working, allowing us to co-ordinate work and exchange resources, which has led to efficiencies in the way teams operate.

Access to essential services

Key to our handling of the pandemic has been to ensure residents and business have easy access to clear, concise and up-to-date information. As the weeks have passed since lockdown and more information has emerged, we have :

  • Created a dedicated COVID-19 section of the site, which received 44,000 visits in the first 7 weeks of lockdown, with the Council site as a whole receiving a staggering 3.6M page views
  • Maintained and improved web accessibility and usability for all of our residents, regardless of digital skills and needs. As the top authority site in a UK for accessibility, we've ensured residents using assistive tech, such as screen readers and other tools, are able to easily navigate and understand our online information
  • Reacted quickly to support our vulnerable residents by creating the self-isolation, volunteer and business rates online forms. In particular, our self-isolation form has provided an invaluable service by enabling community groups and neighbours to refer vulnerable adults for support, where they may not have been able to do so themselves.

Tackling digital exclusion in Wigan

Using online services is no longer a choice but a necessity. It's now more important than ever to bridge the digital divide and ensure residents and businesses have the confidence and the tools to engage with online resources.

We work closely with Wigan Borough’s community to support residents to develop essential digital skills. This includes helping people get online to keep in touch with family and friends, shop, bank and access council services.

TechMates - Digital mentor service

Created in response to COVID-19, TechMates has prevented the isolation of our most vulnerable residents, those who are unable to leave their homes.

Run by volunteers and council staff, it works by providing one-to-one basic digital support over the telephone. We help residents use different digital devices so they can build their digital confidence.

One of our many TechMates success stories is about Colin, who has been accessing support from the service since July.

Hear what Colin had to say about his experience…

TechMates - Partnership working and volunteers

Partnership working and volunteers have been essential to the success of TechMates.

We’ve been astonished by the number of Wigan residents wanting to help their community by training to become a TechMate. Since June, we’ve recruited 100 TechMates who have provided an incredible 500 hours of support.

Grassroots organisations such as Wigan Borough’s Age UK, Pensioners Link, Wigan and Leigh Carers Centre and our neighbourhood teams across the borough have been instrumental in identifying residents who need our support.

Pensioners Link have led the way by supporting their cohort of volunteers to become TechMates. Paul Roughley, Manager at Pensioners Link in Leigh, says...

I enjoy hearing the joy in their voices, the initial scepticism at first, from the 'I'll never learn this' to the ‘wow, this is really great'. The moment they get it and think, 'this is actually very useful and I like what I'm doing.' - watch the full interview with Paul.

Going forward, we’re expanding our digital support offer by including local college students and offering coding support. We also plan to train all members of staff to be TechMates, so they can support both residents and family, friends and neighbours.

Wigan Digital Communities Partnership

We recently launched our Digital Communities Partnership, a group of local community organisations offering a variety of courses and learning opportunities for all age ranges across Wigan borough.

Wigan is extremely lucky to have some great community organisations who recognise the importance of breaking down digital barriers for our residents and digitally upskilling.

We’re continuing to build on our relationships with local community groups and would like everyone to experience the power of digital to improve the potential and growth of the borough and transform the way we deliver services.

Donating devices

The sudden closure of our libraries and community centres during the first national lockdown had the potential to hit communities hard. These are thriving hubs of digital engagement, where residents seek digital support and gain access to devices and free Wi-Fi.

With many vulnerable residents shielding and unable to access essential services, we needed to act quickly and ensure they had the digital support they needed.

  • Between April and July of this year, we delivered 1000 devices to children who could not attend school in the borough through the Department of Education digital device scheme
  • We provided 100 tablet devices to individuals isolating in hospital to ensure they could connect with friends and family
  • We provided 100 tablets to care homes across the borough to support family connections and also virtual health clinics
  • We’re in the process of sourcing devices and connectivity to form a community-led roll out of a tablet loaning scheme across the borough.

Bridging the digital divide

We know digital exclusion is social exclusion. Without question, if we’re to meet societal challenges with digital solutions, local authorities, businesses and community groups need to work together and focus on providing access to devices, connectivity, and digital skills for those in greatest need.

Thankfully, the GMCA has developed a fantastic digital investment strategy through its Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change (external link) - a bold ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally-enabled city region. Linked to this agenda has been Wigan’s participation in regular GM Digital Inclusion Locality Leads meetings. These meetings have brought together local authority officers, businesses, community partners, the Good Things Foundation and experts from the education sector.

This has given us a lifeline to essential funding, enabling us to invest in digital projects designed to digitally support our most vulnerable residents.

No person should be left behind because they lack the means or resources to connect digitally.

Wigan Music Service - working differently

Watch the video below to find out how Wigan Music Service has adapted to the pandemic by using Microsoft Teams to meet, collaborate and continue their work.

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