A digitally enabled borough opens a world of opportunity

A digitally enabled borough opens a world of opportunity

Techmates tea party

TechMates tea party at Shevington Methodist Church

By Councillor Nazia Rehman

As Wigan Council’s cabinet member for resources, finance and transformation, I’m proud to see the work which has been going on to tackle digital exclusion and allow everyone to get online if they wish.

Building a digitally enabled borough has always been important to us at Wigan Council but our digital strategy, published in 2021, really refocused our efforts and saw us integrate this ambition to be at the heart of everything we do.

Very few areas of our lives have been untouched by the pandemic but for us, the lockdowns really highlighted the important role of technology in reducing social isolation.

For those who couldn’t or didn’t know how to access the internet, it was hard to remain connected with communities and loved ones whether that be joining video calls with family and friends, or tuning into church services.

In response to this, we launched our TechMates programme, which matched a digital-savvy volunteer with someone who required a little more support, to learn basic digital skills.

From finding out how to listen to the radio online, book a GP appointment or join a video call, our TechMate volunteers have been able opened up the world of digital to residents who might not have been able to access this previously.

The programme has been a huge success and since restrictions eased we have been pleased to bring these lessons into the real life sphere with the introduction of our ‘TechMates tea parties’ at libraries across the borough.

These are drop-in sessions for residents to come along to, have a cup of tea and ask any digital questions they might have in a friendly, accessible and supportive way.

Excitingly, in addition to this, we recently launched our new tablet lending library – a new ground-breaking initiative with the potential to help a lot of people.

With 100 tablets available to lease to those facing digital exclusion, individuals from across the borough can be referred by partner organisations to receive the tablet, and all related connectivity costs, free for one year.

While we are at the beginning of our journey with the tablet lending library it is fair to say that the impact of this could be enormous.

From reducing social isolation, allowing people to access online banking and money management to allowing people to apply for jobs they may not otherwise have been able to access, I’m really excited to see the difference this service will have on our borough’s residents.

A few weeks ago, it was a brilliant opportunity to visit the TechMates tea party at Shevington Methodist Church.

It was brilliant to hear the joy of attendees, who had made friends and learnt new skills.

Posted on Tuesday 22nd March 2022

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