People over 50 in two constituencies in South Birmingham are getting help to get online to improve their health and wellbeing, both economically and socially, thanks to a new project funded by Birmingham City Council, in partnership with the Foundation and three local charities.

A partnership of three lead organisations tackling heath and other inequalities in Birmingham’s Edgbaston and Northfield constituencies has achieved a boost to their digital literacy plans with the recent addition to their project of Pauline Roche as Digital Literacy Coordinator.

The two Neighbourhood Network Schemes in South Birmingham, Northfield Community Partnership, Age UK Birmingham, and Gateway Family Services identified, in both Edgbaston and Northfield, the lack of digital literacy support. They have established a partnership project to ensure that older people across both constituencies have access to a digital lending library which will provide them with access to a digital device which will part-address digital exclusion through providing a laptop, training, and ongoing support. The bank of laptops in the library are data enabled and will come with training resources.

There is a pressing need to ensure that older people increase their digital literacy, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 2.7 million people in the West Midlands are still unable to access the internet. Nationally, according to Ofcom, older people are less likely to have home internet access (18% of over 64s do not have access) as well as those in lower socio-economic households. Some economic factors do not allow for ownership of devices and data.

Pauline’s commitment, experience, and expertise in increasing digital literacy, especially for people connected with smaller charities is well-known, both in the West Midlands region and nationally. She has been called “one of the charity sector’s best known and most interesting commentators on digital” and has been organising, training, writing and broadcasting on digital inclusion since 2017.

The overall aim of this project is to build greater resilience to digital illiteracy in the two constituencies. The learning from the project can be used to inform the wider work of the ten Neighbourhood Network Schemes across Birmingham and it will be made available widely to digital projects in Birmingham.

Funded through Birmingham City Council and administered by the Foundation through its Edgbaston and Northfield Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS) Fund, the project will ensure that people aged over 50, and community assets across both constituencies, will have access to increased digital literacy opportunities through a range of mechanisms and specifically a digital lending library.

Rebecca Debenham, CEO of Northfield Community Partnership, said:

“We are delighted to have Pauline on board, she brings many years of experience of working with communities to address digital poverty. This project will go a long way to address the digital divide in South Birmingham.”

Sukie Binning, Head of Operations at Age UK Birmingham, said:

“The pandemic has shown how important it is that we help older people become more digitally confident. This is an exciting project that provides practical help to people with what they want to learn to do, from video calls to paying their bills online.”

Katherine Hewitt, Chief Executive of Gateway Family Services CIC, said:

“This is an exciting opportunity for our organisations. We have already forged good working relationships being the three NNS leads in the South of the city. This project will enable us to use the knowledge we each have of the locality and as part of this the groups and activities that take place. I’m confident this will help us find the people who need these skills the most.”

Pauline Roche, Digital Literacy Coordinator at Northfield Community Partnership, said:

“I am delighted to be continuing with this important project in South Birmingham, and am currently recruiting a couple of project workers to support citizens to engage in exciting digital inclusion opportunities across Northfield and Edgbaston constituencies. ”

Tina Costello, CEO at the Foundation, said:

“The Foundation is grateful to continue to build these important partnerships within South Birmingham, ensuring that the aging community stay in touch with the ever-evolving digital technologies, reducing isolation and improving wellbeing.”

If you would like to know more, or get involved with the project, contact Pauline via email at pauline@northfieldcommunity.org

Photo – Left to right: 
Shaju Bibi, Northfield & Edgbaston Consultancy; Shamiela Ahmed, Heart of England Community Foundation; Matthew Bick, Birmingham City Council; Rosie Barrett, Neighbourhood Network Schemes and Prevention & Communities at BVSC; Lois Maguire, Northfield Community Partnership; Katherine Hewitt, Gateway Family Services.  

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