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Investment bridges the digital divide

31 October 2013

Today the Big Lottery Fund is launching the Basic Online Skills programme which will provide £15 million to improve the nation’s online skills. In this guest blog, Martha Lane Fox, Chair of Go ON UK, discusses the impact this investment will have upon people and organisations across the country.

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox

Imagine your life without the web. Staggeringly, 1 in 5 UK adults, 11 million, still don’t have the Basic Online Skills to enjoy the internet’s huge and varied benefits.

They can’t send and receive email, use a search engine, browse, or complete forms online. Worryingly, a large chunk are unable to use it safely and securely. Thousands of businesses and charities are also missing out. Go ON UK, the charity I chair, is on a mission to change this.

The challenge

The UK has built strong digital foundations. The UK’s digital economy accounts for over 8% of GDP – more than any other G20 country. But as the benefits accrue for those who are online, people without Basic Online Skills will only be left further behind.

As a Go ON UK Founder partner, the Big Lottery Fund is using its fantastic reach, expertise and networks to boost Basic Online Skills across UK communities. That’s why we’re delighted that its £15 million Basic Online Skills programme is now open for applications.  Developed with us, it’s a vital investment with extraordinary potential to boost the skills that people and organisations across the UK need to take full advantage of online support and services.

Who can apply?

Can you support Go ON UK’s ambitious vision to make the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation? If you’re a national organisation that can deliver innovative and engaging ways to encourage people to improve Basic Online Skills, I urge you to apply and explain how you could use between £5 million and £15 million to deliver UK wide face-to-face training and support.  The Big Lottery Fund will shortly share opportunities for smaller, local organisations to work with the lead applicant to ensure we’re really reaching those most in need of support.

For more information on the funding and application process and to find out if you’re eligible please visit the Basic Online Skills programme page.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 October 2013 3:23 pm

    Reblogged this on The Big Lottery Fund Scotland Blog.

  2. Carole Bowe permalink
    4 November 2013 1:43 pm

    Lets hope libraries are at the centre of this funding

    • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
      4 November 2013 5:30 pm

      Thanks for reading the blog and for taking the time to comment. Where support will be delivered from will be an issue for the national applicants that are developing proposals for this funding. We encourage individual libraries (or similar local facilities) to get involved from March 2014 when local organisations will be able to partner up with the lead applicants as their final applications are developed.

    • curious212000 permalink
      8 November 2013 7:09 am

      Yes Free Public Libraries are very important and all closures stopped as they educate people from all walks of life in the Digital World.


  3. 6 November 2013 8:31 am

    Looks like small community initiatives are excluded (when you read the criteria) so the money will end up where all the rest has gone, to the online centres, where they drag people in off the streets to teach them stuff they don’t want to know and will never use. Or into fancy online sites where people who don’t have a connection can’t access. Until people everywhere have a fit for purpose connection that just works they won’t go online. We didn’t have to throw money at people to buy TVs or radios, or phones. We wouldn’t have to throw money at this if the infrastructure was there to deliver ubiquitous connectivity. Its another example of the cart before the horse. And the cart being owned by organisations who don’t do anything with it but produce lots of glossy publicity and case studies to justify their existence.

    • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
      6 November 2013 5:24 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for for taking the time to read the blog and for leaving a comment. Small community initiatives are absolutely going to be part of this programme, it’s simply the case that we are starting with the national leads. When we move to the second stage of our application process in March 2014 we will publish a list of potential lead applicants and smaller local groups will be able to contact them and ‘apply’ to become a local partner. We expect such partners will be particularly important in rural communities. We’re structuring the funding like this to ensure that projects are joined up across the UK and share learning effectively.

      You’re also spot on that we need a new approach to finding and engaging beneficiaries. We’ll be looking for innovative approaches to this problem, and we expect that many will involve using local organisations that have already developed the trust of key beneficiary groups. Further, you’re right that people will be uninterested in learning unless they have the opportunity to learn what they want to, that’s why we’re steering applicants away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to ones that really takes into account individual needs.

      We don’t really want to see applications for new portals, hubs or platforms. But you’re right that infrastructure is a big barrier, and while we don’t have the level of funding needed to significantly impact on connectively, there are many low cost project examples that we could consider as part of wider projects improving peoples’ online skills. For example delivering the internet wirelessly to a high number of social housing units in flats. But the main focus of our funding is on skills, because many people even with the right infrastructure still wouldn’t be able to do the things they want to online.

      • chrisconder permalink
        6 November 2013 6:35 pm

        Can’t agree with you. The funding will go to the big groups, it will not have much impact until we have connectivity everywhere. There may be a small part dolled out to smaller groups by the big ones, but the smaller groups will be expected to work as volunteers whereas the bigger groups have paid staff. been there, seen that, got the tshirt.

        Also with the right infrastructure people will soon find out how to do things. How many lessons did you need to learn how to turn a tv on? If people want to learn they soon will do. The tablet generation is here, and they don’t need lessons and courses, its so intuitive it hurts. The old fashioned way is to plonk people in front of a screen and bombard them with microsoft stuff, to tick boxes that they have ‘learnt’ something. You can’t get away from that if you use the big orgs. The tick boxes rule.

        I do think that wifi has a role to play in social housing, hospitals, care homes and schools, and that is one area you can actively help in.

      • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
        7 November 2013 1:58 pm

        Hi Chris
        Thanks again for your comments. You make a good point about ensuring that small groups are not taken advantage of by larger ones, as a supporter of organisations of all sizes within the VCS this is a result we don’t want to see. We’ve told lead applicants to set aside a budget for local organisations and as we’re assessing their applications we’ll be on the lookout for the problem you highlight. We’re definitely not going to be simply paying the core costs of large organisations, we’re looking for something different.

        Where we really must disagree with you is that the evidence does not show that the online world is ‘intuitive’. If that were the case why will so many of us have stories about supporting their parents or grandparents to set up and use email accounts. There are also people that struggle with the more complex features of modern TVs. Yes its easy once you know, but so many people are being left behind. The Office of National Statistics regularly report on internet use and currently indicates that around 7.1 million adults have never used the internet. Carnegie UK Trust recently looked into the reasons why people are offline in Glasgow and yes you’re right that is for a variety of reasons including, connectivity and cost – challenges for ISPs and Government, but it’s also about ensuring people know what the internet can offer, and have the skills and confidence to take part and that’s the role our limited Lottery funding can play.

        Simply providing formal lessons isn’t the approach we’re looking for here. The answer must be multifaceted. Many of us already support people to get online, but what about the people that don’t have these sorts of support networks to draw on, who do they go to? Applicants will need to develop a way that they can effectively reach out and find these people (often through local organisations) and find out what they want to use the internet for and help them with that rather than delivering regimented lessons. Often this will need to take place in the home so volunteers might play an important role but is about engaging local people and making them aware of the problem not just leaving it for existing local groups.

      • chrisconder permalink
        7 November 2013 3:41 pm

        Wonderful response, and I do hope you can stick to it. I still don’t like the way the funding goes to the orgs and the ‘volunteers’ do all the work. Having won a ‘Year of the volunteer’ medal in 2005 I do know what I am talking about, I have worked as a volunteer for 20 years now. (since 1992)
        I applied to join another org, to be a digital volunteer, it turns out I had to pay to be ‘trained’. We applied to be an ‘online centre’ but in order to be one we had to commit to working 3 days a week (no outreach) and make all the people take a silly course to tick their boxes. In short, I do hope you learn from the mistakes of the past and don’t get taken for a ride by the fund swilling top heavy organisations and remember the grassroots.
        The office of national statistics obviously don’t put two and two together. If 10 million people have an ‘unfit for purpose’ or no connection, that only leaves a few refuseniks? And again, why should we coerce and bully folk to become digital? If digital was any good they wouldn’t need coercing. They would just Do IT. The fact remains it is so difficult at present due to poor connectivity and bad information.

  4. curious212000 permalink
    8 November 2013 6:56 am

    Libraries are the Media capitals in the Digital World of most towns and funding sustained.

    Funding should be increased so that all people can educate themselves for now and the future.

    David Gosling.

  5. curious212000 permalink
    8 November 2013 11:47 am

    final third first (@finalthirdfirst) I understand, I live in Somerset and the Somerset County Council broke the Law in trying to close some of them, rescinded after review and you have to fight hard to keep them open.

    • 8 November 2013 12:00 pm

      We fought long and hard to keep our libraries, but it didn’t work. They are now standing empty, and villagers run book stalls and swap paperbacks. The libraries are sadly missed. But times change, and theoretically we can download books, except that we can’t because our connections are not good enough for even that simple task.

  6. 11 November 2013 3:52 pm

    Please send myself further details of your problems accessing the internet especially with libraries. Thank-you.

    • chrisconder permalink
      11 November 2013 6:12 pm

      hi Curious, our problem is that we have no libraries. We are in a rural area and they have closed them all. We also have very limited internet, even dial up doesn’t work in some of our patch cos the line lengths are too long. Satellite is too expensive if you have children in the house, and there is no mobile signal. Let alone 3g.

  7. 13 November 2013 12:07 pm

    Hello Chris,
    You must live in a remote part of the U.K. I work in very remote areas of the World including the Outback in Australia and where their is a will their is a way.
    I understand your financial problems but it is the Goal of the U.K. Government to get www access at a reasonable cost to everyone, claim for your rights including your European rights.
    Good Luck.

    David Gosling.

    • 19 November 2013 5:37 pm

      Hi David, I agree where there is a will there is a way, and we are building our own fibre network see – the community are doing it with no help or support from any government groups, or things like the big lottery etc. Everyone in the UK thinks BT is going to deliver access to everyone and it will be 2017 before they realise they have been taken for a ride, and 2020 before they can start again to build the infrastructure needed. In the meantime its just a joke seeing funding being wasted trying to get people online without decent connections.

  8. 21 November 2013 6:36 am

    Hello Chris,

    Very well done.

    The U.K. Government are mainly corrupt Poloticians and Hypocritics.

    Promise the World and no delivery.

    As Margaret Thatcher said and I quote, Politicians are hopeless at spending Constituants money.


  9. David Mitchell (North Ayrshire Council Adult Education permalink
    18 February 2014 7:19 pm

    A welcome initiative. We would look forward to linking with the inititiative locally. We are prioritising older learners in terms of getting them digitally included. Our approach is to utilise iPads and tablets as we think this is the easiest way for older learners to access the Internet and digital services. Unfortunately we have just had our budgets slashed by 30% in terms of delivery at a time when more and more services are becoming online only. Thus increasing the imperative for people to become digitally active. I hope the Big lottery doesn’t make the same mistake with this initiatvie as it did with The People’s network. It is imperative that the social practice model is used rather than the functional skills approach. It is my contention that digital literacy only really works when the aspirations and interests of the learners are central to the development of the curriculum.

    • chrisconder permalink
      25 February 2014 8:34 pm

      Waste of time and money. People won’t become digital until connectivity is good enough, and for millions it simply isn’t. ISPs are not honest about their service and cut price deals end up being worthless as data caps kick in if anyone dare stream a video. We need transparency and honesty, and we need to get the infrastructure right. Then we can help those who need it, but no amount of money or free ipads will bridge the growing digital divide as funding is going to cabinets to make those who have connections go a bit faster instead of a serious long needed upgrade to proper fibre. Patching up the copper is the worst mistake made ever..

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