Connecting Scotland – Phase Two

18th August 2020

Today’s announcement that we are starting Phase Two of Connecting Scotland is brilliant news. We’re delighted to be part of the most ambitious collaborative project to address digital inequality Scotland has seen to date, because we know and understand the impact of digital exclusion.

Digital skills and connectivity are not just a ‘nice to have’: they offer a pathway to shelter, food, managing our health and wellbeing, education, and employment, as well as ‘softer’ things such as staying in touch with family and friends, pursuing hobbies and interests, finding music and films that we enjoy.

The rollercoaster of Covid 19 helped us all to really understand the negative effects of being offline. For those offline, finding safe, up to date information of how to stay healthy as coronavirus took hold wasn’t possible- or certainly wasn’t as easy. There’s no way to shop online in lockdown. No close friends at the other end of WhatsApp. No online banking. No working from home.

And so it’s truly vital work that this project is undertaking, and rooted in the belief that the internet has to be for everyone otherwise we continue to replicate wider social inequalities. In Phase One, we’ve trained and supported hundreds of incredible people from third sector organisations to act as digital champions, sharing their skills to make sure that once people receive devices, they’re able to make the most of the internet. In Phase One, the people we’ve reached have been those in shielding, and at particular risk of social isolation. We’ve heard the wonderful stories of how connectivity has made a real difference – someone seeing a much missed family member on their darkest day; someone reaching out for mental health support online; someone whose day was transformed by joining in a live cook-along; someone else using Facebook to access support from other carers. There are so many stories. This stuff does change lives.

In Phase Two, we’re working hard to reach families without digital connectivity (including parents-to-be), and care experienced young people. Covid 19 again flagged up the impact of digital inequality on access to education during lockdown, and how young people who couldn’t get online were immediately disadvantaged not just in their inability to connect with teachers and classmates, to pursue their learning, but also missed out on vital networks of peer and community support to help them navigate the very real challenges lockdown brought. Those parents without stable connectivity also lost access to their support networks. And many care experienced young people, a group which has long faced digital inequality, were marginalised by their lack of access, making their particular experiences all the more challenging. This phase will also reach out to parents-to-be to ensure that emerging families have access to health information to support their pregnancy, birth and journey into early years.

Connecting Scotland is absolutely dependent on all of us working collaboratively, pulling together across the public and third sectors, sharing our digital skills and experience to ensure that the incredible benefits and opportunities that the internet can provide are open to us all, and not just for those who can afford it.