Inevitably the current health crisis has dramatically increased the importance of us all being digitally connected. How we work, learn, play and connect with friends, family and our communities, relies on us being digitally included. 2020 will forever be the year that home working and learning took centre stage alongside family life and weekly Zoom quizzes.

However, as we move into 2021, not everyone has been able to apply their digital skills in overcoming such seismic societal change. According to the Good Things Foundation 11.3 million people in the UK lack the basic digital skills to thrive. Covid-19 has only amplified this number with more people now at risk of reduced access to employment and education, falling into poverty, experiencing loneliness and social isolation.

During the pandemic we took steps to support those affected by digital poverty and exclusion. Below we share our top tips from using a community-based approach:

  • Age is just a number when it comes to digital skills

Covid-19 has exacerbated the need for people of all ages to be digitally connected. In the words of Henry Ford:

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

In the current crisis, no matter what your age, being digitally included is fundamental to not being left behind. Despite this, age is frequently used as a measure of someone’s digital ability.

Branding older people digital immigrants and young people digital natives does little to challenge this stereotype. Although many of our older participants are digitally excluded, a number self-define as silver surfers and ‘Insta-grans’. Likewise, being young and social media savvy does not always equate to having the ability to complete schoolwork over Microsoft Teams.

TIP: Create a welcoming environment, where participants of all ages are comfortable to ask for help, and you will more readily support those most affected by digital exclusion.

  • It’s about support; not just tech

During the pandemic government initiatives to provide technology have been welcomed and undoubtedly increase the chances of someone possessing digital skills; but it is only part of the solution.

No one is born with ready formed digital skills and each participant will require a different level of support.  Mary, an attendee of our intergenerational projects, has found meeting with Citadel volunteer Victoria essential to learning how to use her laptop:

‘If Victoria wasn’t there it would be pointless, it would just sit on my table.  You need someone to show you.’

Meeting, when safe to do so, has been transformative for Mary, and without Victoria’s invaluable support she would not be able to engage in our online activities. How can we as practitioners during current restrictions continue to creatively support those most in need remotely?

TIP: Don’t underestimate the additional time and resources giving tech support may take.

  • High quality internet access is essential 

Providing individuals with tech can be life changing in challenging digital exclusion across communities. Laptops and iPads can be unbelievable tools in supporting people with their educational and social needs. But how often do you use a device that is not connected to the internet?

In today’s hyper connected world, devices without high quality internet access are inadequate for all but the most basic of tasks.

TIP: Whether lacking adequate internet access due to scarcity of money, availability of fast broadband or rural living, providing your participants with high quality internet access is fundamental to ensuring more people are digitally included.

  • Moving forward this year 

Pre-pandemic, possessing digital skills in our fast-changing society was incredibly important.
Many of the most vulnerable in our society are already facing devastating inequality – let’s not make digital exclusion yet another barrier. In 2021, now more than ever, it is vital we harness the power of technology to bring people closer together.

Ryan McKay & Willy Barr
The Citadel Youth Centre



Institute for Community Studies Posted on: 19 January 2021


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