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Community Initiative Aims To Reduce The Digital Divide

Shopping online, learning online, working online. It’s the new norm, one we became well-accustomed to during the lockdown last year.

But what do those without digital devices do? How do they communicate and access information in a world that is out of reach due to cost?

There is a digital divide in the Western Bay of Plenty, one which SociaLink is hoping to reduce with a new initiative that will see Chrome Books distributed and internet connections installed for families and whānau most at need.

The project will soon be rolled out across the region, connecting with 50 families.

The devices will be distributed through social service providers who are best positioned to identify families and whānau most at need in their respective communities.

Each device will include an information pack of free digital training that is available locally, and key information about internet safety and security.

The collaborative initiative involves a local business and community groups, with SociaLink overseeing the project.

Trustpower has donated 50 free 12-month internet connections to address the barrier many whānau face in being able to afford internet access.

Kanorau Digital will provide Chromebook tutoring, travelling to whānau to ensure no barriers to participation.

Volunteering Bay of Plenty has also sourced volunteers to provide basic IT support to participating families.

As the umbrella organisation supporting the social and community sector in the Western Bay of Plenty, SociaLink decided to pilot the project. If successful, they will hand it over to a social service provider.

The issue of people experiencing digital exclusion during the Covid-19 lockdown was identified as part of a Covid-19 recovery plan for the social sector and the communities they work with

Many school students couldn’t conduct their education at home, isolation and loneliness increased where individuals couldn’t see their family and friends through online channels, and lack of access to online shopping, church, and counselling services impacted the health and wellbeing of those in need.

SociaLink General Manager Liz Davies says by addressing the inequity of access to digital technology and connection, the project will achieve many positive outcomes for participants.

“The primary purpose for this digital inclusion initiative is to enable people to maintain contact with family and community, so they can maintain a level of continued participation in society and culture. This is particularly relevant at a time where Covid-19 has the potential to spike again, and a further lockdown is enforced. Digital inclusion will greatly reduce isolation and loneliness.

“We hope to see this initiative lead to improved life and wellbeing outcomes for project participants, potentially in the areas of community connection, up to date information, and improved outcomes in housing, education and employment.”

The project has been funded by the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council.

Liz says the $16,320 Recovery funding, which went towards purchasing the 50 Chromebooks, was vital.

“Without this funding and the donation from Trustpower of the free internet connections, this project would not be possible.

“We are incredibly grateful to our local funders for seeing the value in what we are doing and for being part of this collaboration. The positive difference for whanau being able to cross the digital divide, connect and access services in an increasingly digital, online world helps to reduce growing inequity.”

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