Sunderland City Council rolls out Digital Hubs to close digital divide

Sunderland City Council is rolling out 22 community Digital Health Hubs to tackle digital challenges such as limited connectivity, lack of access to digital devices and skills, and the cost barriers associated with going online.

The project has secured a £581,893 investment from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, part of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.

With one in three Sunderland residents having never been online or lacking basic digital literacy skills, the Digital Hubs aim to address digital exclusion by providing ‘doorstep’ digital services for people to take their first steps online. 

Each Hub not only offers free access to Wi-Fi and devices, they provide basic digital skills support and encourage progression in digital learning and skills. 

Five of the Hubs are receiving gaming kits to set up Community Esports Hubs. Working alongside the British Esports Federation and believed to be the first of its kind, the project will raise awareness about the gaming industry and encourage people of all ages into educational and employment pathways.

Some of the Hubs have also signed up with a local business, Born Good, to support people to donate devices. 

Equal access 

Councillor Paul Stewart, Cabinet Secretary at Sunderland City Council, said: “Digital inclusion is essential for ensuring equal access to opportunities, services and information in today’s interconnected society.

“The new Digital Health Hubs will boost confidence and digital skills, empowering residents to access more and better opportunities, actively participate in the economy and engage meaningfully in their communities.”

Liz St Louis, Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, said: “From the very start of our Smart City journey, we envisioned a future where the digital divide is addressed collaboratively, ensuring that no one and nowhere is left behind. Our Digital Inclusion Plan is ensuring that everyone in Sunderland, regardless of their age or situation can reap the opportunities afforded by digital.

“The UKSPF investment and our partnership with Boldyn Networks has played a crucial role in providing the necessary infrastructure and digital inclusion services in the heart of Sunderland communities.”

The project is a collaborative effort between the Council’s Smart City Joint Venture, a partnership with leading neutral host provider Boldyn Networks, British Esports Federation and 22 trusted community partners. It forms part of a wider scheme, Links for Life, which was launched across Sunderland to help communities improve their physical and mental health. 

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