New funding aims to bridge digital divide

People on a free internet course

Some nine million people who have never been online could benefit from a new "outreach" programme.

The Community Outreach Fund, run by UK Online Centres and funded partially by the Nominet Trust, provides grants up to 5,000 for local projects.

The scheme aims to help the estimated 8.7 million who have never been online, to take their first steps on to the internet.

UK Online Centres already run introductory courses on the internet, at locations such as Sure Start Centres, as well as through community and voluntary sector bodies.

However, although there are 3,800 centres already, the organisation wants to improve access to hard to reach communities, especially in the country's poorest wards.

This, according to director of operations, Kevin McLean, could include teams visiting homeless shelters, care homes or even village pubs, and setting up temporary internet access using laptops and dongles.

"These are people who have never been online, not once," McLean told IT Pro. "There is a strong likelihood that they are older, poor, or have lower educational attainment. There is a strong correlation with wider social deprivation."

The outreach funding, he added, will help to provide internet access to groups who are less likely to use other facilities, such as Sure Start.

The grants will set out to do more than just introduce people to sites such as Facebook. "There are lots of socio-economic benefits to getting people online," said McLean. "People using Government services online save the taxpayer cash, and individuals can make hundreds of pounds in savings online, for example on their energy, phone or travel bills.

"But a large proportion of people who take our courses then go on to take a course at a local college, or at the Open University. We also work with Jobcentre Plus, as more and more jobs are only being advertised online."

Community organisations have until 15 August to apply for funding through UK Online Centres.

Nominet Trust is a charity whose goals include promoting increased access to the internet across the UK.