How do you reach people who aren’t online? How do you engage people who simply aren’t interested in learning digital skills? These are two questions we hear all the time from a range of stakeholders, and we usually give the same answer – through local digital inclusion hubs.

By this, I mean the amazing teams at 3000+ organisations that form the National Digital Inclusion Network. These hubs provide community-led support, helping people to access the internet, do basic and essential online tasks and learn basic digital skills so that they can make the most out of the online world. 

With 1 in 14 households offline and 10.2 million people lacking the basic digital skills, this support is essential. The digital divide gets deeper every day as more services move online and the cost-of-living crisis forces households to cancel broadband packages they can no longer afford. The recent House of Lords Digital Exclusion Report recognised the importance of community-based support in addressing the issue, saying:

Local interventions and more informal engagements delivered through community hubs can provide a key way of reaching digitally excluded individuals, and building the motivation, confidence and skills needed to get online. 

These local digital inclusion hubs reach people who are often furthest from being online or who would be very unlikely to attend formal learning at a college, for example. They are trusted spaces with incredible teams that understand their communities and how to reach them.

When we say digital inclusion hubs, this could be any kind of organisation that provides local support to help people get online. The National Digital Inclusion Network is diverse and wonderfully varied, and the kind of support they offer can differ. They might focus on digital skills, access to free mobile data or broadband, or providing devices to people who can’t afford them. Support might be offered at a drop-in, a group session or interwoven with another activity like crafts or even a food bank.

  • There’s Ignite IT who provide digital skills training around Northern Ireland out of a van they renovated with funding from Good Things last year.
  • West Sussex Libraries have a team of digital volunteers that can help people around the county use the internet to do all kinds of things like access health services or even use the libraries’ digital offer of e-books and audiobooks.
  • Learn for Life Enterprise is a community learning centre in Sheffield that embeds digital skills learning into their English classes for new arrivals to the UK. They also run a Digital Champions program around the city and provide free mobile data and devices  through the National Databank and National Device Bank.
  • The team at Starting Point in Stockport help people to get online from their community cafe and through partnerships with other organisations around the town. They are also a databank hub and have a successful device loan scheme.

Although these organisations all offer different types of support in very different ways, they have some important things in common; they are local and provide warm, welcoming and non-judgmental spaces for people who need help. Community-based support is vital because it is so person-centred, it takes into account who a person is, the barriers they face and what they need from digital. This holistic support might be a big or small part of how these organisations support their communities, but all hubs will have a deep understanding of how digital exclusion impacts and interacts with other parts of a person’s life –  education, health, family, financial, employment and more. 

Samuel received a device and free data through his local Digital Inclusion Hub, he says: “In this world, everything is online. You want to go shopping? Shop online. Hospital? Even that’s sometimes online. Basically everything is online. Therefore, it’s very important to have digital skills and a connection. Like with people who are helping those of us who otherwise don’t have much in our pockets.”

The National Digital Inclusion Network is a movement with a shared vision: to fix the digital divide for good. It’s free to join, and we’ve welcomed over 1200 new members in the past year, and aim to reach 5000 members by the end of 2025. 

Members of our network can also access:

  • Grant opportunities through the new Fix the Digital Divide fund
  • Access to free mobile data through the National Databank
  • Opportunities to apply for devices from the National Device Bank
  • Free digital inclusion training opportunities
  • Access to our free basic digital skills platform Learn My Way

It’s really easy to join and our team are super friendly and here to help you through the process.

It’s Get Online Week this week and the network are delivering over 600 wonderful and unique events to encourage people in their communities to get online. Get Online Week is our annual national digital inclusion campaign aiming to reach more digitally excluded people at a local level and raise awareness of digital inclusion at a national level. Here’s how you can support the campaign:

  1. Follow Good Things Foundation and like and repost our #GetOnlineWeek messages
  2. Share resources from our Get Online Week page
  3. Write to your local MP to highlight the need for community-based support (you can find a template email on the Get Online Week page.

By working together, we can fix the digital divide – for good. 

Written by Louise Branch, Community Engagement Manager, Good Things Foundation