Bobby Mulheir, Chief Officer: Customer Services, discussed what Customer Services at Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) were doing regarding digital inclusion.
The aim was to encourage people to use and provide access to the internet via any online device which people were comfortable using, to break down barriers and help improve people’s confidence at using Information Technology (IT). Efforts would be co-ordinated across the borough to tackle the barriers: skill, confidence, access to equipment.
BFC staff would be able to do an introduction to IT for people, and staff in libraries already were able to do this. There would be resources to signpost people to further learning and work was being undertaken with Bracknell Forest Homes (BFH), volunteers, and companies regarding support for digital inclusion. Students at Bracknell and Wokingham College, possibly supported by a private company, had been approached to refurbish laptops for provision to people at cost price, for example, £70.
People’s experience of IT needed to be appropriate for the technology people would be using at home. People would be shown how to access what could be useful to them in their everyday lives, such as price comparison websites, online shopping, and Skype, along with other benefits of using the internet. Events would be undertaken at the College, and during Spring Online Week 22 – 27 April 2013.
The possibility of Wi-Fi being available for members of the public on the whole of the ground floor of the Time Square council offices was being investigated. There would be training for BFC staff and four Elected Members were acting as digital advocates. Libraries and leisure centres in the borough had Wi-Fi already but not Time Square or Easthampstead House council offices yet. Places where people spent a length of time had been targeted for Wi-Fi provision first. There could possibly be issues with capacity and security with providing Wi-Fi just within council offices and ensuring that it was kept within certain areas of the buildings.
It was suggested that it would be good to be able to offer people staying at Bridgewell internet learning skills before they go back home. It was queried whether there would be a system of online support for people but it was noted that this would likely need to be on a voluntary basis by family, friends or volunteers. This was being investigated further.
It was suggested that Experience Exchange be added to the agenda for the next meeting. Partnership members were encouraged to register for superfast broadband in Berkshire at http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/ . The more people who registered the more likely infrastructure upgrade would be considered in an area, which would involve looking at the exchange, capacity, and speed in an area. A tender would be out in the summer for the provision of superfast broadband by contractors.
Bobby was aware of Age Concern’s interest in digital inclusion and had been in touch with them. There had been two interventions with older people and it was noted that poorer people were less likely to have internet access. Inexpensive broadband providers were available and BFC could help with price comparison for providers. People could use their personal budgets to help them with internet access.
There was a computer in each BFH sheltered scheme and an internet facility at BFH’s Berkshire Court offices for tenants to use. The results of the open event in February showed that approximately half of the people who attended would like access to the internet and the other half were not interested. People had mentioned that one of the main barriers was cost and people would prefer to learn on a one-to-one basis if possible. The courses at the Open Learning Centre were thought to be good. It was noted that people could be encouraged to use the internet but if people did not want to, their wishes should be respected. It was noted that there was value in people talking to their peers and other people who had learnt to use the internet.
The activities for the over 50’s booklet would be circulated to the Partnership.
(Action: Chris Cowap/ Amanda Roden)
It was important to find ways to facilitate people learning to use IT and make access easier, and this included disabled as well as older people.