Blackburn partnership tackles digital exclusion

 Two Blackburn community centres will now be able to offer hundreds of residents better access to the digital world thanks to a partnership between 6G Internet, Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and CVS.

Accrington Road Community Centre in Audley Range and ACT at the Cheethams on Lawrence Street both provide essential services to their local communities and act as a shared environment for a huge number of community groups.

To ensure their users can enjoy the full benefits of being online, 6G Internet has connected both centres to permanently free broadband, saving each centre around £18,000 in installation and equipment costs over the next five years alone.

In addition, Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and local IT support company Nybble have committed to providing refurbished computer equipment, with CVS also set to deliver training to upskill internet users.

Ian Clough, digital social inclusion lead at 6G Internet, said: “Internet access is no longer a luxury, it is essential for anyone who wants to look for a job, find the best deals on finance or utilities or stay in contact with friends and family.

“For families where money is especially tight, not having internet access can impact on their budgets, social lives and education. Through our partnership, we want to make sure more people have the connection, equipment and skills to make sure this is no longer a problem.”

Accrington Road manager Kay Kareem, said: “There are people from lot of backgrounds and cultures who use the centre and at some point they all need access to the internet. Not only is 6G Internet’s connection completely free, but they also installed access points that boost the signal so it reaches every room. Now our user groups are able to do far more than they could previously.”

ACT at Cheethams manager Sinclair Morris said: “We are a private charity. Any costs that we incur take money away from what we can invest in the local community. The money we’re now saving can be put towards things like art materials, local events and days out for families. It gives us a lot more options.”

In addition to helping more users who are looking for work, the biggest benefit has been felt by the centres’ homework clubs, which help children without home internet complete their assignments.

Sinclair said: “The internet has basically become a necessity. We have a lot of older kids who come in to do their GCSE work and we use it to help engage young people with both education and job prospects.”

“We have about 30 children and young people who come to Accrington Road throughout the week,” said Kay. “They range from primary school age to sixth form college students and we make sure that they can do their work in a safe and friendly environment.”

Councillor Maryam Batan, elected member for Accrington Road’s Audley and Queens Park Ward, said:  “I think the work that 6G Internet is doing is really good. Accrington Road is used by groups from across the borough and not everyone has internet access at home.

“This type of social inclusion is extremely important for young people and older generations, who can now be introduced to some of the fantastic things about being online that many of us take for granted.”

Garth Hodgkinson, chief executive of Community CVS said: “It is great to be supporting these two community venues, which are run entirely through voluntary effort.  Grassroots groups like Accrington Road Community Centre and Act at the Cheethams make such a massive difference to people’s lives.

“We would encourage everyone to get involved in supporting local community groups in their own neighbourhoods in whatever way they can.”

Councillor Quesir Mahmood, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s executive member for digital and customer services: “This is a fantastic scheme for the residents in our borough.The introduction of new digital technologies across all areas of our lives has fundamentally changed how we do things – including how we all access services.

“As a council, we are driving forward our Digital Strategy and a key part of that is tackling digital exclusion in our borough. Schemes like this will help make a big difference to our communities and I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work.”