BT and Barclays have announced a scheme to provide free Wi-Fi and digital support to users of 57 libraries and 13 community centres in some of the most deprived parts of the country.
Recognising that around 18% of people in the UK have never been online, rising to 60% among the over 65s, the two firms – both of which have already committed to support the government’s digital inclusion plans – said that it had never been more important for people to get online.
“Libraries and community centres are the heartbeat of many communities and free internet access combined with expert support will help the many people still not online,” said BT.
Barclays will train up a number of members of staff – to be called Digital Eagles – who will work on-site to help people build confidence going online and develop their IT skills. People will not need to be Barclays customers to access the scheme, said the bank.
BT head of connected society Anna Easton said the company want to ensure everyone can not only access the digital world, but also have the skills and support to remain online in the long term.
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“An evaluation of our existing digital inclusion programmes shows that for the elderly and unemployed, both access and long-term support in the community is essential," she said. "This new partnership with Barclays will ensure that support is available for those that need it the most.”
Barclays strategic transformation director Steven Roberts added: “People are experiencing the digital revolution, but like all revolutions, it’s not one that happens to all people at once. Some will adopt digital skills quickly, others will take more time.
“We firmly believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind on the digital journey.”
Besides the libraries and community centres, the scheme will also roll out wireless broadband to a further 10 sites, including a care home, a charity home and a homeless centre. Other sites will be added in the future.