Homeless shelters, schools and local people are benefitting from a multi-million pound investment in the Greater Manchester region, a new report reveals.
The ‘Tackling digital inequality in Greater Manchester’ report, published today by Virgin Media Business in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), provides an update on the positive impact the business has achieved in Greater Manchester through its social value programme, as well as its ambitious plans for the next four years.
Virgin Media Business’ social value programme began in 2020 with the rollout of the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN) across Greater Manchester.
The programme included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that supported Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint, including a commitment from Virgin Media Business to directly create 20 apprenticeships based in Greater Manchester, as well as investing in digital and STEM skills for young people.
Focusing on a set of key aims – creating a digital talent pipeline, empowering people with the digital skills they need to access online services, helping Greater Manchester become a global digital influencer and in addition, tackling homelessness – the report highlights the significant benefits delivered to date after the business won a major contract to connect sites across the city-region to a new full fibre network.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “In Greater Manchester, we have a £5 billion digital ecosystem and we’re putting people at the heart of our digital ambitions. We are well known for doing things differently and collaboration is integral to what we do.
“This programme has brought local and central government together for a common goal, enhancing our digital capacity and helping our public sector sites to continue delivering the best possible services to residents across our city-region.
“It highlights the possibilities when private and public sector work side by side to level up our communities – from towns and cities to our most rural places and spaces, aligning digital ambitions to ensure that anyone, whatever their age, location, or situation, can benefit from the opportunities digital brings.”
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Virgin Media Business and GMCA have connected 15 homeless shelters, community centres and charities to its network since the project began and is providing free connectivity for local people, with six more sites due to be connected this year.
Community leaders have reported real benefits for local people, who can use the free connectivity in community spaces to access online services like banking and GP appointments, and have more opportunities to develop digital skills and learn how to use the internet safely. It has also given younger people more places to get online and complete their school work.
During the height of lockdown, Virgin Media Business supported the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, with a donation providing 567 school children with digital kit bundles to ensure students in Greater Manchester at risk of digital exclusion could continue learning when schools were closed.
Virgin Media Business also lent financial support to help tackle rough sleeping, donating £100,000 to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity’s “A Bed Every Night” programme, funding emergency bed spaces and additional assistance for those who are currently experiencing homelessness. The report reveals its employees have donated more than 1,000 hours of time to support the community, including volunteering at vaccination centres and regenerating parks.
The partnership with GMCA has created new job opportunities and supported the community with digital skills programmes. More than 80% of the current LFFN workforce is from the Greater Manchester area, outperforming the initial local employment rate target of 50%, and Virgin Media Business has funded three digital skills programmes with the Prince’s Trust and GMCA.
Alongside the achievements to date, the report also outlines how, over the course of the partnership, the business is committed to creating 50 apprenticeship roles, using an additional 4,000 employee volunteering hours to support community projects and helping schools to improve their digital services.
Jo Bertram, Managing Director of Business and Wholesale at Virgin Media O2 said: “Our work in Greater Manchester is not only transforming connectivity across the region – but is also helping to transform lives for the better, too. In partnership with the GMCA, we are supercharging communities and supporting those most at risk of digital exclusion.
“Whether it’s through funding projects to help those experiencing homelessness, investing in children’s futures or upgrading community connections, we’re committed to doing more for the people of Greater Manchester today and in future.”
Tina Harrison, MBE and Group Lead at Trinity Foodbank in Radcliffe, which is now benefitting from Virgin Media Business services, said: “If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it’s the importance of digital technology in helping the community stay connected.
“The work that Virgin Media Business is doing to give back is fantastic, and their commitment to providing connectivity, equipment, volunteering hours and more to help will make a whole world of difference to people here in Manchester.”
The Greater Manchester LFFN contract has seen Virgin Media Business deliver fibre optic connectivity to more than 1,500 public sector sites throughout the city-region. This new investment, plus existing local authority investments in digital infrastructure, make this the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme – underpinning a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects.
This is the result of close partnership working between Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Greater Manchester’s local authorities, Fire & Rescue Services and Transport for Greater Manchester and is backed by millions of pounds of funding from central government.
In March 2021, GMCA released a report which showed the significant local economic benefits of the work to date, with £11.8m of overall local economic value (direct and indirect) created during year one.