Free digital skills support from company volunteers open to community residents looking to bolster their digital skillset and confidence
Reading, UK – 6 June 2023 – Virgin Media O2 Business has today announced the expansion of its ‘Connect More’ programme in Reading, Berkshire, to equip local community residents with the digital skills and confidence to make the most of the internet and everyday tech.
Demographic and health data from Frimley ICS System Insights show approximately 18,800 people in Reading suffer from a high rate of digital inaccessibility*, indicating Reading residents are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to accessing online services and being able to fully participate in this digitally connected society. As part of Virgin Media O2 Business’ Connect More programme, volunteers from across the organisation are tackling this digital gap in collaboration with Reading Borough Council and ‘Get Online Reading’.
Since the programme’s launch in October 2022, Virgin Media O2 Business has expanded its mission to Reading. Connect More supports the company’s Better Connections Plan to digitally upskill 6 million people across the nation with digital skills and training by 2025. With over 20 Reading-based employees having completed digital champion training through social enterprise Digital Unite to date, the programme volunteers are well-equipped to support local community members looking to boost their digital skills. The programme, which leans on the company’s network of public sector customers to identify local community organisations that can help ensure volunteers are supporting residents most in need.
Reading Borough Council identified the Reading Community Learning Centre as key location for Virgin Media O2 Business volunteers to start supporting beginner’s IT classes for women from ethnic minority backgrounds, many of whom are migrants or refugees who speak little or no English. Classes are hosted by a tutor with volunteer support from Virgin Media O2 Business, and cover topics from using search engines to find information and online shopping, to booking health appointments and navigating the online world safely. Supporting Reading Borough Council’s new ‘Connected Reading’ strategy, the topics have been chosen to aid commitments to digitally upskill residents so they are equipped to thrive in the digital world.
With anyone in Virgin Media O2 Business’ team of 2,000 employees able to use up to five paid volunteering days a year, many take the chance to support the programme by volunteering at drop-in sessions to aid digital skills training hosted alongside community organisations. Over 76 Reading residents have received support from the ongoing programme, delivering Connect More at a community level in 4 regions across the UK. Plans to extend the programme to other areas across the country are in development to help reach people most at risk of digital exclusion.
For this Volunteers’ Week, Virgin Media O2 Business are hosting a series of events for employees to gain further understanding of digital inclusion internally and support programme delivery. Employees can attend an in-person version of the training volunteers receive and take part in activities to further their understanding of the issue and how they can empower others with digital skills.
Kiki Zhang, Virgin Media O2 Business employee and Connect More Reading volunteer, said: “It is a truly wonderful experience to be a part of the volunteering team. Seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the women we have worked with made me realise how fortunate we are to have access to these IT skills and tools, and how many people are still unaware of the benefits they can provide. It is incredibly fulfilling to help bridge that gap and empower these women to enhance their lives with technology”.
Virgin Media O2 Business has also established digital drop-in sessions supported by volunteers with The Weller Centre and Coffee & Craft for community members who struggle to use the internet or face common IT issues, such as using phones, tablets and laptops, or navigating the online world.
Linda Croall, Volunteer Host at Coffee & Craft, writes: “We are really impressed with the attitude of the volunteers – nothing is too much trouble, and they are so encouraging. It has been a great opportunity for us to help others gain confidence in using the internet, which will make life so much easier for them in the future.”
Commenting on the programme expansion, Catherine Amran, Director at Virgin Media O2 Business, said: “1 in 3 people in the UK report that a lack of digital skills has held back their earning potential. We are so proud to support those with access to the necessary devices to go online and pursue new roles and opportunities. In the current economic climate, employer-supported volunteering and community collaboration is more important than ever. We are looking forward to celebrating more achievements made by the community in Reading, as we work together to close the digital skills gap.”
Cllr Ruth McEwan, Reading Borough Council, Lead Councillor for Education & Public Health, adds: “Working with Virgin Media O2 Business and Reading Voluntary Action (RVA) is a great example of how the public and private sector can come together to support communities ensuring the digital world is accessible to everyone, particularly those communities who may not always have the same access or opportunities as others.
“The Council’s Public Health team is pleased to have collaborated with RVA and Virgin Media O2 Business’s community digital inclusion programme to support Reading residents and diverse communities facing digital exclusion.”
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Notes to Editors
* A digital accessibility score has been calculated for people living in Reading based on demographic and health data from Frimley ICS System Insights. The higher a person’s score, the lower their estimated levels of digital accessibility. 23% of people living in Reading score 1 or less indicating that their levels of digital accessibility are very high. 7% of people score 13 or above indicating very low levels of digital accessibility. This is over 13,000 people. These estimates also indicate that there are higher rates of people with lower digital accessibility living in some areas of Reading when compared to others. A number of factors will contribute to this including the age of the population and levels of relative deprivation.
About Virgin Media O2 Business
Virgin Media O2 launched on 1 June 2021, combining the UK’s largest and most reliable mobile network with a fully gigabit broadband network where customers benefit from average speeds 5x faster than the national average.
The company has 47.7 million UK connections across its award-winning broadband, mobile, TV and home phone services. Its fixed network covers more than half of the country (16.3m homes serviceable) alongside a mobile network that covers 99% of the nation’s population, with 5G services live in more than 2,100 towns and cities. The company is on track to reach 50% population 5G coverage in 2023.
Through Virgin Media O2 Business, it plays a leading role supporting entrepreneurs, businesses, enterprises and the public sector with their digital transformation through a range of connectivity, security, cloud and tailor-made services. It is also the network of choice for mobile virtual network operators giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile, as well as managing a 50:50 joint venture with Tesco for Tesco Mobile.
Virgin Media O2 is a 50:50 joint venture between Liberty Global and Telefónica SA, and one of the UK’s largest businesses. Virgin Media O2 is registered in England and Wales. Registration number: 12580944. Griffin House, 161 Hammersmith Road, London, United Kingdom, W6 8BS.