Mike Kane MP and Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, GMCA Lead, Education Skills, Work & Apprenticeships, Digital, have met with a team of Virgin Media O2 and Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG) staff, who are delivering a cross-city region pilot in Greater Manchester aimed at tackling digital exclusion.
The pilot, running in Mr Kane’s Wythenshawe and Sale East constituency, is part of a broader programme of work to help people who are digitally excluded get online across the region which is being led by the GMCA. The pilot’s ambition is to increase the number of social housing residents with digital connectivity and skills, and to create a blueprint that can be used across the rest of the UK.
Members from Virgin Media O2 and WCHG spoke about how they’re working together to create an engagement programme tailored to WCHG tenants’ needs to help increase awareness and uptake of Virgin Media O2’s dedicated plans to support people who are experiencing financial difficulty. These packages offer affordable, unlimited broadband connectivity from £12.50 a month to those on Universal Credit. Throughout the pilot, the business is proactively reaching out to residents that would benefit from this service as well as providing support through the sign-up process.
Virgin Media O2 Business’ Connect More Programme
As part of the visit, Mr Kane MP and Cllr O’Brien also met with Virgin Media O2 Business employees who are volunteering their time as part of the Connect More programme, to help build digital skills and confidence via ‘drop-in’ sessions run by Wythenshawe Community Housing Group for residents.
With more than five million people in the UK unable to carry out simple online tasks using the internet, the sessions are designed to provide a friendly community where volunteers support others with everyday digital tasks such as sending emails, booking a doctor’s appointment, or staying in touch with friends online.
Virgin Media O2 employees are given the opportunity to take five paid annual days to volunteer and help communities in their area.
So far, more than 25 employees have volunteered through Virgin Media O2 Business’ Connect More Programme, volunteering a total of more than 120 hours.
National Databank in Wythenshawe
In addition to broadband, Virgin Media O2 (in partnership with the Good Things Foundation) founded the National Databank which provides free mobile data, texts and calls to people in need through more than 650 community organisations across the UK.
Mike Kane MP heard the difference that it’s having in his constituency, where Benchill Community Centre is signed up. So far, in Greater Manchester alone more than 8,500 SIMs has been given away through the programme.
Nicola Green, Chief Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “We’re working hand in hand with the WCHG to make this digital inclusion pilot a success in Wythenshawe – and it’s been great to show Mike and Eamonn the difference it’s already making to the local community.
“Whether it’s through our support in getting residents connected through Essential Broadband, running Virgin Media O2 Business’ Connect More programme to help more people gain online skills or gifting free data through the National Databank, we’re acting on our commitment to making connectivity accessible to everyone.”
Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, said: “Connectivity is a major part of modern life, but for many people it can feel out of reach – which is why it’s been fantastic to hear how Virgin Media O2 and WCHG are working together to increase digital inclusion here in my constituency.
“With the pilot only just beginning, I look forward to hearing how it progresses over time in Wythenshawe and beyond.”
Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, GMCA Lead, Education Skills, Work & Apprenticeships, Digital, said: “As a world-leading digital city-region, we need to empower our people to benefit from the opportunity digital brings, like having the ability to get online and access public services confidently and safely and be able to do so affordably. This pilot is a gamechanger in exploring what responsible business means in a digital age and how we can work together cross sector to ensure no one is left behind.
In March 2020, Virgin Media Business partnered with the GMCA to connect over 1,500 public sector sites across the region with 2,700km of new fibreoptic broadband infrastructure as part of the UK’s largest public sector Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme. This has included over 150 children’s centres, 97 school sites and 70 libraries.
The deal also included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that support Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint and help tackle digital exclusion across the region. These initiatives included providing full fibre broadband free of charge to 21 community sites.
The programme has also provided significant social and economic benefits in the region. This includes exceeding GMCA’s local employment target, with an average 78% of the LFFN workforce based in Greater Manchester – bringing £19.7m-worth of economic value to the local area (direct and indirect) in just two years. Since the programme began, Virgin Media Business has also taken on 38 new Greater Manchester-based apprentices, running ahead of the original apprenticeship targets it set at launch.