Somerset based Digital Inclusion project shortlisted for national award

The Spark iT Digital Inclusion Project, which supports Somerset residents to get online, has been shortlisted for the national Digital Inclusion Award category by ISPA UK.

The team behind the project, hosted by charity, Spark Somerset, works to provide free support to Somerset residents who want to get online, but face barriers due to a lack of skill, confidence, device or connection.

Samantha Briggs, Digital Inclusion Project Manager at Spark Somerset, comments: “We’re delighted and incredibly proud that our Spark iT project has been shortlisted for the Digital Inclusion Award category by ISPA UK. With the awards coinciding with ‘Get Online Week’ taking place across the UK this week, the timing couldn’t be better.

“We have expanded our one-to-one visits, telephone helpdesk, and loan scheme in the past year and now support twenty regular digital events across the county. By January 2024, 95% of Somerset residents will have free digital support within 5 miles of their home.”

The Spark iT team includes a network of volunteer Digital Champions, who are both interested in technology and enjoy helping their community – and without whom the project couldn’t operate.

One such Digital Champion, Nic, explains: “I was fortunate to start my career when IT was just computers. After providing technical support for my father getting to grips with PCs and their rapid change, I realised I could spend some of my retirement helping others and keeping up to date with continuing developing tech.

“Volunteering on a subject I know something about has been very satisfying, particularly when I see clients’ eyes light up and they go away with a nagging problem solved. I am very pleased to be able to use years of experience in retirement to meet the challenge of digital exclusion in Somerset.”

Digital Champions find that volunteering helps them to meet new people and connect with their local community, improving their wellbeing and allowing them to give something back. There are a range of roles available which include access to extensive training and support on Spark a Change.

Speaking about her experience, Sally, who attends the Digital Café at the Hub in Bridgwater, said: “It has reduced a lot of the stress I felt when using devices. I’ve recently been working on building my confidence with online shopping as I noticed that I was missing out on the best deals. With the cost-of-living crisis, it’s been really helpful for me to find new ways to save money.”

The Spark iT project is supported by the Somerset ICB, Somerset NHS Foundation and Smart Energy GB and delivery partners including organisations such as Donate IT, Vodafone UK, Good Things Foundation, Somerset Libraries, and the Somerset ICB Digital Team.

Allison Nation, Associate Director of Digital Strategy, Directorate of Strategy, Digital and Integration at NHS Somerset concludes:

“I am delighted to see the digital inclusion work of this amazing team shortlisted for this award for developing and delivering the SPARK iT project. The team provides support and connections across our local communities, working alongside NHS teams in delivering our strategic digital roadmap plans for digital inclusion. Building access, skills, confidence and motivation in people living in Somerset is an important part of helping people to live healthier lives.”

Spark Somerset are one of only four finalists shortlisted for the Award which will be announced at the ISPA Awards in London on Thursday 9 November.