New digital inclusion team announced today, and my thoughts from ND13

I’m delighted that the Information Economy Industrial Strategy (IEIS) announced today by David Cameron includes the news that the government is setting up a new cross-sector digital inclusion team that will sit within Government Digital Service. Not only will the team co-ordinate work across government departments, but it will work with partners across the sectors to ensure the biggest impact possible in giving individuals and organisations the digital skills they need – something you all know I’m passionate about. With digital by default now a policy mainstay, I don’t think this commitment could have come quickly enough, and I’m very much looking forward to working closely with the new team.

One of the things that most impressed me in the blog from GDS that announces the new team is the commitment to doing things, rather than just talking about them. This is really interesting coming on the back on ND13, which left me really frustrated at the pace of change in the digital inclusion arena. The conference was full of committed people who wanted to achieve more, which leaves me wondering why we aren’t?

I said on Tuesday that to finally close the gap, what we needed was the 3P’s, but having thought about it further, maybe there are actually 5.

People – it’s all about the people who we need to help and targeted them effectively is key. It’s also about the people who are volunteers and who are paid to help other local people – they need the support, tools and leadership to achieve more in their local communities

Partnership – it’s all about working together, on a big scale. Like the 5,000 hyperlocal partners in the UK online centres network, or the scale Go ON UK works on, pulling in big employers with big customer bases, as well as each person in each local community doing their bit working with each other or local agencies. I hope the new digital inclusion team recognises the importance of these large scale partnerships, and commits to sustaining them – and supporting new ones.

Passion – We have got to believe we can achieve digital inclusion, and persuade others that it’s important. I’m sure the digital inclusion team will be passionate advocates amongst government departments and other organisations, and I think here they can have a huge impact.

Persistence – We know it’s not an easy job, or we would already have done it. We need to keep going.

Fish, Peas, and Family Trees. It’s important to keep it fun and relevant, just like one of our great centres (Starting Point in Stockport) does, running family history sessions in their fish and chip shop.

Someone tweeted me on Tuesday to say we also needed an F for Funding, and it’s true that people need some cash to make all this happen. We know this is harder to come by now, and while we need to push for a big effort, we also shouldn’t flinch away from the fact that some of this will need money to make it happen. I hope GDS’s new digital team will also recognise this need. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the impact that they – and us as their committed partners – can have.

Three cheers for volunteers!

What makes the world go round? Some people would say money, others love, but after more than 25 years working with the community and voluntary sectors, I’m pretty certain it’s actually volunteers. It’s certainly true for the UK online centres network.

I see all the time the amazing work volunteers do in their communities (more on that soon), so I think it’s only right that volunteers get not only a day, but a whole week to celebrate their contribution. And that week is this week – I hope you’ve had a great National Volunteers’ Week – whether as a volunteer or someone who’s had the good fortune to meet a volunteer this week.

If you’re in any doubt as to the impact volunteers have on this country, you only need to look at the statistics. It’s estimated that 20 million people give their time to their communities every year, totalling 100 million hours a week and contributing £40 billion a year to the British economy.

And that’s only the ones that identify themselves as volunteers. After that you’ve got the unpaid child carers (lots of grannies and grandads), helpful neighbours, self-started community group leaders, and many, many others.

Last year saw volunteers take centre stage, as the Games Makers were rightfully celebrated for their contribution to a hugely successful London Olympics – something I wrote about at the time – but I believe that this year, volunteers are if anything, even more important.

Budgets across the voluntary and community sector have continued to be squeezed as we work through a period of austerity. Just as the services the sector provides are becoming more valuable to communities in need, they’re becoming more difficult to sustain. And it’s volunteers that are keeping so many of these services alive – and even kicking.

OCF manages a network of around 3,000 UK online centres, and we estimate there are around 25,000 active volunteers support their work, helping more than 1,000,000 people make the most of online life in the last three years. Their backgrounds vary – from retirees giving back to their communities, job seekers increasing skills and even young people gaining working experience.

Cheryl from my hometown of Sheffield is just one fantastic example. She first visited her local UK online centre more than three years ago to gain online skills, but soon had enough confidence to support other learners. She’s been volunteering at the centre ever since, gaining further IT and teaching qualifications along the way – you can read more of Cheryl’s inspiring story here.

OCF has been very happy this week, to join the Volunteers’ Week celebrations by offering  a volunteer-only training grant, and FREE online training opportunities to any volunteer anywhere! It’s great to know that dozens of volunteers have had the chance to get a few more skills as part of this.

I know lots of other organisations have been getting involved and showing their appreciation to their volunteers and I want to add my voice to the chorus by saying a huge THANK YOU to every single volunteer out there – digital skills supporters and beyond.

You don’t just make the world go round – you also make it a better place to live.