Bridging the Digital Divide with Sunderland Tech Mates Programme


20th November 2023

Topic Education, Insights, Living & Inclusion
Technology Light technology
Sector Education, Insights, Living & Inclusion

Recently, we launched the Tech Mates programme, an internal initiative delivered by the Smart City team at Sunderland City Council. The programme aims to digitally upskill our internal workforce and empower our colleagues with the digital literacy they need to thrive. Our Tech Mates programme is not just about closing the digital divide; it’s about opening up a world of opportunities for everyone, regardless of their digital starting point.

Our digital inclusion journey is set against a backdrop of innovation. The Smart City team at Sunderland City Council is committed to bringing the latest digital innovations to the city: from our SAMS project, set to introduce autonomous shuttles to our streets, to the SONET project, which will bring 5G connectivity to the Stadium of Light. We are not only embracing digital innovation but pioneering it.

However, as we advance towards the future, we remain aware that the benefits of smart city developments must be accessible to everyone. Recent research has highlighted that 1 in 3 people in Sunderland are either experiencing or have experienced some form of digital exclusion. This digital divide is not merely an inconvenience; it has tangible implications for people’s mental, physical, and financial well-being. With the pace of technological change, those who are digitally capable today may find themselves digitally excluded tomorrow. Sunderland City Council is committed to proactively addressing this issue. The Tech Mates programme is an important part of our digital inclusion work, designed to help colleagues gain the digital confidence and skills they need.

Tech Buddies – members of staff from Sunderland City Council – may be proficient in their roles but require support when it comes to using devices and software. The support provided through the Tech Mates programme includes foundational skills such as using a mobile phone or a computer, communicating digitally by sending and receiving emails, and utilising tools such as Microsoft Teams. The support extends to helping Tech Buddies to operate printers, navigate the council staff intranet, connect to Wi-Fi, and safely explore the internet. The training areas covered by Tech Mates are aligned with the National Essential Digital Skills Framework, a comprehensive guide designed by industry and government to ensure individuals have the essential digital skills needed for both life and work.

Our Tech Mate volunteers are at the heart of this: they are enthusiastic advocates of the benefits of being online and are eager to share these benefits with others. We currently have 14 Tech Mate volunteers, and we hope that many council staff will benefit from the time these volunteers dedicate to helping colleagues learning foundational digital skills.

With digital technology continually evolving, it’s important that we act proactively to combat digital exclusion. At Sunderland City Council, we take pride in our commitment to fostering a culture of digital inclusion, where no one is left behind. The Tech Mates programme is a vital step in this direction, enabling our colleagues to overcome digital barriers and participate fully in the digital world. Our ultimate goal is to bridge the digital divide in Sunderland, ensuring that all residents are empowered to be part of our Smart City vision through digital literacy and connectivity.

If you are interested in learning more about our digital inclusion work in Sunderland, we invite you to explore our Digital Inclusion Plan. You can also access additional digital inclusion resources on the Sunderland Smart City website. Together, we can build a more connected and inclusive Sunderland, where no one and nowhere is left behind.