Voice of Leeds summit to tackle city’s digital divide

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As the online world grows at an ever-increasing rate, the need to plug Leeds’ digital divide has never been stronger.

Figures show one in five people in Leeds do not use the internet and parts of the city remain digitally cut off, with communities such as Cottingley, Lincoln Green, Chapeltown, Gipton, Seacroft, Burley and Hawksworth having the highest proportion of ‘offline’ households.

Used in the right way digital technology can help break down social barriers.

Next week, prominent figureheads from the city’s public, private and third sectors will gather at the YEP’s office for the next Voice of Leeds Summit 2015, to discuss ways of lifting communities out of the digital darkness and boosting Leeds’ credentials as a ‘smart city’.

It is the third in a string of YEP summits, organised in partnership with the Leeds Community Foundation, to tackle some of the key issues facing residents in Leeds.

Various projects are underway across the city to boost connectivity to the web but chiefs are being urged to do more to improve the situation in digitally-isolated areas.

Figures show Leeds has an estimated internet use of 78 per cent and is ranked 58th - out of 125 areas surveyed - for digital exclusion in England.

A UK-wide survey found that of the 9.5m people who lack basic digital skills, 53 per cent of those were aged over 64 and 44 per cent were unemployed or in low-grade jobs.

In Yorkshire, 16 per cent of people are said to lack basic skills and nearly one in ten (9.1 per cent) have never used the internet - higher than the national average of 7.6 per cent.

Leeds-based company Aql recently announced it will deploy free Wi-Fi to parts of the city at no cost in a bid to get more residents online. The announcement came after Leeds City Council began installing free Wi-Fi in more than 100 council buildings to boost internet use.

Melody Walker is founder of Chapeltown-based community interest company G-Tech Youth Code which aims to boost digital technology skills to young people from under-represented groups, such as at-risk youths and those from deprived backgrounds. She said: “We’re becoming increasingly dependent on technology for banking, entertainment, to monitor our utility usage and in general improve the quality of our lives. Every member of society should have the digital skills and access to do these things and more.”

Pip Goff, Leeds Community Foundation programmes manager, who will chair Thursday’s summit, said: “Used in the right way digital technology can help break down social barriers and connect local communities. We hope this summit will raise awareness of the exciting initiatives taking place in the city and address how communities can be given the tools and skills to make the most of technology.”