Digital inclusion in rural wales – well done RDP!
By Marc Davies, Project Manager, Digital Communities Wales
I have recently been supporting the Carmarthenshire Local Action Group (LAG) in embedding digital inclusion within the delivery framework of the 2014 – 2020 Rural Development Plan (RDP) Leader programme in Carmarthenshire.
Now in my tenth year of working, persuading, influencing and championing digital inclusion across Wales, it is uplifting to see that the current RDP leader programme has included ‘the exploitation of technology’ as one of its five themes.
The four other RDP leader themes for the Carmarthenshire area are ‘heritage and culture’, new ways of providing non statutory service, community renewable energy, and facilitating pre-commercial development – business partnerships and short supply chains. In my view, it is clear to see that the common thread between all themes is technology. In order to impact or innovate within any of these themes, digital inclusion and the wider use of technology must be applied across all, and not as a stand-alone element.
As ever, one of the main technology issues faced with rural living is connectivity. Carmarthenshire, like the rest of Wales, is gradually benefiting from the rollout of fibre broadband (Superfast Cymru). For rural areas that can capitalise upon improved connectivity speeds, there is work the RDP needs to do to ensure that these communities understand the ‘benefits’ available to them as a result of faster connectivity. There will remain pockets of rural Carmarthenshire that will inevitably need to seek shorter term, alternative solutions for acceptable connectivity. It is also important that the RDP programme identifies these communities and explores the support and options available to them.
Recent studies with rural communities in Carmarthenshire identify a clear need to support transport, especially to access dedicated services. With a better broadband infrastructure rolling out across the county, there is the scope to explore different ways of delivering services. For example, working in partnership with Job Centre services to enable work clubs and employment services to operate in rural community venues, or via a mobile services such as libraries. There may also be potential to enable community venues to host services and promote the rapid developments around e-health for the ageing population. There are many other possible technology solutions for rural communities, depending on their specific circumstances. This will be explored by the RDP team following an overview of possibilities from the Digital Communities Wales (DCW) training team.
DCW will be striving to support staff and volunteers who serve these rural communities, with training and awareness-raising of how technology can be exploited to support all. The aim is to re-balance rural living by combining skills and confidence levels around decent connectivity for improved social and economic benefit.
I’m thrilled to continue my work with the strategic group to ensure digital inclusion is embedded as a default element across all themes. I would advocate that other RDP programmes across Wales consider a similar approach and to contact DCW for support.