Cymuned – The Virtual Village Hall for Anglesey
Digital Inclusion Advisor, Lon Moseley looks to Anglesey as an example of how local virtual hubs provide community and can encourage the adoption of digital amongst residents.
The original concept for what was to be Cymuned, the Virtual Village Hall for Anglesey, came from the now retired Older People’s Strategy Coordinator for Anglesey Council, Brian Jones. To develop this idea of an online community hub for the area, a partnership was formed between Anglesey County Council, Age Cymru Gwynedd a Môn, and Medrwn Môn. Discussions started before the pandemic, but it was Covid-19 that highlighted how valuable community websites such as Cymuned can be for people experiencing isolation, or even for people who just want to be a bit more involved with others where they live.
What is a Virtual Village Hall?
Virtual Village Halls exist to make local communities more accessible for all who want to be involved. Residents can still attend events or meet ups in person, but now have the option of attending virtually. This lowers barriers into the local community for those who may not be able to attend physical events, such as some elderly and disabled people, or even those who were shielding from the pandemic. Virtual could also provide value as an entry point to individuals who could attend in person, but are taking their first steps to become more involved in their community.
Conveniently, Anglesey already had a wealth of physical community hubs around the Island that would have benefitted from a digital refresh. Through an initiative with Digital Communities Wales, all existing hubs were offered a chance to become virtual hubs by applying for digital technology that would support community activities, such as tech for live streaming events and for promoting digital inclusion. The offering to the hubs included tech like smart TVs, Facebook Portals, tablets, and laptops.
The role of Digital Communities Wales
Lack of internet access and the relevant digital skills needed to use Cymuned were some of the immediate challenges faced by the project. Some people who wanted to attend virtually, couldn’t due to a lack of skills and internet access. It became apparent that Digital Communities Wales support for residents interested in the virtual hub should include a tablet loan scheme, access to DCW’s skills training resource, and the further development of a network of digital volunteers (Digital Champions) to offer support on the Island.
To assist Anglesey’s Digital Champions, Digital Communities Wales provided volunteer training and provided access to resources available online, so that they were best supported in their role to help others practice their digital skills and use the new Virtual Village Hall. The Digital Champions were shown how to train residents to use ‘My Health Online’, a local NHS health initiative, accessible through the Cymuned website, enabling Anglesey locals to book GP appointments and renew prescriptions online.
Now, with the help of the Island’s growing network of Digital Champions and the project’s Virtual Hubs Coordinator at Age Cymru Gwynedd a Môn, Sioned Young, residents can get a tablet with data and develop their essential digital skills at no cost. This means residents who may have been unable to previously now have the skills to attend virtual events, keep up with local ongoings, better manage their health, and actively participate in their community.
Of the hubs partaking in the Virtual Village Hall scheme, some were maintained and supported by Medrwn Môn’s Local Coordinators and Community Link Officers, while some council owned ‘Communal Lounges’ also benefitted. Rather excitingly, interest in the project was shown by some smaller community hubs in the area that were unfortunately not big enough at the time to qualify for the scheme. In this case, smaller hubs were supported to become ‘Online Centres’, which gave them the opportunity to apply for the ‘Digital Rural Halls Scheme’, offered by our project partner Good Things Foundation, which would provide them with updated tech. Through the Good Things Foundation scheme, six more Anglesey hubs were able to join the Virtual Village Hall project and provide further value to the communities in which they exist.
The Cymuned website was officially launched at the end of 2021, and with that ‘Anglesey Virtual Village Hall’ came to life!
Neville Evans, Iorwerth Arms Community Hub on Anglesey, said:
“The Cymuned website will be a valuable resource for the community hubs to advertise their activities to their users and other hubs and communities around the island. With time it will develop to be a forum to bring hubs together to share events and new ideas. This is the way forward”
The development of the Cymuned website has united community hubs across Anglesey, allowing them to publicise their ongoings in one place online, and offers a blended approach to accessing local events, which seeks to cater to the varied needs of those who live on the Island.
On a personal note, it has been wonderful to have worked for Digital Communities Wales on this project and I look forward to watching it develop and hopefully become an integral part of Anglesey life that provides real community benefit to the area.
Written by Lon Moseley, Digital Inclusion Advisor.