Northumberland’s approach to improving digital skills and digital inclusion in communities across the county has won it a prestigious national award.

The NextGen Digital Challenge Awards celebrate innovation, success and leadership in the UK’s digital economy. Work highlighted in the winning entry is carried out on behalf of Northumberland County Council by the iNorthumberland project.

iNorthumberland has been running since 2013 when one in five of the county’s residents had never been online and Northumberland had some of the poorest availability of broadband provision in the whole UK. At that time, more than 70 per cent of tourism businesses lacked any online presence and surveys showed that businesses in general were not aware of the benefits of being online, and needed to increase their digital skills.

Over the past two years, iNorthumberland has led a number of initiatives that have really turned around the digital credentials of the county. £19million of investment from Defra, ERDF, BDUK, BT and Northumberland County Council has delivered superfast broadband to 49,000 premises, and active partnerships with Avonline and Briskona are enabling alternative methods of providing broadband in more remote areas.

The project has supported the council’s library service to train all librarians as digital champions, with 1,556 hours of one to one training provided and 50 champions now in place.

The iNorthumberland team has worked with all 67 county councillors to develop a member support programme, working with local partners and Barclays, and has devised a series of training events and digital plans that are helping them to carry out their work as local councillors.

European Regional Development Funding was secured to design on innovative online platform for training small and medium sized businesses in digital skills, helping them to grow and develop their businesses.

Delivered by Arch, the Northumberland Development Company, the business support programme has supported over 850 businesses and upgraded over 60 businesses across the county to superfast broadband. The programme includes one-to-one sessions with business advisers, focused workshops delivered by industry experts, access to an online learning portal and financial incentives. Upon completing 12 hours of training, businesses will qualify for 12 months of free superfast broadband – worth up to £400. The Arch team is still working to help support as many businesses as possible through the programme before it closes on December 31.

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