Our Head of DB Comms Liam Bonthron interviewed David McNeil, Director of Digital at SCVO on their Connecting Scotland Project, set up in March 2020.
Could you tell us a little about the history of the Connecting Scotland Project, when did it start and what were the main drivers?
The origins of Connecting Scotland began before the first lockdown in March 2020. There was a realisation that digitally excluded people needing to self-isolate would be cut off from the world and need additional support.
On 19th March 2020 SCVO, the Scottish Government, and ScotlandIS jointly issued a call to action for volunteers to help tackle the issue. We talked about mobilising an emergency response to find, equip, train, and support everyone in the country who lacked access to digital services.
Who was the project intended to help?
By April, the scale of the challenge became clear and the Scottish Government recognised the need to invest to support digitally excluded people during the lockdown.
Working through partner organisations from across the public and voluntary sector, Connecting Scotland provided digital devices, connectivity, and support to develop digital skills for people who were digitally excluded and on low incomes.
The first phase focused on those who were at risk of isolation due to coronavirus because they were shielding. Subsequent phases targeted families with children, young care leavers, older people, people with disabilities, and residents in care homes.
What were the initial challenges faced by SCVO and its partners?
There were lots of challenges in the early stages, including:
- The ability to secure devices, with very high global demand
- Rolling out internet connections quickly
- The ability to reach people in need while services were not running and people were working from home
- How were these challenges faced?
We working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors, we managed to:
- Get priority allocation of devices, liaising directly with manufacturers and distributors
- Secure mobile internet (MiFi) and data packages to get internet connections to people quickly
- Encourage organisations that already worked with vulnerable people to get involved in delivering devices and support to people they knew
- It’s not just about giving someone a device and internet connection, but recognising that digital exclusion and social exclusion go hand-in-hand… and those vulnerable people need support to develop skills and confidence online, and that support is best provided within the context of the issues they faced and what their own personal motivations and aspirations were.
What was the initial target for Connecting Scotland and how has this changed during the course of the project? How many people have benefitted from this project?
Connecting Scotland started with a pilot with 55 devices. The first major investment from the Scottish Government allowed us to reach 9,000 digitally excluded households and we’re on track to reach 60,000 households by the end of 2021.
What sort of benefits does being ‘connected’ bring?
There are a huge number of benefits of being online! Our recent Impact Report sets out how the project has supported people to stay connected with family and friends, participate in learning, secure jobs, engage with health and care services, and much more.
It’s hard to imagine how someone could cope without the internet in a modern world. But that was, and remains, a reality for too many people in Scotland.
What does the future of ‘Connecting Scotland’ look like? Where do you go from here?
The ultimate aim is to help get every citizen in Scotland online. The Scottish Government has committed to reaching 300,000 people with support over the next few years.