Tackling Wakefield’s digital divide with cafes and free laptops

Thousands of children, young people and families benefit from WFConnect digital inclusion project to ensure everyone has access to technology and the internet.

Wakefield Council is running a very successful scheme to help students and residents to access services online. As we’ve reported before, apps and sites make it ever easier to access public services – and can make it less expensive to supply them. But that means an increasing gulf between those who do and don’t have access to the online world: the so-called ‘digital divide’.

woman in black jacket using macbook pro

Photo by Annie Spratt

A range of programmes around the UK are actively engaged in addressing this. People need a digital device, connectivity (whether fixed or mobile) and support to develop the skills and confidence to get online and engage safely. Wakefield’s WFConnect digital inclusion project is a good example of how this can be done, with the council supporting generous donations from local residents and business. 

The council accepts donations of working laptops and tablets that can run a minimum of Windows 7, iOS 9.0, or for an Android 8.0 and above. For more, see WFConnect donations scheme. 

WFConnect was established in 2021. It initially donated free, refurbished laptops to young people. The council bought 1,000 laptops after Covid lockdown meant teaching went online. Since then, a further 360 schoolchildren have now received laptops – some of them donated by local people.   

Grants of £7,000 were also awarded to 22 community venues and family and youth hubs so that they could provide access to computers, tablets and the internet.  

Then, in March 2022, the first ‘digital cafes’, with 21 WFConnect cafes now open in community buildings across the region. Each cafe provides computers, tablets and internet access. Staff can also offer advice, guidance and support on how to use this tech.  

That makes the digital cafes an ideal place to do homework and connect with family and friends. People can also find and apply for jobs, and get support for issues relating to finances, health and housing and budgets. 

This is all in addition to the free-to-use computers available in council-run libraries.  

Cllr Margaret Isherwood, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, says: ‘Having access to the internet is a vital part of our lives. I’m pleased this scheme bridges some of the digital divide we have in our communities. It helps reduce the inequalities between those who have the money to buy a computer and broadband and those who cannot. We will continue to work hard to help residents get better connected.  

‘I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed a device to help one of our young people. Your generosity has supported families and carers who would otherwise not be able to buy one.’ 

The impact from the scheme is evident in the responses of two students who have benefited. 

Gina, a GCSE student from the Wakefield area, was one of those to receive a donated laptop. She says: ‘Without the laptop I wouldn’t have been able to revise for my GCSEs at home or send in my coursework. I have also used it to research colleges and to apply for courses. I will be using it when I start college in September.’   

Another student, Olivia, had not attended school for some time due to anxiety. ‘Even if I feel I want to go in, I have missed so much I would feel stupid,’ she explained. ‘When my engagement worker gave me the laptop it meant I could do some home tutoring and complete some of the work I was sent by my school. I am still working with my engagement worker and starting to feel that I could go back into school. Because I have my laptop I am not as behind as I was.’ 

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