Community digital health hubs in Sunderland

Providing Wifi and device access, new hubs will build confidence in tech skills and help tackle wider digital exclusion 

Sunderland City Council is working with neutral host provider Boldyn Networks, the British Esports Federation and 22 community partners on a bold programme to get more people taking advantage of the benefits of being online. The 22 new digital health hubs, which launch this month, are part of a wider Links for Life scheme launched across Sunderland with the aim of improving people’s physical and mental health.  

bridge over river near city buildings during night time

Photo by Ryan Booth

The new hubs are also a response to research showing that as much as a third of people in the area have never been online or lack basic skills in digital literacy. The project received government backing via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which specifically aims to tackle tech-related challenges such as lack of connectivity or digital infrastructure and the costs that prevent some people from getting online. 

One reason these hubs are possible is because the city already has a robust public WiFi network, thanks to an established partnership between the city council and Boldyn Networks. The new hubs are intended to ensure that everyone in the city, whatever their current level of engagement in tech, can build skills and confidence, and gain fuller access to the thriving world online.  

The funding has helped to upgrade and extend existing WiFi systems, with sensors installed to count the numbers accessing the service and to monitor the hubs themselves. Each hub has its own budget with which to buy digital devices for those accessing the scheme, and to pay for internet connections. Some hubs have also partnered with the local Born Good enterprise to set up means for people to donate old or unused devices that can then be recycled or found news homes.   

As well as WiFi and devices, hubs will tailor support to fit individual users’ needs. For example, a knowledge sharing initiative, ‘Tech Mates’, trains local people to support others in developing their skills.  

At the same time, five of the hubs are working with the British Esports Federation. Having received gaming kits, the idea is to raise awareness among people of all ages about the wider gaming industry – and how it can lead into education and employment. 

Claire Venners, Director of Smart Places UK & Ireland at Boldyn Networks, says: ‘The Digital Health Hubs will make a difference to residents across Sunderland at a community level, leveraging the power of digital technology to enhance residents’ health and well-being.  

‘Playing a crucial role in promoting accessible, inclusive and technology-driven solutions for communities, the Digital Health Hubs aim to empower individuals across the city. By providing access to digital devices and the internet, we can ensure residents have the necessary tools and skills to make the most of life enhancing digital resources.’ 

Liz St Louis, Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, adds: ‘From the very start of our smart city journey, we envisioned a future where the digital divide is addressed collaboratively, ensuring that no one and nowhere is left behind. Our Digital Inclusion Plan is ensuring that everyone in Sunderland, regardless of their age or situation can reap the opportunities afforded by digital.’ 

In related news:

Wrexham school children become ‘Digital Heroes’ 

Free public Wi-Fi for Oadby & Wigston

Tackling Wakefield’s digital divide with cafes and free laptops


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