COVID-19 has amplified and exposed the impact of digital disconnection throughout our low income communities and as such, we at the APLE Collective (Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience) are calling for the Metro Mayors and the Government to listen to us and take action to address this issue.

Combined Authorities through devolving powers are created in areas where there are considered likely to improve transport, economic development and regeneration. The core purpose of a Combined Authority is to deliver better outcomes for local communities as a result of closer joint working and collaboration at a local level. It was therefore felt necessary that the APLE Collective could look for opportunities to develop relationships with Combined Authorities and thus look for ways whereby lived experience of poverty to could help shape better outcomes.  

Our first meeting to progress our call for action was with the North of Tyne Combined Authority. This is a relatively new Authority and describes the areas covered by Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland. 

Rhiannon Bearne gladly took the time to get together and discuss the issue of the digital divide with the APLE Collective, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Just Fair and the North East Law Centre.

It was pleasing to hear about the North Tyne Combined Authority’s vision to ‘bring together people and opportunities to create vibrant communities and a high quality of life whilst narrowing inequalities’. It was also refreshing to hear of a recognition that facilities such as community hubs with high speed broadband connection and free wi-fi being one such practical policy that could make a difference in the North of Tyne Combined Authority area. 

It was acknowledged that the challenges associated with connectivity and the digital divide however has the potential to hinder growth and prosperity. For people who are not digitally connected, opportunities are missed and this in return, delays the ambitions of any Authority to develop the skills and offer the support needed to move individuals into secure employment.

Just Fair and the Social Rights Alliance North East raised awareness of their campaign Better ConNEcted and talked about how they are wanting to make the North East a place where digital inclusion is a right enjoyed by all. It was noted that part of the problem is that the internet is currently seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. Lack of access to the internet means some people cannot meet their basic needs. They are unable to home school their children, look for employment, keep in touch with loved ones, seek advice and support and as such, are therefore are unable to enjoy their basic rights

Rhiannon Bearne, North of Tyne Combined Authority was responsive to the comments raised and keen to explore ways in which we could develop ways in which to work in a participatory way, combining our skills, expertise and knowledge.

This is the beginning of a journey with the Combined Authority with some agreed next steps, so please look out for our progress updates:

  • An invite for APLE and representatives to attend the Voluntary and Community Sector Stakeholder group to talk about the Better Connected campaign (Sept+)
  • Rhiannon will share details on the campaign and the APLE Collective with Social Economy working group / Inclusive Economy Board over Summer
  • Rhiannon and Alex Black will share interim learning from the NTCA Covid digital inclusion project – when available
  • A follow-up meeting (October) to review progress to date