Developing digital skills in rural communities

Image: Photo of Didling, West Sussex. Photo credit = Sam Knight (image sourced from Unsplash)

Almost 20% of people in the UK live in rural areas. That’s over 10 million people!

Almost a quarter (22%) of the rural workforce work from home, increasing reliance on broadband.

A higher than average proportion of older people live in rural areas. For example, more than half (55%) of people living in rural areas in England are over the age of 45 and almost a quarter (24%) are over the age of 65.

Challenges for projects in rural areas

  • Broadband issues
  • Size of area
  • Cost
  • Lack of existing Digital Skills training
  • Limited employment
  • General challenges

Broadband issues
– Lower broadband speeds
– Poor connectivity
Size of area
Identification of learners is harder to achieve
– Reach out to learners is harder
– Lack of public transport
– Getting community involvement to achieve a sustainable model
– Smaller number of learners spread over a wider area
– Costs of providing support are more expensive
– Cost of (public) transport
– Cost of training venues
Lack of existing Digital Skills training
– Lack of access to training opportunities
– Many work from home, decreasing access to work-based training
– Lower motivation of learners/ no culture towards digital
Limited employment
– Limited employment opportunities 
– More low skill, low pay jobs 
– Many work in micro-enterprises, with reduced access to digital skills training
General challenges
– Availability of training venues, with suitable facilities
– Poverty, age, health, costs of getting online in rural areas can have more impact because of isolation
– Poorer health – linked to deprivation in rural areas – amplified by lack of physical & digital access to health services

Solutions we have found for working in rural areas

– Strong partnerships and collaborations (especially with local community groups) helps tailor local digital skills training offers  
– Work with key partners such as local libraries and GP surgeries 

– Research the needs of people in the rural areas you plan to work in – understand local training needs for small businesses and local community groups 
– Find the influencers and community connectors in a local community and ask them for support in developing and promoting local training opportunities 
– Understand local public transport – offer training at accessible locations & suitable times 
– Understand the local broadband provision
– Look out for opportunities for community-based broadband provision (such as offered by B4RN in Lancashire)  

– Hub and spoke models of providing support give flexibility
– Don’t wait for people to come to you – go out into the community
– Outreach may need to include home visits for those who are isolated
– Offer drop-ins, or group based activities, when there is a small local group who can benefit 
– Make good use of local community venues that are already trusted spaces (e.g. everything from local scouts facilities to the local pub or church)
– Recruit very local Digital Champions – as trusted people
– Added reach can be added by having “roving” Digital Champions
– Train staff in local partners to be Digital Champions (e.g. sheltered housing staff) 
– Advertise in local community newspapers and community websites 
– Use mobile MiFi devices for connectivity as there may still be areas where connectivity is too poor for wifi
– Try to have devices from different providers to make it more likely you’ll get online when training 

“Trusted people, trusted places, trusted relationships, trusted partnerships”  

Rich Denyer-Bewick, Citizens Online, commenting on the key themes of digital inclusion in rural communities


We also held an event on sharing best practice about Developing digital skills in rural communities

Jigsaw graphic with the text Top tip

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