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Priya Begum, who has been supported through the Sandwell Adult and Family Learning Service (SAFL)

A project which has helped more Sandwell residents get confident online by providing 1,200 Chromebooks, 400 laptops and training on how to use them has won the Adult Learner Award for Digital Inclusion.

Two Sandwell Council teams – the Sandwell Adult and Family Learning Service (SAFL) and Digital Inclusion Team – were recognised for the outstanding support they offer to residents to improve their digital skills and job prospects.

The project is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) £4m digital devices rollout which has now helped over 46,000 people in the region.

Delivered at a range of locations across Sandwell, such as the Confederation of Bangladeshi Organisations, Black Country Women’s Aid and Sons of Rest, training courses have helped residents develop new skills to help with applying for jobs, paying bills, shopping online, helping children with homework and claiming benefits they are entitled to.

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Nick Bailey, Sandwell Council’s Nick Garratt (Digital Inclusion Lead) and, Diane Pope (Curriculum Quality Lead), and Mayor of the West Midlands, Richard Parker at the Adult Learning Awards ceremony

Priya Begum, a mother of two, has had support from the project, said: “I have completed two basics courses and have now gained the confidence to go onto an Essential Digital Skills course that will not only mean I have a formal qualification but can also now help my children with their homework. I feel confident that I can work safely online and reassured that I can keep an eye on what my children do online so I know that they are safe too.” 

The Sandwell scheme is just one of a range of partnership projects, funded by the WMCA, where digitally isolated residents have been able to get online after being given laptops or Chromebooks. 

Each programme has been delivered by working in partnership with local councils and community and voluntary sector organisations, to improve improving people’s access to public services, enhancing their employment prospects and reducing social isolation.

Richard Parker, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair, said, “It is great to hear that the Digital Inclusion project has reached so many of our residents. Sandwell’s project is an excellent example of how we have worked with local authorities and voluntary and community sector organisations to deliver localised support and it’s great to see they have been recognised with an Adult Learning Award for digital inclusion.

“Our Digital Roadmap sets out how together we can do even more to fulfil our potential as a region and deliver positive outcomes for local residents. In turn, improving digital skills will support business and the local economy with access to a more digitally sound workforce.”

Sandwell Council’s Deputy Leader Councillor Paul Moore said: “Residents who can’t access digital services can find themselves missing out on things as well as having to pay more for essentials. 

“It’s important for all our residents to have the tools, opportunities and skills to go online and access services and support at the time they need them. 

“This project is a great example of the community-based digital support we’re developing in Sandwell.”

In addition to digital devices, the WMCA has also partnered with the Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) to distribute more than 300 Fitbits to individuals identified as benefitting most from support to improve their health and wellbeing.

Participants had one of three long term conditions, high blood pressure, chronic depression or Type 2 Diabetes or someone with a personal lifestyle risk factor such as being overweight.

Nearly 73% of participants said they would recommend using a Fitbit improved their digital skills and that they had become more physically active as a result.

Digital inclusion is part of an overarching WMCA’s digital roadmap that sets out how the combined authority will work with partners to digitally upskill residents, connect even more people and businesses to broadband, and drive better use of data and technology to improve public services and reduce the region’s carbon footprint.

For more about the Adult Learning Awards 2024 which celebrates the outstanding achievements of learning providers, tutors, employers and inspiring individuals who have made a real impact in adult learning in the region, visit the WMCA Website.