Digital Challenge: Sunderland wins – Birmingham to share £2m

Congratulations to Sunderland for winning the government’s digital challenge, pocketing £3.5 million to develop a number of community wide digital schemes, including a video conferencing network for voluntary groups in the city, community e-champions (essential in my view to remove the fear and confusion barrier over new technology) and an emphasis on networking and empowering people.

Birmingham’s joint bid with Shropshire still comes away with some recognition. £2 million (an ‘unexpected bonus’ according to Stephen Hilton of the highly energetic Bristol bid) is being made available to a grouping of the 10 finalists in the digital challenge, mainly to allow them to spread what they are learning and encourage wider innovation.

Cllr Paul Tilsley (deputy leader of the council) said the city still has it’s own aspirations:

We are working with schools to develop the concept of ‘Universal Home Access’ which recognises the value that computers have to children’s education. Our partnership with BT is developing a street based Wi-Fi enabled city centre that will enable people with laptops, mobile phones, hand-held computers and devices with Wi-Fi, to access free public and service information from the city centre through the internet.

Like so many of the bids, the one from Birmingham/Shropshire argued for the value of real people on the ground who can share skills and enthusiasm. It’s not just about infrastructure and kit, you need individuals who can encourage people to step over the digital divide in their heads:

based on a model of community champions and brokers that will provide the support at local level to ensure that people can benefit from the digital technologies and understand how they can get the services they need with the confidence to do this.

Our experience on Valentines Day at the Digital Birmingham Marquee in Victoria sqaure was very positive. We were simply offering people a chance to record themselves and have a quick go at some audio editing (listen to some of the results here). Loads of enthusiam and most importantly lots of people telling us – “that’s easy” – which is often the case with technology when you have someone to help.

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