BT has announced the expansion of its BT Connected Communities programme into rural communities across Northern Ireland.
The major initiative, which was launched in a number of cities and towns in 2011 to establish on-the-ground IT support and resources in a bid to tackle online social exclusion, now supports 15 community groups across Ireland. Among the Northern Ireland groups that are benefiting from the expansion into rural communities are the Clogher Valley Community Centre, Rowan Tree Centre in Pomeroy, Centres in Ederney, Irvinestown and Enniskillen in Fermanagh, The Gasyard, Caw, Maydown and Draperstown in county Londonderry.
Working with leading community groups, BT is investing not only in the technology and the fibre infrastructure in each of the community centres but is also making available hundreds of BT employees who are volunteering their time to support the expanding network of learning communities.
Speaking at the launch of the expanded programme at the Clogher Valley Community Centre in Augher, Peter Morris, BT’s Director of Corporate Services said: “The aim of the BT Connected Communities programme is to reduce the potential for people to feel excluded or disadvantaged due to advancements in technology. We are very fortunate in Northern Ireland to have a fantastic fibre broadband infrastructure and we at BT want to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from that.
“We have come a long way since the launch of the BT Connected Communities programme just over one year ago. To date more than 3,500 participants have benefited from access to skills training, support and the technology and we anticipate that numbers will grow year on year.”
The programme organisers point to case studies involving senior citizens and farmers as evidence of the positive effect that the initiative is having.
Maire Coyle, a senior citizen from Maydown, had never even turned on a computer before participating in the class at the Beam centre. After six weeks she is confident in getting online and uses her new skills to keep in regular contact with her family and friends.
“Being able to use the computer has opened up a whole new world to me,” said Maire.
“Being involved in a cross border shared history project I was able to keep in contact with the other team members without having the need to travel. The volunteers on my programme were very encouraging and the one-to-one attention that I received really worked for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, I learned a lot and I am ever so glad that I took part.”
Another programme attendee, Shane Askin, a farmer from Augher said: “I joined the sessions organised at Clogher Valley along with my mum and brother to help us all get online, improve our computer skills and even more importantly help us to manage the farm’s paperwork. The volunteers were great and there was no pressure put on anybody - it was well worth doing and I would thoroughly recommend the taster sessions to other farmers in the area”.
Chris de Felice, Programme Manager at Citizens Online who work with BT to deliver the rural element of the programme said regardless of what level of IT skills people have, the programme is designed to encourage people to ‘have a go’.
“The opportunities are endless and with ongoing support of Citizens Online and the other partner organisations, we look forward to building on the success to date and to offering even more skills sessions out in the communities in the year ahead.”