Manchester City Council is set to distribute 400 Google Chromebook laptops to residents in need over the coming weeks, to them to stay connected with friends and family.
The Chromebooks, which will be gifted permanently and come with free internet data until March 2021, are being provided to Manchester residents who do not have a reliable means by which to use the internet. The council has invested £100,000 in the devices, with an additional £10,000 contribution being made by local housing and community services provider One Manchester.
The devices will mostly be provided to people who have contacted the council’s Covid emergency hub, while referrals from other Council services and partner organisations have also been received. Priority is being given to those who have a disability, a long-term health condition, are over 65 years old, or on a low income - with many of the recipients meeting more than one of these criteria.
In many cases, recipients will have little or no digital experience and so each resident who is gifted a device will also be offered one-to-one telephone support from a digital volunteer. The digital champions will be people who already form part of the council’s digital inclusion telephone support service, including staff from Manchester’s libraries, Citizens Advice, community organisations from across the city, and volunteers.
Nicola Bailey, 38 from Harpurhey, received a Chromebook for her family this week.
Nicola, who lives with daughter Cody (14) and son Kenzie (12), said: "This is my first ever computer and so it will be a learning curve for me.
"My daughter has been showing me the basics of how to go online and I know I will be able to get support from the council too as I learn to use it. It will be one step at a time.
"I want to say a big thank you to Manchester City Council, as this will be a really big help for our family."
The Council also manages a digital inclusion support service, which is available to people who have the internet at home, but need help with their skills or confidence to use it effectively. Advice can be given on everything from the very basics, from how to switch on their device, to setting up an email address, video-calling friends and family, making supermarket orders and booking GP appointments. To access the service, text 07860 064 128, leaving a name and area of Manchester where you live, to allow a local digital volunteer to call back. Calls can be made in 15 languages, with around 400 people having received help since May.
Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought home just how much many of us rely on the internet for essential tasks, such as household shopping or accessing public services and for keeping in contact with our family and friends. For our more vulnerable residents, the internet can be a particularly big help, but in many cases, residents do not have access to digital technology, or the experience to make the most of it.
“This investment, paired with ongoing one-to-one support, will support hundreds of residents to take advantage of all the practical and social benefits the internet can bring.”
Anton Schultz, Social Investment Manager at One Manchester, added: "One Manchester is delighted to be supporting this innovative digital device scheme. Helping our communities to cope throughout and beyond COVID-19 requires us to all work together and it is great that this partnership initiative, led by the local authority, is providing not only devices but also 1-1 support that will help people access essential support and services online."