Is it just me, or does it feel like we’ve all been sprinting a marathon?

There’s no question that organisations have responded rapidly and creatively to the coronavirus pandemic. An incredible amount of work has taken place across the country to ensure lifeline services have continued – the sector has truly been #NeverMoreNeeded.

One key area of work has been digital participation. So many organisations were already embracing this work pre-Covid to help others to gain access, confidence, motivation and essential digital skills for life. Pushing digital to the core of their services has also allowed them to deliver key programmes whether face-to-face, online or a blended version of both. Digital participation was gaining real momentum.

What we could never have expected though, was that the whole nation would suddenly switch on to the benefits of being online a) at the same time and b) as an emergency response to a global pandemic!

Nowhere have I seen this enthusiasm brought together more than the Connecting Scotland programme. SCVO have been working in partnership with the Scottish Government, local councils, voluntary groups and the private sector to get devices, connectivity and Digital Champion support out to people most in need. It has been incredibly rewarding and ground-breaking work to support over the past ten months.

Now that we’ve been able to catch our breath a little, it is so important that we take the time to make sure we have appropriately adapted to the changing lockdown restrictions and have new sustainable and resilient models of support in place.

To help with this, I am delighted to be co-ordinating three new funds that launched on Thursday 25February to support people to get online and build further capacity and learning around access, confidence, motivation and skills.

The Digital Participation Charter Fund has been operating for some years with the support of the Scottish Government and BT, and now we also have Cellnex on board. Round 8 will provide small grants of up to £10,000 to help a range of organisations tackle poverty, social isolation and other forms of inequality in society through embedding digital skills development work in their day-to-day activity with the people they support.

The Device Refurbishment Support Fundwill provide grants of up to £15,000 to support projects operating within the voluntary and community sectors that have an established programme of collecting, re-furbishing and distributing pre-loved devices. As programmes like Connecting Scotland have identified, there is an ever-growing need for devices to help people who can’t afford those costs of getting online themselves.

Lastly, we are pleased to be delivering the Connecting Communities Fundin partnership with Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation. This programme can provide small grants of up to £5,000 for projects being delivered in City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian or West Lothian that are seeking to address digital exclusion through upskilling and the purchase of devices and/or connectivity to help local communities achieve better health outcomes.

A key consideration for all the Funds is of course the revised ways of working that are in place due to coronavirus restrictions. We’re looking to fund projects that have adapted their delivery models and are able to demonstrate their plans are sustainable and geared towards helping the increasing numbers of people who are still feeling the effects of not being able to engage with key online services and support.

We’ll be bringing you guest blogs from a number of our past projects over the coming weeks which we hope provide food for thought. You can also check out the 188 previously supported Charter Fund projects to show the breadth of work out there. We are also holding some webinars to talk a little bit more about the fund and answer questions. If you have a specific query that isn’t answered by FAQs or individual fund guidance, drop us an email to schedule time to chat through your ideas further.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this funding will help set a steadier pace for digital participation work going forward!