Research and Enterprise

Closing the digital divide – working with Calderdale businesses to build resilience and recover from the pandemic

In October last year, Leeds Beckett University and Calderdale Council joined forces to launch a new programme of support to help Calderdale businesses to bounce back from the effects of the COVID pandemic. Aimed at small and medium enterprises (SMEs) providing products or services to other businesses, the free Calderdale B2B Business Recovery Programme is providing businesses with the tools and techniques to regain control of their business, build resilience and make the most of opportunities in the new business landscape. As the project comes to an end this summer, digital project assistant, Erin Mcilhatton, tells us more about how successful it has been.

Two colleagues at a desk in the Halifax University Business Centre having a conversation

Starting a new job is stressful enough. Thoughts run through your head like - “Where am I going to go for lunch?” “Will they like me?” Combine these with a global pandemic and that’s a recipe for the worst first day at work story ever.

I started my project with Calderdale Council last March, days before the beginning of the first lockdown. Not only did I have to learn a new way of working but I had to learn to do it without the comradery of the office.

This has been the case for thousands of employees all over the world - having to learn to set up offices from their homes and quickly adapt their digital skills. 2020 also highlighted the vast inequalities in the world of Digital. And some people, for whatever reason, have not been afforded the same opportunities to adapt.

Loads of workforces have been forced to accelerate their digital transformation strategies in the wake of the pandemic as they have seen that businesses that were further advanced in their digital transformation projects had a smoother and less costly move to remote working.

As I always say, there is always a silver lining to every situation, and the past year has made the business cases we wanted to make as a digital transformation team much easier to implement.

Erin Mcilhatton

Erin Mcilhatton

My family and friends ask, “But what exactly do you do?” And what better way to explain it than in a blog post I can copy and paste to them!

Digital Transformation is a combination of computer-based technologies and its integrations into organisations’ products, processes and strategies. I have spent the last year following a step-by-step project plan to help establish an effective digital strategy for Calderdale Council and how they can incorporate digital into the day to day running of the business.

As I mentioned earlier, I have discovered the vast inequalities that are leaving a lot of people behind - especially the newly unemployed and those with a lack of access to devices, training, motivation and connectivity.

Closing the digital divide is going to take a long time; however, we are already making great strides in changing the Council’s culture to adapt to the new digital world we are entering  - and making them digital leaders instead of digital followers – which will also trickle down into the customers they help.

So far, I have created a Digital Inclusion Network that meets once a month with organisations from all over Calderdale who want to connect with each other and help their service users become digitally included.

And, at the end of April 2021, we are running a fully funded social media training programme with Skittish to create social media savvy services and employees that can really represent the Calderdale brand, while improving engagement and having honest and deeper connections with their service users.

One of the social media trends for 2020 was honesty - people don’t want faceless and voiceless businesses.

I have been so grateful to work with both Leeds Beckett and Calderdale Council this year on this amazing project which hopefully will change the face of local government. It has been a challenge to jump from reception work at a global law firm to local government, but I have loved every second. I have also discovered new interests in journalism, PR and marketing so who knows - I might come back to LBU in the future to get my master’s degree, so watch this space!

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