The project has made good progress against the targets and has been able to engage in the delivery of a range of activities across the three local authorities. Although, recruitment challenges limited early work in Wrexham and Flintshire, the project team was able to agree an alternative approach to delivering the required support in these areas to meet the project aims.
The project aimed to be place-based with a focus on the needs of each Local Authority. As a result of this the delivery has been slightly different across the Local Authorities:
- In Denbighshire, the focus was on developing Community Fibre Partnerships and supporting residents and community councils to develop plans and strategies for accessing broadband effectively.
- In Wrexham and Flintshire, the focus was on developing the use of various digital technologies to benefit businesses, individuals and council departments.
In all cases the additional funding has supported additional activity that would not have happened without the funding.
The project has supported some areas to achieve digital connectivity at a rate that is effective to connect households and businesses. These areas may not have achieved this without the support of the Digital Officer role due to challenges of understanding the system and communicating with Openreach.
Activities that have been undertaken to achieve this have included:
- Communications and awareness raising with individuals, households, businesses and community groups (including town and community councils).
- Partnership development – establishing connections between organisations that can collectively address targeted ambitions such as rural poverty.
- Support for creating Fibre Community Partnerships (FCP).
- Stimulating interest and signposting within local communities to become digitally capable.
- Intelligence gathering to support community bids through FCPs. This has been painstaking work involving house to house contact to assess demand and scope.
- Maintaining relationships and understanding of programmes with Openreach, Welsh Government and UK Government.
- Partnership working to rollout a range of digital sensors to generate observational data that can be used to make council services more efficient and to support ongoing economic development plans.
- Wider dissemination within local authorities, across North Wales partnerships and through dialogue with other local authorities in Wales.
Some of the challenges faced by this project were outside the control of project staff, such as the changes to eligibility and operation of the UK Government Gigabit voucher scheme in Wales.
Lessons learned to date include:
- Difficulties of recruitment to, and retention of, council posts that require a combination of detailed IT connectivity knowledge and excellent communication skills.
- The need for detailed understanding of the funding and process requirements of different schemes, plus the need for detailed in-situ research at the community level.
- Challenges associated with installing and maintaining a range of sensors across wide geographical areas.
- Addressing information ownership and transfer issues.
- Overcoming uncertainty among local populations of the range of digital developments and any consequences for individuals.