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Exploring the urban-rural digital divide

20 April 2011 @TeesUniNews

 

Poor internet access is leaving residents of some rural East Cleveland villages feeling disadvantaged compared to their urban neighbours, according to new research.

The Digital Villages project, led by Teesside University researchers and the East Cleveland Community Development Group in Saltburn, focused on the use of ICT (information and communication technology) such as computers, the internet and social networking in rural and urban communities.

A network of 17 community researchers from the six East Cleveland communities involved in the project helped to lead surveys, focus groups and carry out interviews.

Terry Hatton, landlord at the Toad Hall Arms pub in Moorsholm, is among these community researchers. Born in London, where he worked for a global shipping organisation, he moved to the region with his family around two decades ago.

He said: “Tired of city life, I uprooted with my family in 1988 and bought the Toad Hall Arms public house, which is a very community-based pub.

'In the past when people were moving to a village, they would ask about transport or local schools. These days they are just as interested in internet access. The research is helping to make people more aware of problems accessing the internet.'

He added: 'Moorsholm is fairly typical of the area’s outlying villages when it comes to connection problems and internet speed. Some people felt they were the only ones having problems, but the research has helped to get people talking about how they can join forces to approach the service providers about the problems they’re facing.

'Limited internet access is frustrating, as it affects everyone from children wanting to do homework, to their parents wanting to go online, to local businesses and farmers, who all need to access the internet as part of their daily routine.'

Poor broadband access in rural villages, which has a direct impact on local businesses A significant overall finding from the research pointed to poor broadband access in rural villages, which has a direct impact on local businesses and ability to shop and access services online. Research interviewees also felt they were at a disadvantage and ‘falling behind’ their urban neighbours.

Paul Davies, of the East Cleveland Community Development Group, has led the project in partnership with Teesside University’s research team Professor Eileen Green, Carrie Singleton and Steve Thompson, of the Institute for Digital Innovation.

Paul said: 'The project has been a great success in helping us understand the nature of ICT use and how it can be a real positive in people’s lives. But equally it has shown some of the problems, issues and shortcomings that must be addressed if ICT and the internet are promoted as the solution to issues which are increasingly important to individuals and communities.'

Professor Green said: 'This has been an exciting opportunity to work in partnership with local communities in producing research findings in an area which is top of international policy agendas and close to people’s hearts.'

Access to ICT services and community resources across the region was mapped across as part of the research, with a digital map showing people where they can access ICT learning and provision.

Funding for the project came from the Big Lottery Research Fund.

More information about the project can be found at www.digitalvillage.org.uk. The digital map can be seen at View the digital map


In the News

Rural communities feel the digital divide
Evening Gazette (Teesside), 14/06/2011, p.9
The Digital Villages Project, led by Teesside University researchers and the East Cleveland Community Development Group in Saltburn, involved surveys and focus groups looking at the use of and access


Cut off from the modern world
Herald & Post, 26/04/2011, p.3
Researchers from Teesside University and East Cleveland Community Development Group in Saltburn have been looking at internet access in urban and rural areas of East Cleveland. Community researchers f


Our internet issue
Evening Gazette (Teesside), 22/04/2011, p.12; Gazette Live (Web), 22/04/2011
A project led by Teesside University researchers and the East Cleveland Community Development Group has found that poor broadband access in rural villages in East Cleveland had left them feeling at a