Technology building priceless rural connections for young

By Sported |  15 November 2023

Technology can help young people’s wellbeing by building connections in rural areas, new studies by Sported and Vodafone have shown.

The digital divide – with nearly half of rural areas classed as 5G “not spots” – furthers inequality throughout the country, placing added strain on already stretched groups.

And with 35% of Sported’s rural members reporting that digital connectivity is a barrier to their organisation’s success, it is vital – say the charity – that support is provided to remove these barriers and help groups deliver for the young people they support.
As a result of this divide, Vodafone has committed to delivering on the Government’s 2030 5G coverage ambitions, set out in the Wireless

Infrastructure Strategy, by providing 95% of the UK population with 5G standalone coverage by 2030 and extending that to 99% by 2034.

This support is essential, as highlighted by Sported member group Youths of Fenland – a community interest company committed to supporting young people in the rural area they serve.

Youth of Fenlands group leader Debbie King stated: “Youths of Fenland provides a vital service connecting young people to positive activities in areas of deprivation and rural isolation. The issue of digital connectivity is an ongoing challenge for us: young people not having access to phones, laptops or the internet, coupled with the facilities we use not having broadband or adequate signal.

“This creates a real time and cost issue for us, in downloading, hotspotting and generally connecting with our participants – and adds to their low esteem, aspiration and sense of isolation.”

Sported, seeing the need to help bridge this gap, has partnered with Vodafone on the Sports.Connected programme, and is looking to help 4 million people cross the digital divide by the end of 2025 – addressing the inequality in access to connectivity, digital skills and technology.

As well as providing mobile connectivity and technology to those who need it, a key part of the programme is upskilling businesses and communities. Sported provides support and a range of digital services to groups delivering sports programmes to young people, to enable them to put on more activities and to improve their digital capacity.

Further to this project, Sported is undertaking research to further the understanding of the issues facing rural groups and their young people.

Regional Manager Rob Danson, who is leading on the project, said: “We know that our rural groups face added barriers, so this commitment from Vodafone to close the digital divide is one we are delighted to see.

However, it’s clear there’s much more to do. Rural groups are becoming increasingly isolated, as highlighted by our research to date. Supporting the young people in rural communities digitally is essential to improve their standard of living and ultimately, their futures.”

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