Writing for The Northern Echo, Elyn Corfield, Lloyds Group Ambassador for the North, argues that collaboration is the key to closing the North-East’s digital divide.

THE impact of the pandemic has affected everyone differently. Listening to voices from across the UK is essential in helping to understand others and appreciate their circumstances, making our workplaces and communities more inclusive.

This was the driving motivation behind The Big Conversation – a three-month series of roundtable discussions bringing together local businesses, politicians, elected mayors and business groups from all regions and nations of the UK.

The insights we gathered painted a vivid picture of the resilience on display from people coping with living in lockdown up and down the country, not least from those across the North-East.

Now, those findings have been collated into The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover report, a vital resource harnessing the views of business leaders, policymakers and community leaders.

Through our conversations we heard many shared experiences. However, the clearest theme was the diversity and divergence between local economies across the country. There can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

This was undoubtedly the sentiment shared by my fellow panellists during our own Big Conversation here in the North-East in November, including Roxanne Morison, Head of Digital Policy at the Confederation of British Industry and Elizabeth Needleman of BT Group, which is a significant employer in the region.

I was struck how the pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in our everyday lives, connecting people digitally while social contact isn’t possible and enabling many of us to keep working from home.

But there is a danger that inequalities in our communities are growing because some people who have little or no access to technology are being left behind.

There’s an opportunity to help more disadvantaged people use digital tools, not just to work and stay in touch, but also for things like paying bills, accessing benefits, managing finances and even getting better deals on products and services.

And digital skills are vital to unlocking work and learning opportunities.

I believe that local initiatives must be at the heart of the response if we are going to engage and excite people about the possibilities that digital offers and provide them with the skills that they need.

That means bringing together organisations including charities, the private sector and government in a coordinated effort.

We’re playing our part, and I’d urge businesses and individuals to look into the free support available from the Lloyds Bank Academy, which offers online training, courses and seminars on things like website design and social media marketing.

The North-East faces some unique challenges, but better digital skills will unlock opportunities for everyone, as well as making our economy more diverse and resilient.

And we have huge resources to draw on, not least our passion and determination to see individuals, communities and businesses across the North-East thrive.

By working together, I know we can rise to the challenge.