Digital engagement fuels St Helens' economy

By Ben Dowd: O2 Business Director, Telefónica UK

At the end of 2015, my team and I embarked on an ambitious project. Following research that highlighted the digital divide between North and South, we selected St Helens, Merseyside, as the ideal test bed for a pilot “Digital Communities” programme to improve a town’s digital health. Our goal was to demonstrate how digital engagement can make a real difference to a community, its businesses and its citizens.

We’ve now received the results – and I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved.

In just ten weeks, we reached more than 42,000 people in the St Helens community. We improved the digital engagement of the town by 15% and moved St Helens up 17 places in the Digital High Street Index. Our work improved the productivity of local businesses and increased citizens’ access to local services. We awarded grants to inspire young people to start their own digital projects, installed wifi hotspots to boost the town’s connectivity, and ran dozens of events on digital skills.

And it’s not over yet.

The longer-term impact of our work has staggering potential. Our best estimates suggest that if the digital engagement of St Helens continues to develop, the programme could generate an additional £46.3m for St Helens’ economy by 2020. And it’s not just St Helens that could benefit from this project – the entire nation can reap the rewards of embracing digital. Reapplying the Digital Communities model in other areas could inject an additional £1.5bn to the national economy by 2020. It just goes to show that digital can be truly transformative.

I believe that embracing digital technology benefits everyone. Not just big businesses; not just super-savvy tech start-ups; not just those who work with technology every day. Everyone. And at O2, we’re determined to make digital transformation a reality.