Full Fibre broadband provider Fibrus has already allocated the entirety of its annual £60k Community Fund ahead of schedule due to “overwhelming demand”.
Over 30 organisations across Northern Ireland have benefitted from the latest round after the local company assigned all the funding earmarked for 2023 in this phase due to the huge volume of applications, as Fibrus continues to accelerate its roll out across the region.
More than 70 projects have received grants to tackle digital poverty, benefitting nearly 14,000 people living in Northern Ireland, since the fund was launched in 2021.
Dominic Kearns, Chief Executive of Fibrus, said the purpose of the fund was to “bridge the digital divide in local communities”.
“The Fibrus Community Fund was established to address digital poverty and, when we saw the overwhelming demand from deserving organisations, we decided to allocate all the available funding for the year, reaffirming our commitment to creating a more digitally inclusive society.
“It’s important to us that while we’re bringing the people of Northern Ireland high-speed connections, we’re putting money back into the community. The success of the Fibrus Community Fund highlights that there is still work to be done in Northern Ireland when it comes to closing the digital divide.”
Mr Kearns added: “Working in partnership with the Community Foundation NI, we are proud to be playing our part in enhancing people’s lives through improved digital literacy and connectivity.”
The impact of the fund has been felt across various sectors, with Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), community groups, playgroups, as well as arts and sports organisations, among the recipients.
One of the organisations to benefit significantly from the latest round of funding was the Armagh Westenders who provide a support network for elderly and vulnerable people. They successfully ran a seniors’ digital support programme for their 150-plus members, offering two six-week digital inclusion courses and providing 10 iPhones to members without devices.
Secretary Siobhan Murphy emphasised the profound impact the project had on people’s lives.
“Many elderly members weren’t online, and quite a few lived in rural communities, so they were relatively isolated,” she said.
“It’s fantastic to see them using the phones and WhatsApp to connect with their friends and family. Most importantly, they can see photos of loved ones, which brings them immense joy.
“The programme has certainly had an impact on social inclusion; it makes our members feel more like they truly belong to the group. As you get older and move away from digital devices, you tend to get more isolated, so it’s a courageous step to take at that age. The Fibrus Community Fund has been instrumental in empowering these individuals, enriching their lives, and fostering a sense of belonging within the community.”
David Kennedy, Communications Manager at the Community Foundation NI, said its partnership with Fibrus has been vitally important.
“The partnership with the Community Foundation and Fibrus has had a real impact on the ground and in our communities in terms of building access to digital devices and learning,” he said.
“One of the Community Foundation’s strategic priorities is digital inclusion. Being able to deliver much-needed funding to organisations across Northern Ireland through the Fibrus Community Fund addresses the needs of so many of our local community groups.
“It has been a lifeline not only for the groups themselves, but also their members at an individual level. As we look ahead, we are already in the process of planning future initiatives for the Fibrus Community Fund. Our collective goal is to further expand its impact and reach, supporting even more projects that foster digital inclusion and social cohesion.”