As part of The Big Conversation, we ran a series of virtual events to explore the best road to recovery for regions across the UK.  

Executive summary

On 13 October 2020, stakeholders for the North East gathered as part of Lloyds Banking Group’s Big Conversation to discuss the challenges, opportunities and critical areas of support needed to bridge the digital divide, boost social mobility and drive the recovery of the region. The North East has one of the highest proportions of digitally disengaged people in the UK.

The key issues discussed were:

  • COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing societal challenge.
  • Access to devices and data is the critical challenge to solve.
  • Digital skills help build resilience through unlocking work and learning opportunities.
  • Greater coordination between charities, businesses and the government will amplify current efforts. 
  • Local initiatives must be at the heart of the response. 
  • More work is needed to engage and excite people about what digital can offer. 

Event attendees

Elyn Corfield, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the North

Chi Onwurah MP, Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital

Julie Elliott MP, Sunderland Central, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Digital Skills 

Adam Micklethwaite, The Good Things Foundation, Director of Digital Social Inclusion

Andrew Esson, Newcastle College University Centre, Director of Industrial Strategy

Chris Ashworth, Nominet, Head of Public Benefit and Reboot Campaign Lead

Elizabeth Needleman, BT Group, Public Affairs - North of England 

Jemma Waters, Lloyds Banking Group, Head of Responsible Transformation

Haythem Tawfiq, Media Savvy CIC, Creative Tutor

Karleen Dowden, Money and Pensions Service, Regional Partnership Manager - North East 

Roxanne Morison, CBI, Head of Digital Policy

Watch the event highlights

Challenges and opportunities


COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing societal challenge. 

  • Julie Elliott MP speaks to the urgency of the issue, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thousands are unable to access essential services online from Universal Credit to educational resources, and risk being left behind.

Access to devices and data is the critical issue to solve. 

  • This is the first step to digital inclusion, but there is currently a significant needs gap. Up to a quarter of households in the UK do not have sufficient access to digital connectivity.
  • Investment in broadband infrastructure is critical to addressing this challenge, alongside empowering people to stay safe online.

Digital skills help build resilience through unlocking work and learning opportunities.

  • Karleen Dowden says digital skills will be at the centre of the modern workplace.
  • Chi Onwurah MP believes digital skills help overcome regional disparities through leading to jobs for the future.


"Tech adoption and digital skills underpins a number of recovery levers. Employability, social mobility, productivity and resilience to name a few." 


Jemma Waters, Lloyds Banking Group

Solutions to bridge the digital divide


Greater coordination between charities, the public and private sectors can amplify current efforts. 

  • There is no shortage of initiatives that are helping to bridge the divide, but they currently operate in silos. More collaboration can lead to greater impact.
  • Examples include facilitating seamless data sharing and device recycling, signposting to centralised services and pooling resources, budgets and expertise.

"An economic recovery is based on not leaving anyone behind. Digital skills should be embedded into everything, including blended learning."


Chris Ashworth, Nominet


Local initiatives must be at the heart of the response. 

  • Lack of confidence is a key barrier to engagement for the digitally excluded.
  • Investing in community infrastructure and embedding digital into learning initiatives will help support the digitally excluded.

More work is needed to engage and excite people about what digital can offer.

  • Inspiring and showing people what they can achieve through digital (e.g. new career paths) will help boost social mobility in the region.


Read about how we've been getting to the heart of what the UK's people, businesses and communities need to emerge stronger and better than before, and see the other regional event summaries.

Find out more