Minister Michelle O’Neill is pictured with BT Chief Executive Colm O’Neill. PICTURE: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Minister Michelle O’Neill is pictured with BT Chief Executive Colm O’Neill.
PICTURE: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

AGRICULTURE and Rural Development Minister Michelle O¹Neill today launched an initiative designed to give people living in rural areas greater access to online training.

BT, in partnership with the Minister and her Department, is now running specifically tailored courses to help local farmers and their families develop the confidence and skills to fully utilise new technologies, and DARD’s online resources, to assist with the future running of their businesses.

The new courses will form part of BT’s well established Connected Communities initiative which currently involves 12 community centres across Northern Ireland.

BT is investing not only in the technology and the fibre infrastructure, in each of these community centres, but is also making available BT employees as volunteers to support the expanding network of learning communities.

Minister O’Neill said: “This is a great opportunity for rural people to learn more about ICT and using broadband, and all free of charge, at centres and times convenient to them.

“I would be hopeful that this successful initiative would continue to be rolled out across the north to enable more and more people to avail of these invaluable resources.

“I announced in May this year that my Department was investing another £5million in rural broadband specifically targeted at rural areas of high deprivation across the north that currently have no fixed wire infrastructure to access broadband.

“I hope that this combined with this type of social investment in communities by BT can encourage more rural dwellers and businesses to use broadband, particularly farmers who can work online with the department.”

Speaking at the launch BT Chief Executive Colm O’Neill said: “Through the BT Connected Communities programme, we have taken a unique approach to digital inclusion by focusing on individual community needs and are delighted we could bring the initiative to some of the most rural areas in Northern Ireland.

“This latest aspect of the initiative will provide much needed assistance to farming families, introducing them to skills which are becoming increasing essential to their working life.

“IT skills are critical for the future success of our economy and I¹m pleased that work has already commenced with farming businesses in Augher and I hope to see more people getting involved.”

The 12 Community Centres across the north providing the service are:

Ederney Community Development, Fermanagh

Cavanaleck Community Association, Enniskillen

Rowan Tree Centre, Pomeroy, Dungannon

Clogher Valley Community Centre, Augher

ARC Healthy Living Centre, Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh

BEAM Social Enterprise Centre, Maydown

Glasgowbury, Draperstown

Ashton Centre & Fab Lab, North Belfast

Phoenix Centre, Greater Shankill Partnership, West Belfast

Youth Initiatives, Poleglass, West Belfast

The Gasyard Centre, Creggan, Derry

Crescent Community Centre, Caw, Waterside.

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