How tech leaders in Leeds are looking to help bridge the digital divide

Tech leaders are calling for the sector to help do its bit in bridging the digital divide by backing a new fundraising initiative.
Having a ball: Sandra Patel-Stewart, Mike Quate and Elly Nettleton outside the Queens.Having a ball: Sandra Patel-Stewart, Mike Quate and Elly Nettleton outside the Queens.
Having a ball: Sandra Patel-Stewart, Mike Quate and Elly Nettleton outside the Queens.

The Leeds Digital Charity Ball is set to take place at The Queens Hotel on April 28 with money being raised for the Leeds Community Foundation (LCF). The foundation will then use the funds to help bridge the digital divide.

Sandra Patel-Stewart, CEO of Transition Partners, a Leeds-based tech recruitment consultancy, said she has had the idea for the ball for a “number of years”.

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She told The Yorkshire Post: “The main purpose is to help bridge that digital divide and to give people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to progress towards a career in digital or tech.

“Obviously, there’s a high demand for talent and experience. We’re just conscious about the future when it comes to the talent pipeline. We want to help bridge that gap so that people can access additional skills and experience in the future.”

Funds raised will be spent on a “whole mix” of activities, Ms Patel-Stewart says. She added: “Once we start investing and donating towards these programmes, we will be able to get real life examples of who and how we have helped. We plan to run this year-on-year.”

Mike Quate, who is currently head of digital channel at Leeds Building Society, is also on the board for the charity ball.

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He says the pandemic has brought into focus the sharp inequalities when it comes to access to tech.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have struggled to keep up with online lessons - some don’t even have an internet connection.

Mr Quate said: “They might not have a broadband connection or even a laptop.

“You saw that throughout Covid when children were home and not able to get online and participate in school lessons. That’s one example of where the digital divide exists.

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“Then there’s older communities. They need help to understand what digital is and what tools they can access by going online.”

Ms Patel-Stewart is aiming to raise at least £100,000 at this year’s ball, which is aimed at the tech community across Yorkshire.

Sarah Tulip, from tech consultancy BJSS, Elly Nettleton, from Transition Partners, Deb Hetherington, Bruntwood SciTech, Eve Roodhouse, Leeds City Council and Stuart Clarke, director of Leeds Digital Festival are also on the board of the Leeds Digital Charity Ball.

Mr Quate believes there needs to be equality in access to tech to enable everyone to benefit from digital progress.

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He said: “We’re creating all of these brilliant tools and the capability for people to access resources quicker and to do things more efficiently. There should be equality in everyone being able to do that.

“There’s a lot of wealth and value created from the tech ecosystem. This is where we get the chance to start paying back into that.”

The advantage of greater access and participation for the tech sector is that it will enable firms to create better products that can be used by everyone in the future.

Mr Quate said: “There’s greater participation, there’s greater representation and there’s more diversity in terms of people using tech.

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“Then you’re developing these digital tools for a broader audience. If you’re developing for a limited type of user then you’re never going to be representing all of society that needs it.

“There’s definitely an opportunity to make sure that more communities and different demographics are represented in things that are being built.”

The digital divide could widen as technology continues to develop with more and more services now moving online, he added.

Access to talent has been a challenge for the wider tech sector and Ms Patel-Stewart feels that greater equality can help on that front.

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She said: “I’ve been in tech and tech recruitment for nearly 20 years and I have seen it evolve over those years quite drastically.

“People from different backgrounds, whether it be neurodiversity, different ethnic origin, gender etc., can bring something different to the table.

“Over the years there has been a shift from wanting people that just sit behind a computer, are technical and don’t get involved in the wider business.”

The organisers hope to turn this into an annual event and to be able to share stories of how funds have made an impact through the foundation.

Charity ball that is open to all

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The organisers of the ball hope to attract 300 to 350 people to the event in April.

Sandra Patel-Stewart says the event isn’t aimed at anyone in particular but open to all those who believe in its aims and values.

“We haven’t said it’s only for these types of companies or you’ve got to be a brand or anything like that,” she said.

Ms Patel-Stewart added: “We’ve also reserved a number of tables where we want to give an opportunity to people who have come from underprivileged or different backgrounds to attend something like this.”

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Mr Quate said: “The ballroom in The Queen’s Hotel is a really grand space. Particularly now that they have refurbished it. It’s looking brilliant.”


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James Mitchinson