Why digital transformation needs young people to inspire our cities


Why digital transformation needs young people to inspire our cities

14 May 2020

Rebecca Stephens 2

By Rebecca Stephens, City Manager - Peterborough and Cambridge

A wristband that alerts wearer and carer to a change in vital health stats, a virtual reality meeting space, a theft-tracking app, and a virtual mental health counsellor. These inspirational ideas could only have come from the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

But these, unlike the flying cars or day trips to Mars that make up the future-gazing what-might-be versions of a dim and distant future, are the ideas of today; concepts and business models that we have the technology and the capability to bring to life now.

Hundreds of students from schools in Peterborough have been telling us what to do as part of CityFibre’s Inspire Your City challenge, delivered by The Skills Service. Now, as Coronavirus has put a stop to school workshops, we’ve taken the challenge online. We need you – the children and teenagers of Peterborough and Cambridge – to inspire our cities in a way that adults simply can’t.

For decades, Britain has been reluctant to embrace full fibre and use a digital infrastructure to transform and improve its cities and towns. From public transportation apps in Reykjavik to smart waste management in New York, or the ‘climate street’ initiatives in Amsterdam reducing energy use by 10%, currently Mexico, Lithuania and Portugal have a better full fibre infrastructure than the UK. But that’s all changing.

As CityFibre seeks to transform the UK with a new generation of future-proof digital infrastructure that will spark innovation and underpin our economy in a digital age, Peterborough and Cambridge are at the forefront. We’re investing £50million to bring gigabit speed connectivity within reach of almost every home and business in those cities. The digital transformation is underway, so how are our cities taking advantage of it?

We’re streaming more content in greater resolution, the jerky movements and audio lag on Zoom video conferences have gone, and the ping is impressively fast on Fortnite. But this is really only scratching the surface of what we, as a city, are capable of.

Pupils at Thomas Deacon, St John Fisher, Hampton Gardens, and the Children’s University came up with scores of ideas from a hospital efficiency triage robot to bin lorries that know when to collect residents’ waste; glasses that translate different languages, a wearable map, or an automated locker to support the homeless; wifi-enabled umbrellas, robotic pets to combat loneliness and monitor health, driverless ambulances, a plastic-sensing ecobot to clean rivers… the list goes on.

Almost as good was the feedback from the local businesses who supported the workshops: “it was awe-inspiring to see their ideas, they thought deeply about the challenges they faced and the innovative solutions they created were truly brilliant.”

Teachers too were inspired: “fantastically engaging and brilliant fun”; “the ideas were indeed inspiring”; “it not only developed their business development skills but also challenged their teamwork, leadership, presentation and listening skills – it was brilliant”.

By nature, adults are restricted by the past, by convention and the “rules” of acting within what’s possible. But what’s possible has changed – the connectivity and internet speeds we’ve grown used to have vastly increased thanks to full fibre. Yet the grown-ups still can’t see beyond the artificial ceiling they created.

That’s why we’re relying on young people to inspire us. Children and teenagers who haven’t had their creative wings clipped, who think innovatively, who aren’t forced to follow a path due to a misguided sense of what’s within our capabilities. In the same way that youth is telling the leaders of today to sort out the environment crisis our society has created; we need that youth to tell us how our cities can be inspired to use our full fibre network for good and drive the digital revolution.

By the end of this year, CityFibre will be transforming the digital infrastructure in over 100 towns and cities around the UK, changing the way we work, play and live.

If you’re aged 7-18 in live in Peterborough or Cambridge, we want you to play a part by telling us how our full fibre gigabit-speed network should be used. Whether you take part solo or as part of a family group, we’re challenging you to come up with a product or service that makes full use of the amazing speed of full fibre broadband. It may be something that helps the community, creates a new way to doing a task, improves business efficiency, saves energy or reduces cost. It’s up to you to decide how you want to Inspire Your City. Visit The Skills Service site to find out how to enter and the prizes on offer, or register your interest in full fibre broadband via our Gigabit Cities page.

Whatever you call it: entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, imagination, artistry, or invention. Your ideas will inspire us.