WINCHESTER civic chiefs are looking beyond Covid to prepare Winchester for the future and the digital economy.

The city council is calling on residents and businesses to share their experiences to help shape the future.

It wants residents to complete a survey about their broadband and mobile services as well as what it needs to be in the future. Feedback will influence council policies and work with partners.

Covid19 has been a catalyst for change with people's lives more more dependent on better digital connectivity. Excellent infrastructure is essential and the council wants to understand the needs of everyone who uses digital services.

The survey can be found at

To share relevant article, documents, papers and information with the council (

The council also wants people to attend a virtual panel debate to discuss future challenges with a range of experts and senior council figures in spring 2021.

Cllr Anne Weir, chair of the council's Digital Winchester Task and Finish Group, said: “Access to high-quality digital services has been playing a rapidly growing and critical role in the economic health and the resilience of the district for many years. With this in mind, Winchester City Council is keen to understand the changing digital needs of residents, employers, innovators and investors. We’re encouraging everyone to share their thoughts to get a broad range of perspective and opinions on the future of the digital economy.”

Cllr Paula Ferguson, Cabinet member for the local economy, added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the ability to access and embrace digital technology has become even more vital. With many more people working from home, good digital connectivity has become key to continued productivity. It also has an important role to play in carbon neutrality, and I hope that people and businesses from across the district will complete this survey and help us to shape our digital future.”

The council is already committed to improving connectivity across the district. Last year it launched a city-wide Wi-Fi service available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The business and housing policy committee heard the latest on what the council is doing to weather Covid and prepare for the future.

Plans are being drawn for post-lockdown with marketing campaigns, involving new films and the revival of the knitted King Alfred trail.

Digital Islands has set up a business support club to help and support some 750 businesses across the district. It has a team of specialists waiting to help in a new free service.

Gavin McWhirter, managing director of Digital Islands, said: “We are passionate about helping local businesses overcome the challenges presented as a result of the pandemic. Our team will provide help, advice, expertise and training as practical support from commercially focused specialists.”

The service has been set up specifically for retailers, cafes, bars, pubs, nail-bars, hair-salons, barbers and any other business operating on the High Streets and other shopping areas across the district of Winchester. They simply need to register at:

Cllr Ferguson said: “The pandemic has created challenging trading conditions with three national lockdowns, increasing competition from internet sales and the closure of some national chains. I am therefore very pleased that we are able to offer this targeted support service to businesses on all our high streets across the district. This new service will help businesses adapt and build resilience, and I hope, help them to come through the pandemic successfully.”

The council is launching a 'virtual High Street' initiative the council wants to help businesses with an online presence. The council will fund it for six months.

Festivals will be run this year with the Hat Fair set to move from July to September and a Design Festival in October.

Andrew Gostelow, Tourism and Economy Service Lead at the council, told the committee: "Covid gives us an opportunity to make changes. The economic shock of Covid-19 can be used as a springboard to transform the economy to a greener and more technologically-driven creative economy."

The committee heard that in many ways Winchester was doing better than elsewhere. The shop vacancy rate is below the national average at 6.2 per cent and unemployment is only 2.6 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent nationally.

The council has disbursed £34.6m in Government grants to support business especially those in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.