Community Connections Lewisham has recently been issued with 100 donated Smartphones (phones with internet capability), to be distributed among Lewisham’s poorest and most digitally excluded residents. Individuals referred to the scheme will each have a free 4G smartphone delivered to their homes and receive an internet bundle of 6GB data per month for one whole year, including unlimited calls and texts. Accompanying this, we will support each recipient to access digital learning support in the borough, enabling them to learn new skills and make the most use of their new device.
The London wide scheme, known as Community Calling, was set up by the charity Hubbub and called upon Londoners to donate any working smartphones they no longer needed. Thanks to an amazing public response the scheme has so far re-homed 3,000 refurbished smartphones and aims to reach its target of 10,000. Community Connections Lewisham is therefore one of many London charities and statutory organisations that have been privileged with the task of distributing these phones to the people in most need.
The aim of this scheme and why it is needed
The aim is to increase ‘digital inclusion’ among vulnerable adults in the borough. By this we mean equipping people with the tools, knowledge and skills to use the internet. The digital age we live in, as well as long-term closure of face-to-face services due to Covid-19, has meant that elderly and vulnerable adults (many of whom are still shielding indoors) are increasingly reliant on the internet to access crucial services and community activities. And yet many of these individuals feel left behind and excluded due to their lack of IT knowledge and equipment. During the height of the pandemic we received many calls from residents who were confused and stressed by the process of suddenly having to order their shopping online. And amidst the current economic crisis we continue to see high numbers of people who need to apply for benefits yet struggle to find the relevant information and complete forms over the internet. Equally, with many people still having to shield indoors we have sadly witnessed an increase in loneliness, anxiety and depression. Exclusion from the internet has only worsened the effect of this by preventing people from engaging face to face with loved ones or health professionals online, or participating in online social activities.
Our hope is that by learning to use their smartphone each recipient will enjoy increased independence, safety and connection with local services. This might be through learning to carry out essential online tasks like completing forms, booking GP appointments, or using online shopping and banking. Equally, we hope to see their personal and mental wellbeing enhanced through learning to use Zoom and WhatsApp to talk regularly and face to face with loved ones in an affordable way, or learning how to surf the internet to find out about activities in their neighbourhood.
It is also a sad reality that the clients we support, the elderly in particular, are the biggest target for online scams. Financial losses from investment scams increased by 42% during the pandemic compared to the previous year, with over 6,000 recorded cases of Covid-related fraud and an estimated £34.5 million being stolen. Criminals have exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to defraud those who they deem to be the least ‘tech savvy’ as well as those who may be more trusting and emotionally vulnerable due to loneliness and poor mental health. One of our aims in delivering this scheme is therefore that vulnerable residents are not just equipped with devices but have the opportunity to learn how to use the internet safely and become more aware of scamming techniques.
The role of our partners
We are able to organise a quick delivery of the phones thanks to our ‘key partnership’ with the local charity Good Gym. They provide volunteer ‘runners’ who sign up to practical tasks as a way of helping less able members of their community whilst getting the benefit of exercise in the process. When a person is referred to Community Calling we arrange for one of these volunteers to collect the phone from our office and deliver it straight to their home.
To make the scheme effective, we also refer people regularly to community organisations that offer digital training and support. A main example is local IT support hub ‘Catbytes’, also one of our key partners. Along with supplying and setting up digital equipment, Catbytes offer 1:1 support and weekly social drop-ins where people can learn to use their devices, navigate the internet, and protect themselves from online fraud.
How to refer and eligibility
Referrals can be made by professionals or by family and friends, or individuals can refer themselves. This can be done by phoning our support line on 0330 0583 464 or by filling in a simple referral form at our website: https://communityconnectionslewisham.org/
We do our best to prioritise urgent cases, but due to the high demand for our service please note there is a waiting time of approximately 4 weeks.
To be eligible, it is a requirement that the recipient is an 18+ Lewisham resident who does not have any internet access, does not own a smartphone and is eager to learn how to use one. Priority will be given to those on low incomes and those with an urgent need for internet access.
Article by Jim Moreton