Digital exclusion is real. Whilst we often hear sound bites and read references to inclusion, COVID 19 induced lockdown and ‘home schooling’ has painfully re-exposed inequalities in the starkest way. It has become clear that school children, elders, students and those on a low income are being left behind as important parts of life shift further online.
Green Party Councillor and artist Cleo Lake, who runs dance classes for elders in Bristol, became immediately concerned about all the elders whose clubs and classes were cancelled. Knowing these clubs to be an important life line she considered how she might help fill the void.
Councillor and artist Cleo Lake said:
“I decided to restart the weekly class online, but I was aware that many do not have a smart phone let alone a laptop or computer. These elders would not be able to access the online session until they get support to be online. It was also really hard hearing of elders and friends of mine who had passed away. This made me further reflect on the issue of isolation and how many would not be able to pay their respects via a Zoom funeral. It became something I felt deeply saddened and moved by.”
“At the same time I understood and reflected upon my own privilege. I have a smart phone, laptop and iPad which makes it easy for me to do work from home and for my 10 year old son to study either with the work emailed from school directly or utilising the multitude of education platforms available such as BBC bitesize. I know this isn’t the case for everyone and children will be failed in this period if they can’t access support and resources. I also considered the people who would normally rely on public resources like library computers – how are they now getting online?”
Cleo Lake’s concerns led to her pulling support together from Avon Fire & Rescue (Cleo is an Avon Fire Authority Member, Chairing the People & Culture Committee), Bristol Waste and Bristol Computer Reuse. She is launching #GiveNTech – a tech amnesty where unused IT hardware is donated, wiped of data, cleaned, fixed and given to those who need it. The pilot starts next week in-house at Avon Fire & Rescue, appealing to their 800 plus staff network to donate kit. Should more be needed then the campaign will appeal to the public to donate.
Vaughan Jenkins, Area Manager for Avon Fire and Rescue Service said:
“Avon Fire and Rescue Service are proud to support the #GiveNTech #TechAmnesty and we are asking all our staff to donate any unused ICT equipment as we value the importance of reaching out to assist those members of our communities who may be digitally excluded at this time. In the modern age so much information is shared digitally and if anything we can do as a Service can potentially assist a student in their extended studies away from School, College or University or enable an older person to become digitally included then we are only too happy to part of this excellent initiative”.
Bristol Waste were also quick to support. Joanna Dainton, the Reuse coordinator at Bristol Waste said:
“We are proud to play our part in getting unwanted electronic devices to people across the city who desperately need them at this difficult time. Our award-winning Reuse team are delighted to support the #TechAmnesty by PAT testing devices which have been cleansed of data and function tested by Bristol Computer Reuse, as well as helping with the move the items between locations. Our work to find new homes for pre-loved items, saving them from going to waste, and in this case providing essential communication devices to those in need, has never been so vital.”
Founded in 2008, Bristol Computer Reuse created a citywide project with the aim of making affordable desktop computers and laptops available to individuals and families on low incomes or facing other challenges. Co-founder Andrew Town said:
“We want Bristol to be a truly inclusive and connected digital city where everyone who would like a computer at home can have one, regardless of age, income or background. Computers and the internet are a part of everyday life. Access to a home computer helps people stay in touch, connect to public services, improve employment opportunities and encourage further education. If you are not connected we want to help you get your first computer.”
Councillor Lake has reached out to Bristol Council to ask for its support with the scheme. She added:
“Although It has been hard to grasp exactly who is doing what in terms of digital inclusion, I do know that other organisations and charities for example Creative Youth Network have been independently funded to distribute tablets to young people, but cannot meet demand. I have been talking to officers at Bristol City Council to identify what other action is in place and to confirm Council support for the #GiveNTech scheme. If Council support for this scheme can be confirmed quickly then it could be scaled up to reach a lot more people in need.
“It is fantastic that the #GiveNTech project partners have come together to step in and try to support the city to meet demands of getting people tech to get online. One school alone that I am aware of currently need 40 laptops and fear widening inequality gaps should lockdown persist. I have been thinking about the challenge of digital exclusion before now but this period has caused me to take action.
“I am happy that this project also encourages sharing of resources and has a good reuse ethos. Some schools will be able to support students with data and WiFi packages and many are trying to do an audit regarding this, so after we get the kit the next stage will be finding solutions to assist people who cannot afford to get broadband to get online.”