O2 launches national plan to keep the most vulnerable connected in time for Christmas

As parts of the UK grapple with tighter lockdown restrictions and people are once again separated from social contact, O2 announces a campaign to help tackle isolation through the power of mobile technology.

The UK’s largest mobile network is expanding its partnership with charity Hubbub, with the aim to gift 10,000 unused smartphones to vulnerable individuals in the most deprived areas of the UK. The Community Calling campaign is a lifeline for people who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, and will see smartphones first donated in the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark – locations with high levels of inequality, poverty, exclusion and employment challenges.

A national rollout will then follow in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Swansea and Glasgow, with the campaign targeting cities either facing, or at risk of Tier 3 lockdown restrictions – starting with London, then Manchester. The full rollout will be completed by Spring 2021.

As part of the campaign, O2 will be donating 12 months of free connectivity to the beneficiaries, which will include unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 6GB of data per month for a full year.

Digital connectivity has been vital this year: preserving economic output, helping businesses adapt and keeping us close to the ones we love. However, too many people are digitally excluded, without access to devices or connectivity.

O2 and Hubbub are working closely with local community groups in each city to identify those most in need of a smartphone – people who desperately need access to essential services, support with education and employment, or to keep connected with loved ones. The most vulnerable individuals have been identified as those who are shielding, the elderly, refugees, domestic abuse survivors and those in low income households.

All beneficiaries will also be able to access digital skills training at local support centres, equipping them with the knowledge and tools to thrive in the longer term.

Community Calling connects the vulnerable in Southwark

The move follows a successful trial earlier this year, which saw over 500 devices distributed to residents of Southwark in London. It had an overwhelmingly positive effect – from keeping families connected during lockdown and reducing loneliness, to supporting home-schooling and helping people secure employment – as well as tackling the problem of e-waste. Three of the success stories from the trial are included below:

  • Mr Smith, one of the beneficiaries from the trial in Southwark, is a 60-year-old living alone with additional needs and a speech impairment. He had never used a smartphone before, which is why his local community group, AgeUK, ensured the phone was updated and accessible for his needs before receiving the device. Thanks to the Community Calling network, a local volunteer from GoodGym (a group of runners that combine exercise with helping their communities) helped Mr Smith understand how to use his new smartphone – enabling him to connect with his friends, peers, and colleagues, attend online activity groups, and receive text alerts for medical appointments.
  • Katie and Jay attend Bede House in Southwark (a centre for adults with learning difficulties) for social reasons. However, due to the pandemic, their main social outlet in life is closed at the moment – which means that many of the people who visit Bede House are feeling lonely and disconnected. The smartphones they received via Community Calling have enabled both Katie and Jay to stay in touch with the centre and their friends – they can access the centre’s app, join daily virtual meetings and activities, and share photos with each other.
  • Mary is a single parent who, pre COVID-19, supported herself and her son by working as a cleaner. When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, she was unable to work and ineligible to claim benefits. Unemployed and at risk of homelessness, she was disconnected from the outside world and struggling to cope. Community Calling was the lifeline she needed – it provided her with a smartphone, which allowed her to apply for jobs. The next week she received a job offer and she now proudly works as a cashier at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.

Mark Evans, Chief Executive of O2, said: “Connectivity has been vital to keeping the country running during the pandemic, but if you’re unable to get online you’re likely to miss out on a lot of support. We’ve already seen the positive impact Community Calling has had on vulnerable people in Southwark, so we’re pleased to announce this expansion and tackle digital exclusion elsewhere across the country. We’re determined to support the people who need it most.”

Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-Founder at Hubbub, said: “It’s been heart-warming to see the positive impact receiving a smartphone through the Community Calling project has already had on so many people’s lives. Being connected to loved ones and accessing essential services is easily taken for granted, but is still not a reality for too many people. We’re looking forward to working with O2 to expand Community Calling to get more people connected and prevent unnecessary electrical waste. We’re calling on individuals and businesses with spare smartphones to donate them to somebody who needs a device to stay connected at this difficult time.”

Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman said: “Digital connectivity has been a lifeline for many of us during the pandemic and I welcome O2’s efforts to get more vulnerable people online.

“The government brokered an unprecedented deal with mobile operators to offer extra support to those struggling to pay their bills and better deals such as free or low cost mobile data boosts, and I am pleased to see O2 is continuing to do whatever it can to help those affected by the virus.”

Gift your phone

Anyone in the UK can get involved by donating unused smartphones. It’s easy to sign up online – you’ll receive a free-post donation box to post your old and workable smartphone, to be refurbished by trusted partner Reconome. It will be data-wiped, sanitised and redistributed with user guides and PAYG SIM cards. Alternatively, those who don’t have an old smartphone can choose to donate the cost of one month’s top-up for the beneficiaries by visiting hubbub.org.uk/donate-data-to-community-calling-resources.

O2 and Hubbub are also encouraging businesses to support the campaign by organising bulk device donations, or providing collection boxes in their offices (where appropriate).

If you’d like to support the campaign and donate your old smartphones to Community Calling, visit http://www.hubbub.org.uk/communitycalling/ for more details.

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