Community TechAid is a small charity based in Lambeth, supporting communities in the local area to get online by providing access to technology and digital skills.

We began during the pandemic as a reaction to the lockdowns and the desperate need for technology and digital skills support across Lambeth and Southwark. Since then, we’ve worked with over two thousand people and several local organisations in these boroughs, supporting them with access to technology.

Our communities, without access to a device, whether it be a smartphone or a laptop, are being cut off from the things that we all take for granted. We’re working collectively to make sure that that doesn’t happen and support people so they can improve their lives.

One of the things I’ve learnt since being part of Community TechAid and working in the local community is that digital poverty is not a linear journey. There are so many barriers to becoming digitally included, whether it’s related to financial hardship, or opportunity. Just having access to one thing, i.e., a device, digital skills, etc doesn’t mean that someone is therefore digitally included. It’s a much longer process than that. One of the things that we’re working hard to do is to overcome those barriers.

That’s why working with organisations like the Digital Poverty Alliance and Currys has been so beneficial to our work. As a small organisation, we work very much on the ground. We’re embedded in our local community, and we understand the people we work with, our volunteers being a big part of that. But we don’t have the resources or the scale to do wide far-reaching research, or lobby government, or make campaigns that are focused on digital inclusion nationally.

It’s brilliant to have an evidence-based organisation that back up what we know. For example, the recent report that was put together was excellent and it’s a great resource for us because that’s something we don’t have the time to do.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to be supported with several iPhones through Currys. We have many recipients that don’t have access to a smartphone. For us, smart phones are challenging. They are a huge lifeline; however, we can’t update donated and refurbished devices after a certain amount of time without the risk of creating security vulnerabilities.

Many of the people we work with are experiencing homelessness, they’re refugees, or they’re living in temporary accommodation. They’re in a very transient, often traumatic point in their lives. Whilst a laptop is obviously incredibly beneficial, when someone is moving around and doesn’t have access to home broadband, it becomes a bit cumbersome.

Whereas a smartphone is essential. Mobile phones are something we assume everyone has access to and is easily attainable, but it’s just not the case. With the cost-of-living crisis increasing, there are so many things that we rely on our devices for. Even to register a Universal Credit claim you must have a phone call with an adviser. Without a phone this becomes impossible. So, these devices have made a real difference.

Hearing from the beneficiaries:

Groundwork is an environmental charity that makes improvements in terms of environment, green spaces, but we’re also changing people’s lives not just spaces.

We have employment focused programs for unemployed people across a range of different categories, including refugees and migrants. These programs cover training, employment, studying English, even pastoral support i.e. getting in touch with their families. We experience lots of inequalities and problems with delivering our services because participants lack digital skills and support. Lots of participants struggle hugely without digital support.

We had quite a few devices from Community TechAid and they have made a huge difference in our participants’ private and professional life. Recently, we helped a Ukrainian lady get online. Her family, her husband and son, are in the war. When she came here she had no means of connection, she had PTSD and she couldn’t study.

When I provided her with an iPhone she was so happy to hear her son and her husband’s voices. She broke down in tears. Before she had the smartphone, she was trying to make a video call but was unable to. However, with the donated iPhone she was able to get back in touch with her husband and son. Through these device donations you’ve supported her, and now she can study English, remain in touch with her family, and use the phone for her Zoom classes. Thank you.