O2 and Hubbub launched the Community Calling campaign in Leeds in January 2021. The campaign gifts smartphones with free data, calls and texts to digitally excluded people. 100% Digital Leeds worked closely with Hubbub to coordinate the distribution of phones through our networks of community partners across the city. As well as working collaboratively with our partners in Leeds, we also worked with colleagues in the region to distribute phones across West Yorkshire.
In three phases during 2021, the 100% Digital Leeds team distributed 1,350 phones to organisations supporting digitally excluded people throughout Leeds. We also arranged for 500 phones to be distributed to our contacts in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees. This has enabled people across the region to get online to keep in touch with friends and family, access digital services, learn new skills and participate in an increasingly digital world.
To distribute and deliver the phones, the 100% Digital Leeds team identified community partners who support a range of people from different Communities of Interest. We asked those organisations to identify people who were among the most isolated or excluded so that the phones would go to beneficiaries who really needed them. Priority was given to service-users who did not have a phone, could not afford to get online or could not access the internet independently.
All of the organisations that received phones work with people who are more likely to be digitally excluded, many of whom face multiple barriers to getting online. We worked with organisations supporting a wide range of people including:
- Care home residents
- Gypsy and Traveller families
- Older people
- People living in poverty or on a low income
- People who are homeless or at risk of homelessness
- People with learning disabilities and autistic people
- Refugees and asylum seekers
- Women and girls
Over 80 third sector organisations in Leeds received phones through the distribution networks that we set up with our community partners.
100% Digital Leeds networks
100% Digital Leeds has a number of digital inclusion networks bringing together partners who support specific communities.
The success of Community Calling in Leeds relied on multiple organisations working together to deliver phones to digitally excluded people. Thanks to our well-established relationships with partners in the third sector, 100% Digital Leeds could mobilise quickly to distribute the phones. This was important to ensure that the full 12-months of free calls and data could be used by beneficiaries.
The organisations have all supported each beneficiary to make the most of the device they’ve been given. This is a direct result of the work that 100% Digital Leeds has done with each of those partners to help them understand the person-centred approach to supporting people to become more digitally included.
100% Digital Leeds has excellent relationships with the organisations we work with, and they have trusted relationships with their service users. We can move quickly to coordinate device distribution at scale and ensure that phones go to people who most need them. The organisations we work with know their service users best, so they had the autonomy to choose the beneficiaries who would receive phones. Some organisations acted as distribution centres for smaller organisations who work with the same Communities of Interest.
Gifting or lending?
100% Digital Leeds has helped to set up dozens of device lending schemes run by different organisations across the city. Lending schemes are important, and a loan may be appropriate for some people as a short-term response or if they have an immediate need. But lending is unlikely to be a long-enough intervention for people with very low digital skills or for those who are the most digitally excluded.
There are additional benefits to beneficiaries being gifted a device rather than being lent a device. These include higher levels of:
- Certainty – recipients of gifted devices are safe in the knowledge that their device won’t be recalled at the end of a loan period.
- Security – recipients can fully utilise features that they may not feel comfortable using on a shared device. This could include keeping personal photos and messages on the device, installing their own apps, creating their own bookmarks and using websites and tools that store personal data and passwords.
- Ownership – each recipient can take ownership of their own digital development. They are free to use the device in ways that are meaningful for them and learn new skills at their own pace over a longer timeframe.
- Trust – giving a device to someone can strengthen the trusted relationship between the recipient and the organisation.
Testimonials from some of the organisations who took part in the Community Calling scheme:
I think the smartphones have been one of the most effective interventions we’ve done, not just because of the benefits of the device and data but the impact on clients’ self-esteem. One client was very socially isolated and was lacking the digital means to help address this. Since he has had the smartphone, he has been able to connect with friends on Facebook and set up an email to enable me to send him signposting information. The impact on his mental health has been very noticeable and he is very appreciative.
My client moved to the UK a couple of years ago to support her relative with childcare. She was reliant on her family for everything but was desperate to be self-sufficient. She also felt lonely and isolated due to being alone in the house during the daytime and was tearful and emotional during our initial conversations. This isolation caused her great anxiety, affected her sleep and she was taking anti-depressants prescribed by her GP.
The Client told me that she felt happy, lighter, and excited about having her own phone. It meant that she could keep in touch with relatives abroad, look for jobs and it gave her a bit of hope for the future. She also felt liberated simply because of having her own phone and her own telephone number, so she could now access social activities, and be her own independent person. At the exit appointment the Client told me that receiving the phone was a turning point in her life, as she felt connected to the outside world and was able to take control of her life again.
One person could have been viewed as a high-risk donation, with the phone at risk of being sold or lost due to high levels of substance use. But she still has her phone after 12 months. She uses it to stay in touch with family, combat isolation and making calls for her appointments. Her wellbeing has improved over the past year and her substance use has significantly decreased.
SG is an Eastern European man sleeping rough and known to St Anne’s. He was given a Community Calling phone when he presented at a City Square food provision. He used the phone and data to contact his family via social media. He is now reunited with his family and living with his brother.
CH was an active heroin user and a St Anne’s service user for a number of years who had struggled to find and maintain secure accommodation. In March 2020 he was placed in temporary emergency accommodation and supported to engage with Forward Leeds. Saviour Trust were able to find him accommodation with a friend, but that relationship broke down. CH visited St Anne’s to use their PCs to bid on Housing Leeds properties. He was offered a Community Calling smartphone with data to allow him to spend more time active bidding and was able to secure a property. He no longer presents at St Anne’s but is often seen around town by staff and always stops to show them he’s still got his phone and to thank them.
KB and JB came to St Anne’s for support ending a tenancy. Having no access to a phone meant they needed to spend a lot of time at St Anne’s waiting for calls from Leeds Housing Options, who had no other way to contact them. Having a smartphone has allowed them to be less reliant on St Anne’s staff and more independent in managing their situation. They have now both been placed in temporary accommodation. KB struggles with low mood and is thankful to be able to use the phone and data to watch a film or listen to music, both of which help him manage his mental health.
RM has led a life of trauma and chaos. His past has affected his mental health and he struggles to control his emotions and temper. As a result, he has had frequent incidents at St Anne’s when he has been verbally abusive and physically threatening to staff and other service users. He was given a Community Calling smartphone to access tools that help him deescalate and manage his emotions, such as listening to music and watching films. He has since been placed in temporary accommodation and being able to access entertainment media at home on his phone has helped him manage his mental health and stay home and “out of trouble”. Since being gifted the smartphone RM has spent more time at home St Anne’s have seen him in fewer incidents.
Recipient of a phone via Unleashing Refugee Potential:
Thank you for the gift, which helped me speak with my family back home in Africa. Talking with my family and community groups in the UK during the lockdown and beyond made me feel less isolated and more engaged without the stress of topping up. As a person with no income and not allowed to work, you can imagine how stressful not being able to meet or speak with people is. This scheme helped me a lot and I am very grateful for the support!