Tackling data poverty in partnership with Good Things Foundation

In September 100% Digital Leeds hosted two events sharing the city’s approach to tackling digital poverty, as part of Leeds Digital Festival. Across the two events attendees from almost 90 organisations found out more about Leeds’s approach to gifting data, and how they can play a role in supporting more Leeds residents to access free data. The events focussed on raising awareness of Good Things Foundation‘s, National Databank, an initiative which provides free mobile data, texts and calls to people in need via the charity’s network of community partners.

So far 100% Digital Leeds and Good Things Foundation have supported over 50 organisations across Leeds to join the National Databank and start gifting data. Between them those organisations have received over 6,000 SIMs to gift free 4G data to the people and communities in Leeds who need it most.

Figures from Leeds Poverty Factbook show that:

  • Relative Poverty is estimated to affect 178,630 people in Leeds (after housing costs are deducted from income).
  • Local estimates from HMRC & DWP estimate that 32,933 children under 16 in Leeds were in poverty in 2021/22.
  • There were 65,830 food parcels given out informally during 2021/22 through emergency food providers, parish pantries and  Community Care Hubs.
  • An estimated 55,274 Leeds households were in fuel poverty in 2021 under the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) metric.  This affects 15.8% of all Leeds households.

Watch the ‘Tackling data poverty in Leeds’ webinar.

Good Things Foundation

Good Things Foundation is a social change charity working across the UK to fix the digital divide. One in 20 UK households don’t have home internet access (Ofcom, 2022) and over 2 million UK households struggle to afford connectivity via broadband or mobile data (Ofcom, 2022).  This is why Good Things Foundation launched the National Databank, which distributes free data in the form of SIMs and data vouchers to partner organisations in the National Digital Inclusion Network.

Representatives from Good Things Foundation spoke at both of our events themed on tackling data poverty. Bryony Evans, Recruitment and Activation Manager at Good Things Foundation attended our face-to-face event, Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting, speaking about the National Databank including sharing updates about recent website improvements that should make data easier to access in the future. She also supported local organisations such as Gipsil and Damasq to join the National Databank and start gifting free data.

“During my time at Good Things Foundation I’ve worked closely on the set up of the National Databank, so I was very interested to hear from the other speakers about how they had integrated gifting free data into their work. I came away from the event inspired by the huge amount of work being done and the people being supported in Leeds.”

Bryony Evans, Recruitment and Activation Manager at Good Things Foundation

Find out more about the National Databank by watching this video from Good Things Foundation.

Case study: The Old Fire Station

For East Leeds residents without access to wifi or struggling with fuel costs Old Fire Station in Gipton is a safe, warm, and friendly space to access free wifi, where people are welcome to linger. They joined us for the Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting event and shared their experiences of gifting data via the National Databank.

The Old Fire Station is home to six local charities supporting a range of people including those with mental health needs, people with learning disabilities, and those looking for work. The site also has rooms available to hire, a cookery school and a café for the whole community to enjoy.

Over the last nine months, 100% Digital Leeds has helped The Old Fire Station to access funding and resources to offer local people skills support via digital drop-in sessions and connectivity via the National Databank, and they have also become a Digital Health Hub. Clarion Housing has funded the organisation to deliver a digital oral history project using the building’s rich heritage as a catalyst for digital inclusion. Most recently The Old Fire Station has been awarded NHS health inequalities funding to host a Digital Inclusion Officer to work with partners across the York Road Local Care Partnership footprint and continue the development of the Digital Health Hub Network.

“By working with the organisations in the Old Fire Station and the local area, we get a deeper understanding of the needs of their service users. We’ve focussed our efforts on embedding data gifting into as many services as possible across all of the organisations here. Making the most of this increased connectivity is really important, so we also offer digital skills support in a friendly and relaxed environment.”

Chris Bamber, Digital Inclusion Officer at the Old Fire Station

Embedding SIM gifting into services supporting people on low incomes

The Old Fire Station offers many services to support those on low incomes including support with cost of living and money saving advice. The People’s Pantry and Clothing Rebelling offer affordable food and clothing, Digital Drop-in sessions are available in the café every Thursday, and a the Leeds City Council Mobile Community Hub visits weekly, supporting people with council queries and transactions, managing their benefits, and completing online forms.

Across each of those services people with a device but reliant on pay-as-you-go data or unable to afford any connectivity offered free SIMs via the National Databank, providing six months of free 4G data.

“I was getting help from Gipsil at the Old Fire Station. I want to get some qualifications and apply for jobs but it’s all online nowadays and my very old phone was broken. Gipsil managed to get me a new phone and then with the Digital Inclusion Officer’s help I got a free data SIM card and some lessons on how to use my new phone. Without the help of both Chris and Gipsil I would have had no chance with moving my life forwards.”

Netta, a service user of Gipsil and The Old Fire Station

Case study: Leeds Libraries

Leeds Libraries are one of 100% Digital Leeds’s key delivery partners. They joined us for the Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting event and shared their experiences of gifting data via the National Databank.

Leeds Libraries applied to the National Databank in July 2022, identifying this as a resource that could help them to expand their digital support offer in a sustainable way. Libraries’ digital offer already included a tablet lending scheme, access to free wifi and PCs in all of their 34 sites across the city, and regular digital support sessions, so being able to offer free mobile data, texts and calls to people in need broadened that existing support.

“I would encourage anyone working on digital inclusion to consider joining Good Things Foundation’s National Databank scheme and embed SIM gifting into their digital inclusion offer.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries.

Identifying sites for SIM gifting

All 34 Libraries and Community Hubs in Leeds are part of the National Digital Inclusion Network which helped when it came to identifying where the service wanted to launch their SIM gifting offer. Leeds has several high priority wards which have high levels of deprivation and low levels of digital engagement and Libraries wanted to offer SIM gifting in a range of geographical areas around the city. They considered how council colleagues with a presence in Community Hubs could support with signposting, and the range of community partners and organisations in an area that would also benefit from a local site offering SIM gifting.

SIM gifting is now available at five sites:

  • Leeds Central Library.
  • The Reginald Centre in Chapeltown.
  • The Compton Centre in Harehills.
  • Dewsbury Road Community Hub and Library.
  • Armley Community Hub and Library.

Identifying beneficiaries

The five pilot Hubs and Libraries are home to a range of council teams, meaning colleagues in Job Shops, Housing, Translation Services, Financial Inclusion, Project Development, Community Healthcare, Social Prescribing, and others, are able identify their service users experiencing data poverty and easily signpost them to get a free SIM.

SIM gifting is also included as a specific part of the Local Welfare Support Scheme (LWSS) process for customers who may be digitally excluded. LWSS Assessors offer services from Community Hubs, including having conversations with customers around their digital access. The Assessors refer eligible customers to a Community Hub and Library site to collect their free SIM and data.

“By getting the word out through council colleagues and community partners, we’ve had people signposted to us from a variety of different services. We’ve been able to support a whole range of our library users from care leavers to job seekers to Ukrainian refugees.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries

Libraries designed awareness training for each chosen Library’s teams. All frontline staff in Hubs and Libraries are trained as Digital Champions, meaning they already have a good level of understanding about the barriers to digital inclusion and how to help people overcome them.

Supporting positive outcomes

SIM gifting has helped Libraries to support their service users to access other beneficial services. Leeds Community Healthcare’s Maternity Services meet service users in the Wellbeing Pods available at Libraries and Hubs. They can use SIM gifting to help new parents who are digitally excluded to sign up for the NHS Healthy Start scheme, increasing access to food and vitamins for low income families. Job Shops staff can use SIM gifting to enable service users to access employment support available via Job Shops, and financial support via Leeds Credit Union.

“We started gifting sims in Autumn last year and to date have gifted roughly 700. Going by the RRP of these SIMs if they were purchased in shops, this equates to roughly £60,000 worth of savings, which in the current climate with the ongoing cost of living crisis really putting the squeeze on, has been a massive benefit to our communities and Library users.”

Liam Garnett, Senior Librarian and Digital Lead, Leeds Libraries

Next steps

We know that being online can help people to earn and save more. Good Things Foundation’s Digital Nation Infographic shows that people with high digital engagement save £659 more a year, and manual workers with high digital engagement earn £5,000 more a year.

Good Things Foundation wants to partner with more organisations in Leeds to ensure that people who are digitally excluded can access free data, devices and skills support. As well as free SIMs, the offer from Good Things Foundation to community organisations includes a free digital skills learning platform in the form of Learn My Way, training, meet ups and more. To find out more, join one of Good Things Foundation’s free upcoming events.

The 100% Digital Leeds delivery partners who are signed up to the National Databank have gifted SIM cards with free data, text and calls worth almost half a million pounds. We want to build on that success.

100% Digital Leeds is keen to work with more organisations in Leeds to develop their digital inclusion offer, including SIM gifting via the National Databank. Contact us to arrange a chat.