Power to Connect campaign reaches milestone in bid to tackle Wandsworth digital poverty

A local initiative designed to tackle digital poverty in Wandsworth has reached a major milestone after donating over 1000 devices to 74 schools across the borough.

Battersea Power Station and Wandsworth Council launched Power to Connect in April 2020 to support local families who were struggling to home-school and stay digitally connected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of the campaign, local residents and businesses are asked to donate old, working laptops, tablets or desktops which are then refurbished and given to schools and children based on deprivation data.

Director of Power to Connect, Isabel Chapman, said: “Schools were telling us they were very concerned with families’ lack of access to food, data and devices amid the pandemic.

“We knew locally there were organisations addressing food poverty but not digital exclusion.

“That is why Battersea Power Station and Wandsworth Council decided to launch Power to Connect to ensure families could stay digitally connected, and children could access online learning and not be left behind in their education during the pandemic.

“A thousand devices donated in under a year is a huge achievement. It’s mind-blowing that a grassroots organisation with a small group of volunteers has had such a huge impact on the community.”

COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Hard at work in the community centre

According to a study carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), digital poverty could be affecting up to 36,700 private households in Wandsworth, with exclusion most prevalent in deprived areas and low-income households.

Chapman believes the pandemic has brought the extent of digital poverty in Wandsworth into sharp focus, with many families unable to stay connected during the lockdown period.

She said: “We set up Power to Connect to respond to the crisis, but I think Covid-19 has shown us there is a big digital divide. It’s very easy to forget that many families do not have broadband or devices for their children.

“When families were saying ‘we don’t have an email address’ or ‘we are homeschooling three children through one phone’, it really put things into perspective. The pandemic has highlighted the widening of a gap between the families that have and don’t have.”

SMILES ALL ROUND: School children grateful to receive their laptops

Head of Community and Sustainability at Battersea Power Station, Sarah Banham, also emphasised how the pandemic has shone a light on the ‘hidden issue’ of digital poverty.

Banham said: “Pre-Covid, there was a perception that most people across the UK had access to several devices and broadband at home but sadly this isn’t the case.

“The pandemic has put the issue of digital poverty on the nation’s radar, and the creation of volunteer-led initiatives like Power to Connect shows that as a nation we want to tackle this issue.”

Gill Hynes, a volunteer at Power to Connect, has described how rewarding and fulfilling it has been to contribute to such an important local cause over the past year.

Hynes said: “When I arrive at a school clutching a merry bag of laptops, I realise just how grateful the teachers and pupils are. Hearing their stories is the most rewarding part, and knowing they are genuinely grateful for our help.

“At Christmas time, we received hand-drawn cards from the children with heartfelt thank you notes inside. That really brought it home to me because it showed that Power to Connect is making a real tangible difference to kids that otherwise would really be struggling.

“To be able to say that we have donated over a thousand devices is nothing short of phenomenal.”

VOLUNCHEER: Power to Connect volunteers delivering devices

Research by the ONS indicated a strong correlation between an Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) score and digital exclusion in Wandsworth, and Banham believes Power to Connect still has work to do based on the deprivation data. 

She said: “With 6,000 families in Wandsworth currently eligible for free school meals, we acknowledge there is still work to do to ensure all of these families can stay digitally connected during the pandemic and beyond.”

Despite children returning to school and restrictions easing towards the end of this year, Chapman believes there will still be a need for further devices to be donated to schools and children.  

She said: “We have no plans on stopping. Schools are going back but children still require laptops and devices. This concept of blended learning and children working remotely outside of school is definitely here to stay.

“As long as we can secure funding, continue to receive donations, and still have our amazing volunteers and support from Battersea Power Station, Wandsworth Council and members of the local community and businesses, Power to Connect will continue to grow over the next few years.”

To find out more about Power to Connect or to donate a device, click here.

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