Community Calling, the pioneering initiative by Virgin Media O2 and environmental charity, Hubbub, to tackle digital exclusion, has rehomed more than 10,000 smartphones with people who need them across the country.
The milestone has been achieved thanks to the generosity of members of the public and businesses which have gifted smartphones, alongside Virgin Media O2, which have been redistributed to people who need them, along with more than £1 million of free O2 mobile data.
It also coincides with the second anniversary of Community Calling, which launched in May 2020 to help vulnerable people to keep connected and in touch with their loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since then, Community Calling has gone from strength to strength, rehoming thousands of second-hand smartphones with digitally isolated people across the country, along with free texts, calls and mobile data from the National Databank – set up by Virgin Media O2 and digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation. In addition, the scheme has supported a range of charities, such as Women’s Aid and Migrant Help, as well as people affected by homelessness and data poverty, to tackle digital exclusion.
Devices distributed via Community Calling are a lifeline for people who need them as they help them to get online to access essential services, such as healthcare appointments, mental health support, training courses, and to apply for jobs and to take part in virtual interviews. All devices are data-wiped and packaged as new before they are rehomed with someone who needs them.
Community Calling is also a sustainable way for people and businesses to recycle old devices, preventing them from ending up in landfill as e-waste.
The initiative forms part of Virgin Media O2’s Better Connections Plan – the company’s new sustainability strategy to protect the planet, and help people and communities to lead sustainable, and better, connected lives. Community Calling is one of the ways Virgin Media O2 will reach its goal to connect one million digitally excluded people through free and affordable connectivity and services by the end of 2025.
Emily Watson from Hubbub, said:
“Community Calling is changing people’s lives across the country. We’ve supported young people and older people, survivors of domestic abuse, asylum seekers and those facing homelessness.
“Beyond this amazing social impact, by redistributing 10,000 second-hand phones we’ve saved more than 533 tonnes of CO2e, which is the same as one person taking more than 850 return flights from London to New York.
“Thank you to everyone who has sent in a device to us; you’re helping someone to enjoy all the benefits of internet connectivity, and you’re showing that a model of circularity and extending the lifespan of smart devices is possible.
“We’re encouraging people and businesses to continue to gift smartphones so we can help more digitally isolated people across the country.”
Nicola Green from Virgin Media O2, said:
“When we launched Community Calling during the height of the pandemic in 2020, we had one aim: to connect the disconnected.
“We’re incredibly proud and humbled to see how the programme has grown and helped thousands of people across the UK, with devices and data providing a lifeline for those who need them so they can stay in touch with loved ones and get online to access essential services – from healthcare appointments to applying for jobs.
“Community Calling is just one of the ways we’re stepping up for people, the planet and communities with our Better Connections Plan where we’re committed to helping people to lead more sustainable, connected lives, while reducing our impact on the planet.”
The 10,000th device
The 10,000th smartphone has been rehomed with Rohi, aged 18, who lives in Lewisham, south-east London. Rohi has used the device to get online to access essential services, online meetings, and for job applications.
“I use my phone to talk to my friends, access benefits, and apply for jobs. Being in supported accommodation, young people have limited amount of money to use for items such as smartphones or tablets especially with the running costs. The phone has been very useful for accessing Zoom meetings, housing benefit portals and the Universal Credit site.”
Vicky Foxcroft, MP for Lewisham Deptford, the constituency where Rohi lives, said:
“Digital exclusion makes it harder for people to keep in touch with friends and to access services and employment opportunities. It is great news that Virgin Media O2 has given 10,000 smartphones and £1m of mobile data through its Community Calling programme to people with little or no digital connectivity.
“I am so pleased for Rohi that she now has digital connectivity and is the 10,000th person to benefit from Community Calling. I look forward to Virgin Media O2 continuing to help people who face digital exclusion.”