Virgin Media O2 and the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation have today launched a new community broadband programme providing digital inclusion hubs across the UK with free ultrafast connectivity and digital literacy programmes.
The first to be connected is Leeds Refugee Forum. Based in the heart of the city, the hub provides refugees and asylum seekers a space to access support, develop new skills and meet new people.
The free services will now be used to help the digital inclusion hub organise training sessions that equip refugees and asylum seekers with the IT skills needed to access support and services. It will also provide local people with an opportunity to find work by providing them access to job websites alongside guidance on how best to structure their CV and submit applications.
The hub will also act as local internet access hub allowing people who may not have broadband at home to drop in, check emails and access vital online services.
Leeds Refugee Forum also provides weekly English lessons, digital literacy training as well homework clubs to support children. Now connected, the hub can better facilitate these educational activities as well as hold online digital classes to help local children with revision ahead of their exams.
Virgin Media O2 has provided ultrafast connectivity to the hub to mark the beginning of its Community Broadband campaign which will see the company provide free connectivity to ten digital inclusion hubs across the UK.
Last year, the operator launched its first sustainability strategy as a joint business, the Better Connections Plan, outlining its bold commitments to cut carbon, champion circularity, and connect communities as it upgrades the UK. The business aims to help eradicate data poverty by connecting 1 million digitally excluded people and equip 6 million people with the skills, confidence and tools to feel more connected to our digital society by the end of 2025.
As well as working together on the Community Broadband initiative, Good Things Foundation and Virgin Media O2 founded the National Databank in July 2021 which works like a foodbank for mobile data. Through the National Databank, people in need can access 20GB of free O2 data – enough for around 220 hours of internet browsing – each month.
Nicola Green, Chief Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “Community centres across the UK play a vital role in helping tackle digital exclusion and supporting some of society’s most marginalised groups.
“With so many everyday essentials best accessed online – from job adverts to benefit applications to online learning opportunities – it’s essential that everyone has the skills, confidence and ability to reach them.
“We’re proud that through our support, the Leeds Refugee Forum will be able to make a bigger impact to people in the local area and continue to transform lives.”
Helen Milner OBE, CEO at Good Things Foundation said: “Leeds Refugee Forum provides essential support for refugees and asylum seekers in the local area and we know without access to the internet it’s much harder for these people to find the help they need.
“Partnering with Virgin Media O2 to provide free broadband to our National Digital Inclusion Network is a great initiative and helps us go further to support the people who need it most. The National Data bank already provides people with free data on their mobile phone and we now can expand this support to even more people via free broadband.”
Ali Mahgoub, Chief Executive at Leeds Refugee forum said: “LRF stands to gain significant advantages from this free broadband connection, as most of our service users use the hub to access essential digital and online services. The current broadband services can become overwhelmed due to the high user volume, resulting in reduced accessibility to online platforms. Thanks to Virgin Media O2, we can address this issue by installing the ultrafast broadband, vastly improve service quality, and enhance access to educational courses, job search websites, and other vital resources for our communities.”
Leeds City Council executive member for communities, Councilor Mary Harland said: “Leeds City Council is delighted that Leeds Refugee Forum is getting free high-speed connectivity through the Community Broadband programme. Our 100% Digital Leeds team has an established relationship with Good Things Foundation and Leeds Refugee Forum on a range of digital inclusion activities.
We’ve seen the positive impact of digital inclusion for the refugees and asylum seekers who benefit from the services provided by Leeds Refugee Forum. That impact will be even greater as a result of this partnership, and we look forward to working even more closely with Leeds Refugee Forum in future.”