Cat Smith of Lambeth TechAid explains why internet access is now vital for everyone and how the organisation can enable you to help a neighbour on the other side of the digital divide
In a time when access to the internet has become essential, lockdown has amplified inequalities across the UK and people who are not connected to the digital world can face mounting problems.
Many everyday tasks and services are now only accessible online, but Lambeth TechAid works to bring internet access to households who need it, via local schools and local community organisations, bridging the digital divide between those who are online and those who are not.
It is completely volunteer-run and was set up in mid-March as a community response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Being unable to access to the internet makes lockdown even more difficult and frustrating.
Home all day, your child’s classes are now online, and that doctor’s’appointment you made early last month? It’s moved to an NHS app.
With no internet, there is no way of accessing this vital information.
For those in strict lockdown, the internet is vital to combat loneliness by enabling friends and family to stay in touch through video calls, email and more.
It is also vital for everyday services such as school classes and resources, job applications, benefit applications and food bank information.
An estimated 87,000 Lambeth people were living in poverty in 2016, so an organisation like Lambeth TechAid (LTA) can make a real difference.
Through donations from neighbours across the borough, LTA has been able to provide dozens of students and low-income households with the devices they need to access the online world.
However TechAid desperately needs new donations to continue its work.
Devices like laptops and smartphones are vital but also expensive, and gaps in access to them enforce and strengthen inequalities in our communities.
We accept donations of any kind of device, whether it’s an old mobile phone, or an unwanted tablet, laptop or all-in-one computer.
As well as devices themselves, charging cables and leads, along with mice, keyboards, webcams and headphones are in high demand.
Lambeth TechAid volunteers repurpose donated devices, giving them a new life and a new home.
To date, nearly 30 devices have been distributed to young people leaving the care system, refugee households, housing association tenants, and families with “no recourse to public funds” – all free of charge.
Community groups such as Lambeth Mutual Aid have been a vital part of helping vulnerable members of our communities, but a lack of internet access makes it incredibly hard, especially for those who are self-isolating, to connect with support groups.
As well as LTA, the High Trees Connecting Tulse Hill fundraising initiative has also been doing fantastic work to help bridge the digital divide across the borough, raising thousands of pounds to connect residents to the internet and provide new devices to households.
Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, too, has a scheme to collect laptops for schools, and supports both Lambeth TechAid and the High Trees initiative.